A refined machine: the Lexus RX 450h
A refined machine: the Lexus RX 450h

Lexus RX 450h, motoring review: This SUV hybrid's competitors have finally caught up with it

When it launched, the RX 450h was revolutionary in combining a small petrol unit with electric motors

Jamie Merrill
Thursday 10 March 2016 00:30
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Price: £44,495
Engine capacity: 3.4-litre V6, plus 2 electric motors
Power output (bhp @ rpm): 308 @ 6,000
Top speed (mph): 124
Fuel economy (mpg): 53.3
CO2 emissions (g/km): 120

Unlike in North America, where Lexus's range of contradictory eco-friendly SUVs and super-fast petrol saloons is associated with groups ranging from New Yorker-reading environmentalists to image-obsessed Hollywood stars, here in the UK the brand has always had something of the sleepy golf-club feel about it.

The Lexus RX, the Japanese car maker's most successful car, has always been a victim of this phenomenon. It's loved by architects and accountants for its smooth handling and eco-friendly hybrid powertrain. In recent years, though, Lexus has been trying to reinvigorate its image with sharp new designs, snazzy sports models and celebrity endorsements. In recent months, the firm has claimed to have both invented a Back to the Future-style hoverboard and signed up will.i.am to promote the new NX compact SUV, the smaller cousin of the RX.

Sadly, the Lexus PR team made its excuses when I requested to test Marty McFly's hoverboard, and the new Lexus RX 450h was the best I could get my hands on. The vast majority of UK sales will be the hybrid version I've tested, which gets some sharp new angles, a new entertainment system, and a vast screen. Gone, too, are the pale leather interiors loved by men who wear leather driving gloves, replaced with sumptuously comfortable black leather you'd expect to find in a trendy Berlin hotel bar.

On the road, it's a refined machine, with a suspension set-up that prioritises comfort over sporty handling. It's nowhere near as engaging as its rivals, such as the BMW X5 or the Porsche Cayenne. There's another problem when it faces up to its German opposition: it's no longer the sole choice if you are on the hunt for a more efficient SUV.

When it launched, the RX 450h was revolutionary in combining a small petrol unit with electric motors. It was one of the first SUV hybrids, when the other options were petrol-guzzling Audi and Mercedes models. That's no longer the case and today these firms, along with Volvo and Porsche, offer their own hybrid SUVs, and more efficient diesels. Simply put, its hybrid power is no longer a good enough reason to buy this Lexus. And I'm not sure a design tweak or the distant prospect of a judge from The Voice falling off a hoverboard is, either.

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