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Lexus RX 450hL: we test new seven-seat hybrid SUV

Published:05 June 2018

The new 2018 Lexus RX 450hL review by CAR magazine
  • At a glance
  • 4 out of 5
  • 4 out of 5
  • 5 out of 5
  • 4 out of 5
  • 4 out of 5

By Tim Pollard

Editorial director of CAR's digital publishing arm. Motoring news magnet

By Tim Pollard

Editorial director of CAR's digital publishing arm. Motoring news magnet

► New Lexus RX L reviewed
It’s a seven-seater RX SUV
Two more seats for £2400 extra

There’s an interesting trend-spotting backdrop to our new Lexus RX 450hL review: the full-size premium SUV marketplace is tilting towards seven-seater options, which will make up 40% of sales by the end of the decade, according to Lexus’s forecast. The ‘utility’ bit of the SUV moniker has never been more important.

The Lexus riposte to the seven-seat, segment-leading Audi Q7, Volvo XC90 and BMW X5 is to launch this, the new RX L with an extra row slotted into the stretched rump. The wheelbase is unchanged, but the boot is extended by 11cm, the middle bench is raised and the rear wiper assembly moved from the top of the screen to the bottom to make space for a pair of third-row seats that pop up or down at the flick of a switch.

Browse Lexus RX for sale

Does Lexus RX have third row of seats? Yes it does with new RX L seven-seater

Is adding two extra pews enough to make us reappraise the sensible, goody-two-shoes Lexus RX? Read our review of the new 2018 L model to find out.

Is the Lexus RX L a proper seven-seater now?

Yes. The changes detailed above have delivered a pair of rear chairs that are very much on the money in this marketplace – they’re not as big as a Land Rover Discovery’s rear thrones, but they’re perfect for young kids or emergency-running adults on occasional trips back from the pub or somesuch. They’re similar to the accommodation offered in the XC90 and X5, but grown-ups will find head and legroom tight and the view out quite restricted.

Each rear chair folds flat and we were impressed by how much boot space was left behind when set up as a seven-seater, with ample room for several overnight bags (some three-row SUVs leave barely any room for luggage when all positions are called upon). 

Lexus RX L seven-seater boot

Boot space is 495 litres as a five-seater, extending to 966 when in two-seat mode. It’s worth pointing out that the 150mm-sliding rear bench lets you juggle the space for bags and bodies, and each middle-row backrest can be reclined for comfort too.

Lexus RX 450hL specs and prices

We recommend the L model since it costs a modest £2400 more than the five-seat version and significantly extends the car’s appeal. Adults will be cramped in the rear row, but it’s perfect for occasional forays into the taxi world for kids and younger family members.

UK prices start at £50,995 for the entry-level SE trim, climbing to £54,095 for the likely best-selling Luxury grade and £61,995 for the loaded Premier model.

There is only one powertrain option: it’s RX 450hL or nothing for Great Britain, whereas buyers in Russia and other markets have an additional choice of straight petrol power – making this a simple range to understand.

The standard equipment list is long, with leather, three-row climate control, electric rear seats, pan-European sat-nav and keyless entry and ignition fitted to every model.

Check out our Best Hybrids and Plug-In Electric cars list

What’s it like to drive? The Lexus RX 450hL review

The wheelbase and fundamental engineering are unchanged, remember. So to all intents and purposes, the L feels incredibly similar to the regular five-seat RX, which remains on sale unchanged and will hoover up the majority – around two-thirds – of purchases in the UK.

Third row seats in new 2018 Lexus RX 450hL seven seater: a tight fit, but extra practicality guaranteed

The 450hL is pretty long at 5000mm exactly, but never feels intimidating on the open road. It’s no lightweight at 2.2 tonnes, but its hybrid powertrain keeps up with the flow of traffic.

To recap, it’s the familiar 3.5-litre V6 petrol engine boosted by two electric motors (one up front, and one driving the rear axle) and fed by a nickel metal hydride battery stored under the rear seats. It’s not a plug-in hybrid and it’s telling that Lexus has recently started calling it a ‘self-charging hybrid’ to clarify that you’ll never have to seek a socket.

The power management is exceptionally slick, algorithms juggling the power flow to eke out every mile of range. Lexus doesn’t quote an EV range, but the NiMh battery ain’t that big so you’ll be lucky to get a mile or two on pure electric drive if you prod the EV button.

But that’s unimportant, for the car is constantly – and discreetly – switching back and forth between ICE, e-drive and regenerative braking, and it works a treat. Only under full-bore acceleration for an overtake or plugging up a steep hill does the old CVT wail and soaring revs become a bind.

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Refinement, peace and quiet

Truth is, the Lexus RX has always been a dish best served chilled and if you are of that mindset, you’ll get on very well with the new L. At a sedate cruise, it’s brilliant: jolly refined, whisper-quiet with acoustic double-glazing and laid-back like a true Lexus should be.

Lexus RX 450hL UK prices and specs: costs from £50,095 for the SE trim, £54,095 for Luxury and £61,995 for the Premier spec

Don’t bother thrashing the RX 450hL as that soaraway CVT will quickly infuriate you and there’s nothing in the chassis for keen drivers anyway. The ride is – quite correctly – comfort-oriented and twiddling the driving mode selector has little bearing on the throttle response, transmission map and (on adaptive damper equipped Premier models) body roll and bump suppression. 

If driving the door handles off a seven-seat SUV is your thing, may we suggest you look at the BMW X5 or Range Rover Sport instead?

Lexus RX L interior and quality

More brownie points inside. It’s another Lexus masterclass in modest, underplayed quality with a depth of engineering and solidity of build to all the major surfaces and functions. If you want to buy a car for long-term reliability, this is pretty much class-leading.

Lexus RX 450hL interior: a well built cabin, but terrible infotainment media system

However, the typically Japanese interior design holds some pitfalls. The cabin is well built, yes, but some of the detailing is below what you’ll find in the classiest Germans. Some switchgear is surprisingly plasticky and basic. The infotainment media system, in particular, remains an absolute horror. We can’t think of a worse multimedia system on sale in the premium sector – the left-hand operated mouse system feeling very behind the curve. Commands that’d take a few swipes and prods in an Q7 or XC90 can take several times longer in the Lexus, as you aim a cursor wonkily like playing a 1980s arcade game.

But this is a fundamentally high-quality interior that’s beguilingly well made – and the large 12.3-inch central digital display is much better than earlier Lexus efforts (even if the graphics are, again, quite flakey). The seats are comfortable and space in rows one and two is generous in the extreme. Particular mention to the totally flat rear floor, making three adults passengers a reality in the middle row.

Lexus RX 450hL verdict

In many ways, the new seven-seater RX is bang on the Lexus trend: beautifully built, sensible with sound eco credentials and a penny-pinching tax status (though imagine how much more efficient it could be with a downsized three- or four-cylinder engine in place of a V6…). The RX L places comfort and wellbeing above corner carving. And that hybrid powertrain is at once soothing and extremely refined most of the time. 

You’ll make your own mind up about the Japanese styling inside and out, but – outdated infotainment aside – there’s little to stop us recommending the Lexus RX L as a rational, sensible seven-seat SUV option.

Read more of our Lexus reviews here 


Price when new: £50,995
On sale in the UK: June 2018
Engine: 3456cc V6 petrol hybrid with two electric motors, 308bhp combined output, 247lb ft @ 4600rpm
Transmission: E-CVT, all-wheel drive
Performance: 8.0sec 0-62mph, 112mph,
Weight / material: 2205kg/steel
Dimensions (length/width/height in mm): 5000/1895/1700mm


Other Models

Photo Gallery

  • Same wheelbase, but an 11cm stretch to the rear compartment to make space for seven seats
  • UK prices start at £50,995 for the Lexus RX 450hL
  • New 2018 Lexus RX L is a fulsome 5m long
  • Rear wiper has been repositioned from top of back window to bottom - to free up more third-row headroom
  • Lexus RX 450hL interior: high quality, but woeful infotainment system
  • Minor switchgear in Lexus RX lags behind the tactile quality of the Germans' - but it's all very well made
  • Buttons to lower the rear seats electrically are in Lexus RX L's boot
  • Distinctive styling for Lexus RX L seven-seater hybrid SUV
  • Rear DLO, or side window, graphic is extended on Lexus RX L seven-seater

By Tim Pollard

Editorial director of CAR's digital publishing arm. Motoring news magnet