The new Lexus RX450h boasts some figures so staggering that even if you’re a diehard opponent of hybrids, crossovers, and particularly cars like this that combine the two, you’re going to have to take notice. Compared to the car it replaces, power is up 10% to 295bhp, but fuel economy improves by 23% to 44.8mpg and CO2 emissions fall from 198g/km to 148g/km. That’s Focus RS power, with better economy and emissions than a Focus 1.4. Is the Lexus RX450h too good to be true?
How does the new Lexus RX450h do it?
The 3.5-litre V6 makes 246bhp on its own and two electric motors add the rest. One is solely responsible for powering the rear axle, and together they can propel the RX silently and unaided for up to two miles with the batteries fully charged by the regenerative brakes.
You might not believe that hybrids can replicate their test figures in real use, but it’s inarguable that Lexus has cut consumption and emissions by a quarter on the same test. Adopting the Atkinson cycle is the main reason, but some other clever engine-management tricks to allow the RX to slip into full EV mode earlier.
Is the RX450h like a Focus RS to drive?
No. The integration of petrol and electric drive is utterly seamless, as you’d expect. Acceleration is impressive at 7.8sec for the 62mph dash, particularly when you learn of the RX450h's chubby 2205kg kerb weight, and there’s a sonorous if muted exhaust note. But there’s just no pleasure to be had from driving this car quickly.
The electric steering lacks any feel, the RX rolls heavily (that active rear anti-roll bar is an option) and you can feel the stability control working to contain the RX’s natural tendency to heavy understeer. Better to drive it as virtually all owners will; at a pace that won’t spill the Starbucks. Then it’s fine: great isolation from poor surfaces, but the usual Lexus tendency to stumble more over bigger intrusions.
Does the RX450h sport the usual luxurious Lexus cabin?
Yes – it’s magnificently made, if crazily arrayed. The big news is the arrival of the Remote Touch mouse-like controller for the main display screen, which fits your hand beautifully but works less impressively when you’re wobbling over bad surfaces.
Just about everything else is top of the class though; the sat-nav, the Mark Levinson audio, the storage provided and the materials used. And there’s an endless kit list, most of it standard, including a nearside camera, a head-up display and LED headlamps.
Not great to drive, some doubt the figures – should I buy a new RX?
If you’re a company car driver the figures – accurate or not – put the RX450h in the 14% tax bracket and will save you thousands each year in benefit-in-kind deductions over equivalent diesel SUVs. It will also be cheaper to tax and is congestion charge exempt, for now.
Whether you believe Lexus’s claims on the fuel saving all drivers will get – £3870 compared to a Merc ML320CDi over three years, they say – depends on your view on those figures. But for most buyers, the fact that the RX450h puts the usual Lexus qualities into an SUV-lite package with the immunity from public hatred that comes with that hybrid badge will be enough.
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