Lexus RX 450h SE-L PremiumAugust 24, 2009
Lexus RX 450h SE-L Premium
Model/Engine size: 450h 3.5 litre V6
Fuel: Petrol electric hybrid
Fuel economy combined: 44.8 mpg
The Lexus 400h was the first premium SUV to be offered as a hybrid; its successor, the RX450h, is now out and it still has no rivals, but does it represent real progress?
In terms of claimed fuel consumption and emissions, then it seems that the answer is yes. Emissions of 148g/km CO2 are extremely low for a large SUV, and the fuel consumption is impressive, with a claimed 44.8mpg.
CO2 emissions have actually fallen from 198g/km to 148g/km compared to the outgoing model, and fuel consumption has been reduced by 23%, which is certainly significant progress considering that the 400h was also a full hybrid.
This has been achieved because Lexus hasn’t used its development money to make it quicker but has used it to make it more efficient (although power is up 10% to 295bhp).
Performance is almost exactly the same with a 0-62 mph time of 7.8 seconds and a (limited) top speed of 124 mph. But the reduction in CO2 means that the 450h has the lowest official emissions of any premium SUV including diesels.
Lexus has even decided to sell only the hybrid model in the UK, whereas the previous model was also available as a petrol-only V6.
Design & Engineering
The 246bhp 3.5-litre V6 is mated to two electric motors, one of which powers the rear axle to give four-wheel drive when needed. Batteries under the rear seat in turn provide energy to the motor.
The RX can be driven silently in electric mode up to 25mph, theoretically for up to two miles with the batteries fully charged. The transfer between petrol and electric modes is seamless via the CVT transmission, which has an automatic mode, and also an ability to shift through the gears manually.
The new model achieves its improved figures by means of technology. It has an improved power control unit, better aerodynamics, more energy-recovering ability, and reduced friction in the hybrid’s rear axle.
All this means it will enjoy just a 14% company car tax rate, which will be very appealing to company accountants. Road tax at just £105 per year will also be cheaper than most rivals which may cost £405, and it’s currently exempt from the London congestion charge – as bizarre as this sounds for a two tonne car with a 295bhp 3.5 litre V6 engine.
Despite new independent rear suspension, and options of either air suspension to improve the ride or an ‘active anti-roll bar’ that claims to reduce body roll by 40% (so it’s either a better ride or less roll, but you can’t have both), the RX450h is better than its predecessor, but it’s certainly not a sports-SUV to drive.
This is not helped by electric steering, which doesn’t provide a great amount of feel. At least the torque steer of the RX400h has virtually gone.
So it’s improved in corners but the handling and ride is still bettered by rivals, especially the BMW X5.
Inside, it’s comfortable and luxurious. However the dash isn’t the cleanest of layouts, as proven by the clock which is unusually tucked away right at the bottom in the centre of the dashboard.
The RX comes in four trim levels. Base spec is the SE that comes with a leather interior, Bluetooth, a high end Mark Levinson nine speaker sound system, 18″ wheels and auto wipers and lamps. Sat Nav is a £1,970 option.
The SE-I trim adds £3,650 to the base SE’s price but adds a wood interior, larger 19″ wheels, and a 12 speaker sound system.
The SE-L gets heated and ventilated seats, keyless go and the top-of-the-range 15-speaker sound system, plus a DAB radio and 6CD player – but all this costs £5,210 extra.
For a huge £13,905 over the base SE, the range-topping SE-L Premium, as tested, has a sunroof, head-up display showing your speed and the active anti-roll bars that help reduce body roll, as well as adaptive cruise control and a pre-crash system that applies the brakes and tensions the seatbelts if it thinks the driver is not slowing sufficiently for an obstacle.
There is a new controller for the in-car information system via a mouse-based controller that sits to the right of the gear selector, replacing the old touch screen. This, as you may imagine, is more difficult to use than a controller that just goes left or right, or up and down, and it results in the driver taking their eyes off the road to focus on where the mouse is pointing. It can be used to display a range of information on the central screen, including detailed fuel consumption history.
Lexus has an excellent reputation for quality, reliability and owner satisfaction. There’s no reason to expect that owners of the RX 450h will have any other experience. However one strange item of finish is on the central tunnel where there is a piece of plastic trim with a sharp edge that digs into the driver’s left leg.
Other issues that you should be aware of include that although this is supposedly an SUV, this is not a proper 4×4 – both in terms of its technology and its ability. Best not to take it off-road.
Price, Equipment and Model Range
What about economy in real-life driving? Well the Lexus didn’t achieve 44.8mpg on test, in fact it recorded 28 mpg when it wasn’t being driven carefully.
The RX 450h range is also expensive, starting at £41,600 for the basic model, and rising up to £55,505 for the SE-L Premium.
And we really don’t feel that the styling of the RX 450h has improved. The 400h looked good, whereas the RX 450h looks less like an SUV – not necessarily a bad thing you may think – but it’s ended up looking more like a bloated, square Toyota Avensis estate.
And perhaps this styling sums up the RX 450h – as this is one of the many items of evidence that shows that his car has been designed primarily with the American market in mind.
Americans love their SUVs, especially petrol-powered ones. And Americans mostly drive at no more than 55mph down straight roads. So this car is designed to do this comfortably, not to keep up with Porsche Cayennes around corners.
The RX 450h is a technological marvel. It’s an SUV weighing over two tonnes with a 3.5-litre V6 engine. Yet officially it emits similar CO2 emissions to a small family saloon. There is some smoke and mirrors going on here, and it’s unlikely that owners will achieve 45mpg unless the RX is driven very carefully. However if a luxurious, quality ownership experience with low running costs is desired over a great handling SUV then the RX 450h is the one to go for – if you don’t mind paying for it.
Car Facts and Figures
Fuel economy extra urban: 47.2 mpg
Fuel economy urban: 42.8 mpg
CO2 emissions: 148 g/km
Green rating: VED band F – £105
Weight: 2205 Kg
Company car tax liability (2009/10): 14%
Price: £55,505 (From £41,600 to £55,505)
Insurance group: 17
Power: 275 bhp (petrol) 165 bhp (front electric)
67 bhp (rear electric)
Max speed: 124 mph
0-62mph: 7.8 seconds
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