A big hybrid with tons of charm | The smoothness and overall comfort of this car is unparalleled.
A couple winters ago, I was able to get through a brutal winter storm in a Lexus RX450h equipped with incredible winter tires. Though that car saved me on one of the worst driving days of that season, I wasn’t able to get an accurate real-world test of that car due to the extenuating circumstances. I did know though that it wasn’t a force to be messed with, out-performing vehicles that are supposedly much more “weather-capable”. As such, I requested the keys to a 2015 Lexus RX450h SportDesign for a week.
Most of my parents’ friends are empty-nester parents in their mid-50s to early 60s. A bunch of them have upgraded from their family sedans or minivans to premium SUVs such as the Acura MDX and the Lexus RX. Over the years, I’ve seen dozens of families evolve from the Toyota Sienna or Dodge Caravan right into one of these. I can see why too; it’s a premium offering from a brand with a proven reputation for reliability and top-notch quality control. As soon as I got into my Starfire Pearl tester, I could feel the luxurious ambience of the RX450h.
Given my previous drive of the RX450h was in the heart of a winter storm, I was looking forward to learning exactly how it could do on fuel in the daily grind too. After all, most hybrids we’ve tested lately are four-cylinders that range in the 4-6L/100km range. The big Lexus packs the bigger engine; the signature 3.5L V6 also featured in the ES350, RX350, GS350, etcetera. It’s no surprise Lexus uses this engine right across the lineup; it’s incredibly versatile and a great choice. Whereas this engine is tuned for sportiness and athletics in the smaller IS350, in the RX it’s all about the smoothness and efficiency.
The 3.5L is coupled to the Hybrid Synergy Drive system, which allows the big SUV to scoot around at low speeds on only electric power. Out of all the hybrid systems available on the market today, the Toyota/Lexus unit is easily one of the best. This is, of course, evident by the incredible sales of the Prius line in both private and fleet applications. Every time the RX450h is started up, it starts on only electric power. The gas and electric motors put out a combined 295 horsepower and approximately 300 lb-ft of torque. Because this is a hybrid, I made extensive use of the “Eco” mode. This mode dulls throttle response and optimizes the continuously variable transmission for efficiency.
Just because it’s a hybrid though, that doesn’t mean the Lexus is a slouch. There is also the addition of a “Sport” mode that sharpens everything up and allows the RX450h to haul like a freight train. The steering is exceptionally comfortable and light at low speeds; this makes for quick parallel and reverse parking without the typical tediousness of larger SUVs. Avoiding bargain-hungry shoppers at Costco doesn’t even cause the RX450h to break a sweat; it just effortlessly twitches around obstacles and into your parking spot with ease.
Being a Lexus, the smoothness and overall comfort of this car is unparalleled. The seats are very comfortable, and the whole cabin is insulated and very isolated from the surroundings. I did find that the headrests aren’t the pillow-soft units used in the ES350 and the LS460, but a slightly firmer unit that I couldn’t get an ideal position in. The seats themselves need to be mentioned about ten more times because of just how nice and supple they are. Every little detail in this car feels as though a ton of effort went into it; when the power windows close, they slow down for the last inch of travel so they don’t slam into the stops and cause unnecessary noise.
For 2015, all RX450h models are equipped with the SportDesign styling tweaks. My tester also had the Technology Package (about $7,000) that adds a few additional features. Premium leather seats (heated and ventilated), front seat thigh support, heads-up display, woodgrain trim throughout the interior, LED headlights, and a 15-speaker Mark Levinson stereo with impeccable clarity. Things like a sunroof, navigation, and the Lexus corporate Remote Touch Interface (RTI) are standard on RX450h. The only available package slotted above my test car is the Executive Package, which adds a rear DVD entertainment system. As-tested, this Lexus costs just under $70,000.
The week I had the RX450h, I actually had to do a bunch of shopping. This included buying tons and tons of gifts for the holidays before the crowds begin to swarm the local malls and make finding parking an impossibility. With the split folding rear seats and removable cargo cover, the RX ate up everything with ease and seemed to say “that’s all you’ve got?” A fun fact I discovered is that the rear seats (no third row is available) are adjustable both fore/aft as well as recline. Definitely a nice touch for a little bit of added legroom and rear seat customization.
Okay, so we’ve talked about the drivetrain, the comfort, and even cargo capabilities. This is a hybrid though, so I know what people really want to hear about: fuel mileage. Even though premium fuel is recommended, the Lexus RX450h can technically get away on 87-octane fuel. Regardless, in order to get the best possible mileage, I fed the RX the 91-octane stuff. In combined driving over a busy test week, I averaged 8.0L/100km. In the city, I actually noticed the fuel mileage going as low as 6.8L/100km. This isn’t far off from Lexus’ claims, and the RX sips fuel when compared to its non-hybrid siblings.
There are very few shortcomings I observed with the RX, and there is no doubt in my mind that each and every one of these will be addressed with the next generation (due in a year or two). The dashboard layout and instrument cluster of the car are a bit dated; my parents had an early Camry Hybrid with the exact same instrument cluster display. The shifter is awkwardly located on the console at a 45-degree angle, and almost all competitors have moved on from this location. Again, with all of the great new products Lexus has been throwing at us lately, they’re sure to perfect these quirks before we see the next RX.
The 2015 Lexus RX450h SportDesign may not be a particularly sporty option, but this is a segment where sportiness is on the bottom of the priority list. Buyers want to transport their families from point A to point B in luxurious comfort, have bulletproof reliability, and a low cost of overall operation. The hybrid components on the car have a warranty of 8 years/160,000km, so the typical buyer will already have sold the car before this becomes an issue. The Acura MDX is a serious competitor, and offers three rows of seating for a similar price point. However, after spending a week with both of them, the Lexus is just so much more livable and charming that it’s the one I would opt for as a family chariot.
2015 Lexus RX450h SportDesign Gallery