by Jared Rosenholtz
When a Matador Red Mica Lexus RX 450h was dropped off at my doorstep (provided by Lexus), I was excited. I was ready to spend a week with a luxury car that is as quiet as a bank vault and soft as a memory foam mattress. The RX is the best selling model from Lexus, and Toyota has pulled out all of the stops with the latest version. The previous generation RX wasn't basic by any means, but this new interior might be one of the best I've seen. Soft touch points are everywhere and everything is laid out beautifully. As a luxury car, the RX 450 has few faults.
My RX was the hybrid 450h model. The standard RX 350 comes with a 3.5-liter V6 with 295 horsepower. Surprisingly, the hybrid model has more power (308) and not so surprisingly bests the 350 in fuel economy. The standard RX is rated at 20 mpg city and 28 mpg highway. With the hybrid, these numbers are increased to 31 mpg city and 30 mpg highway. Unfortunately these mpg gains come at a price. The RX 450h costs $10,000 more than a base RX 350. So is it worth it? I ran both cars through a hybrid calculator and found that you would only save around $300 per year driving the industry standard 12,000 miles per year. Even on the EPA sticker, it's estimated that you'll save just $750 per year.
Those kind of savings are just too low to justify an extra $10,000 for the hybrid model. While the hybrid isn't they way I would go, there are some benefits to having a Lexus RX in this spec. If the standard car is as quite as a bank vault, then I don't even know what to compare the hybrid to. The 450h can run on electric power alone, but the gas engine will kick in if you try to accelerate too quickly or you exceed neighborhood speeds. I tried to see how long I could keep the car in its EV mode, but you can't really use it on public roads without being honked at. I reserved this feature for very short trips through my neighborhood, although I was able to make it to a nearby gym without using the engine.
When the 3.5-liter V6 does kick in, ample acceleration is available underfoot. The RX 450h is no slouch with 308 horsepower on tap, but the continuously variable transmission doesn't really inspire any driving pleasure. Like most CVTs, if you pin the throttle it will pick one RPM level to give you maximum acceleration. This results in a weird, shiftless noise. However, at anything other than hard throttle the CVT performed admirably in most driving conditions. With the added comfort of not having to shift gears, the CVT is even smoother than the eight-speed automatic in the gas-engine car. Once you ditch any notion that the sporty-looking RX is fun to drive, you start to figure out where it excels.
The $60,759 sticker price of my test model may sound a little steep, but factoring out the hybrid system can help you purchase an RX without breaking the $50,000 mark, if you are careful with the options list. It's impossible to buy a "Spartan" Lexus RX, but there are a few standout options that we would add to get the best experience. For $800, the Blind Sport Monitor with Rear Cross-Traffic Alert is a no-brainer. This system also includes the Panoramic View Monitor which gives you a bird's eye view of the car when you park. With this system it would be easy to parallel park the USS Enterprise in New York. We highly recommend this system, but we could do without the $1,050 Lexus Safety System.
This slightly pricier option comes with adaptive front headlights, which were more annoying than helpful, and the lane-keep assist which didn't help much either. The $3,125 luxury package added nicer seats, larger wheels, and other interior features, and you get a lot for the money with this pack. The wheels make the car look more expensive, and we would recommend this package over the F-Sport which doesn't make sense to us on a comfortable cruiser like the RX. The 12.3-inch Navigation with Mark Levinson Audio was a must-have. The infotainment screen is extremely visible and the quality of the Levinson 15-speaker audio system was incredible. For $1,510, this combination is clearly worth it.
Another easy option for us is the Color Heads-up display for a reasonable $600. This system displays current speed, RPM, speed limits, and radio stations on the windshield. Although, like most systems, being in the sun with polarized sun glasses does make it very difficult to see. Done up the way I would want it, you would be spending around $52,000 for a Lexus RX. For that amount of money it would be hard to find a German car that could match the level of comfort found in the Lexus. The RX floats over bumps and exhibits almost no road noise. There are certainly more fun SUVs to drive, the Porsche Macan springs to mind, but that is not what the RX really competes against.
Lexus currently makes the NX if you are looking for a "sporty" SUV. The RX is made to be an excellent car for a stable family. Kids will easily fit in the sliding and reclining rear seats of the RX, although third row seats are not offered. Front seat occupants are treated to heated and ventilated seats that can automatically detect which mode they need to be in. The Mark Levinson stereo drowns out all sound and you can also get an optional rear seat entertainment system which is integrated in the seatbacks. If you're looking for a spacious, comfortable five-seater, it's hard to match the RX. The Lexus ES sedan is slightly more comfortable over slow bumps but it can't match the cargo capacity and space in the RX.
Looks are definitely subjective, but I like what Lexus has done with the new RX. The new car is bolder than the doughy looking RX of old, and thankfully the Lexus stylists haven't made it look quite as wild as the smaller NX. For parents looking for a loaded-up SUV with tons of features, the RX might be your prescription for comfortable luxury motoring. Special thanks to JJ Photography for the awesome pictures of this Lexus RX 450h.