Full 2010 Lexus RX 450h Review
What's New for 2010
For 2010, Lexus has redesigned the hybrid version of its popular RX luxury crossover SUV. The name change from last year's RX 400h to this year's RX 450h signifies evolutionary style changes along with some significant under-the-skin improvements.
When it debuted four years ago, the Lexus RX 400h answered what many thought was an obvious question: Why doesn't someone make a midsize hybrid SUV? Better yet, how about a luxury-branded midsize hybrid SUV? That first RX hybrid offered the typical Lexus attributes of luxury, a smooth and quiet ride and top-notch build quality. It also provided strong performance along with fuel mileage ratings in the mid-20s. The 2010 Lexus RX 450h represents the next generation of this successful offering.
Among the changes made for 2010 are more power along with slightly better fuel efficiency. The RX 450h produces a maximum output of 295 horsepower, 27 more ponies than before, while the fuel numbers go up a couple of mpg. The hybrid version also shares the same changes made to all 2010 RX models, including an increase in width (though other dimensions remain essentially unchanged), a beefier structure to promote greater crashworthiness, bigger wheels and brakes, more airbags (now at 10 total), a keyless ignition system and a new computer mouselike multifunction controller for the optional navigation system.
Unfortunately, another change for the 450h is a weight gain of more than 400 pounds. However, it seems to have little effect on the RX 450h's dynamics, as performance is still strong and handling feels sharper than before, thanks to revised steering and suspension systems. As before, the hybrid can function in gas-engine-only, electric-only or combination modes depending on conditions. During light acceleration or when coasting, the 450h saves fuel by running solely on battery power. When full power is called for, the 450h offers acceleration similar to that of some V8-powered rivals while achieving the best fuel economy in the midsize luxury SUV class.
Of course, none of this comes cheap. A typically equipped 2010 Lexus RX 450h will cost about $4,000 more than a similar RX 350. Given that, it would take many miles and years of driving to recoup the hybrid's additional cost via reduced fuel consumption. And from a pure "save the planet" standpoint, buying a 50-mpg Prius makes much more sense than buying a 28-mpg crossover. But it's hard not to like the RX 450h -- quick, luxurious and relatively fuel-efficient, it seemingly offers the best of all worlds, virtually guaranteeing its appeal to the luxury SUV buyer.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2010 Lexus RX 450h is a midsize luxury SUV available in front- or all-wheel-drive versions. It comes in one trim level, with standard and optional equipment levels similar to those of the RX 350. Standard equipment includes 18-inch wheels, auto-dimming exterior mirrors, keyless ignition/entry, 10-way power front seats, a power tilt/telescoping steering wheel, wood interior trim, sliding and reclining second-row seats and a nine-speaker audio system with a six-CD changer and an auxiliary audio jack.
Options are bundled in a number of packages. The Sport package adds 19-inch wheels and a sport-tuned suspension. The Premium package adds leather seating, a sunroof, a power tailgate, driver seat memory and an iPod interface. Selecting this package allows further upgrades via the Comfort package (adaptive xenon headlights and heated/cooled front seats) and the Luxury package (19-inch wheels, upgraded leather seating, side-monitoring system, wood/leather steering wheel and extendable front seat cushions). The Navigation package (also requires the Premium package) includes a hard-drive-based navigation system, real-time traffic updates, a back-up camera, Bluetooth and upgraded speakers.
Individual options include LED headlights, park assist, a Mark Levinson premium stereo system, a dual rear-screen entertainment system, a head-up display, and the Pre-Collision system (which primes the brakes and tightens the seatbelts if a collision is deemed imminent). Many of the various package features are also available as stand-alone options.
Powertrains and Performance
The 2010 Lexus RX 450h hybrid combines a 3.5-liter gasoline V6 engine with electric motor-generators to power vehicle systems and the driving wheels. Front-wheel-drive models use two motor-generators -- one acting as a starter/generator and the other providing motive force -- while the all-wheel-drive version adds a third electric motor to drive the rear wheels. Producing up to 295 hp and working through a specialized continuously variable transmission (CVT), the RX 450h provides smooth, strong performance. We've timed the 450h from zero to 60 mph in 7.6 seconds, a time that's about the same as the regular RX 350's. Fuel economy estimates stand at 28 mpg city/27 mpg highway and 28 mpg combined for the FWD model, with the AWD version rating 1 mpg less. Properly equipped, the RX 450h can tow up to 3,500 pounds.
The RX 350 comes standard with front- and rear-seat side airbags, full-length side curtain airbags and dual front knee bags. Standard stability- and traction-control systems as well as antilock brakes with brake assist are on hand to help you avoid an accident in the first place.
Interior Design and Special Features
Although the RX 450h is part of Lexus' entry-level SUV lineup, the 450h's cabin gives the impression that this could be the company's flagship. Real wood and leather trim make for a rich ambience. The optional Mark Levinson sound system rivals the best systems available from any manufacturer, and the optional navigation system boasts one of the most user-friendly interfaces around. In addition to voice command capability, the latter employs a new "Remote Touch" interface that replaces the former touchscreen setup with a mouselike controller located on the center console. Remote Touch is immediately intuitive and generally easier to use than interfaces offered by the RX's competitors.
Rear passengers can get comfortable thanks to the seat's reclining and sliding adjustments. That seat is split 40/20/40 to optimize both passenger comfort and cargo-carrying flexibility. When it's time to turn this luxury cruiser into a beast of burden, the RX 450h is ready with 40 cubic feet of cargo capacity with the rear seats up and 80 cubes with those seats down.
The 2010 Lexus RX 450h drives a lot like its gas-powered RX 350 sibling, delivering both a smooth ride and reasonably tight handling despite its extra weight (which is only noticeable when changing direction at higher speeds). That smooth ride comes thanks to soft suspension tuning, which makes the RX feel a little too spongy for those who appreciate a more spirited driving experience. However, the Sport package does firm things up a bit.
The RX 450h is capable of approaching 30 mph in electric mode alone, which is of great fuel-saving benefit in stop-and-go traffic. This year brings a new "EV" mode that allows solely electric propulsion for lower speeds over short distances. Under maximum acceleration, though, an un-Lexus-like amount of engine noise is generated as the gas engine revs all the way up to redline.