What's New for 2011
After a redesign last year, the 2011 Lexus RX 450h is unchanged other than the discontinuation of last year's Sports package.
If you're reading this, chances are you're interested in a luxury crossover SUV. We can also assume that you want a hybrid vehicle that actually delivers a significant fuel economy advantage. Just a few years ago, you would have had but one choice: the Lexus RX. Although it has a few rivals now, the 2011 Lexus RX 450h remains a top pick.
Compared to its conventional RX 350 stablemate, the RX 450h uses a similar 3.5-liter V6 engine but also adds two electric motors (three for the all-wheel-drive model). This hybrid powertrain produces a total of 20 horsepower more than the conventional RX 350's V6 while also delivering fuel economy that's approximately 40 percent better. The increase in fuel efficiency is certainly an enticing proposition, but it's worth noting that the RX 450h will set you back more than $5,000 over the RX 350, and that means it's going to take a number of years to recoup that cost in fuel savings.
Of course, there is a certain satisfaction that comes with driving a more efficient vehicle. In addition, Lexus RX 450h owners will also enjoy all of the typical RX benefits, including class-leading interior quality and an impressively smooth and quiet ride. The cabin also boasts a bevy of high-tech features -- both standard and optional -- to please most technology enthusiasts, including a surprisingly useful mouselike electronics interface, a sweet-sounding Mark Levinson sound system and LED headlamps.
The few other hybrid luxury crossovers choices include the Porsche Cayenne S Hybrid and Volkswagen Touareg Hybrid. But both are quite a bit more expensive and not as thrifty on gas. Factor in the Lexus' refined, light-effort approach to daily driving and it's easy to see why the RX 450h remains our top recommended choice in this niche segment.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2011 Lexus RX 450h is a five-passenger midsize luxury SUV available in front- or all-wheel-drive versions. It comes in one well-appointed trim level that includes 18-inch alloy wheels, foglights, auto-dimming mirrors, keyless ignition/entry, 10-way power front seats, a power tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, dual-zone automatic climate control, cloth upholstery, wood interior trim, sliding and reclining second-row seats and a nine-speaker audio system with a six-disc CD changer, satellite radio and an auxiliary audio jack.
Options are bundled in a number of packages. The Premium package adds leather seating, a sunroof, a power tailgate, driver seat memory, a rear-seat armrest and an iPod interface. Additional option bundles require the Premium package. The Comfort package tacks on adaptive xenon headlights with automatic high-beams, rain-sensing wipers, heated/ventilated front seats and an upgraded 12-speaker audio system.
The Luxury package includes 19-inch wheels, LED headlights, power-retractable outside mirrors, upgraded leather seating, side-view cameras, a wood and leather steering wheel and extendable front seat cushions. The Navigation package features a hard-drive-based navigation system (with real-time traffic and voice control), the Lexus Remote Touch interface, a back-up camera, increased Bluetooth functionality and Lexus Enform telematics.
Individual options include park assist, a 15-speaker Mark Levinson premium stereo system, a rear-seat entertainment system with twin headrest-mounted displays, a head-up display and adaptive cruise control with a pre-collision system (AWD only). Some of the various package features are also available as stand-alone options.
Powertrains and Performance
Powering the 2011 Lexus RX 450h is a combination of a 3.5-liter gasoline V6 engine and electric motors. Front-wheel-drive models use two motors -- one acting as a starter/generator and the other providing propulsion. The all-wheel-drive version adds a third electric motor to drive the rear wheels. Total output amounts to 295 horsepower that is routed through a specialized continuously variable transmission (CVT).
In recent Edmunds testing, the 450h accelerated from zero to 60 mph in 7.6 seconds, which is on par with the conventionally powered RX 350. The EPA estimates fuel economy at 32 mpg city/28 mpg highway and 30 mpg in combined driving for the FWD model, while the AWD scores slightly less at 30/28/29 mpg. Properly equipped, the RX 450h can tow up to 3,500 pounds.
Standard safety equipment for the 2011 Lexus RX 450h includes antilock disc brakes, traction and stability control, front and rear seat side airbags, full-length side curtain airbags and dual front knee bags. Safety Connect, a telematics service with automatic collision notification, stolen vehicle locator and emergency assistance button, is also included. Optional is the pre-collision system that comes packaged with adaptive cruise control. It determines when an accident is unavoidable and tightens the front seatbelts and initializes brake assist.
In Edmunds brake testing, a front-wheel-drive RX 450h came to a stop from 60 mph in an acceptable 127 feet.
In the government's new, more strenuous 2011 crash testing procedures (the results of which are not comparable to past test results), the RX450h received an overall score of four stars (out of five). It got four stars for overall frontal crash protection and five stars for overall side crash protection. In Insurance Institute for Highway Safety tests, the related RX 350 earned a perfect "Good" rating for its performance in frontal-offset, side-impact and roof-strength tests.
Interior Design and Special Features
Upscale appointments, exceptional cabin materials and cutting-edge tech features make the 2011 Lexus RX 450h look and feel much more expensive than its entry-level status would suggest. Authentic wood trim and high-quality leather lend an air of opulence, and the optional Mark Levinson audio is one of the best sound systems on the market.
Another noteworthy option, the Remote Touch interface, replaces the traditional touchscreen operation with a mouselike controller on the center console. The controller features haptic feedback when rolling over on-screen controls, allowing the user to "feel" the buttons. We found this system to be immediately intuitive and easier to use than other competing interfaces.
Rear passengers will find the seating roomy and comfortable thanks to reclining and sliding adjustments. Luggage and cargo space are accommodating as well, allowing up to 40 cubic feet behind the 40/20/40-split-folding rear seats and 80 cubes with them stowed.
The 2011 Lexus RX 450h doesn't disappoint when it comes to a smooth ride. The compliant suspension and plentiful sound insulation ably isolate passengers from the outside world. The hybrid powertrain is also pretty silent, though at full throttle the V6 does make a surprising amount of noise. The softly sprung suspension never feels uncontrolled, but it's far from athletic.
The RX 450h is capable of approaching 30 mph in electric-only mode, which improves fuel economy, especially in stop-and-go traffic. An "EV" mode is also at the driver's command, which allows electric-only propulsion at low speeds over short distances.