Full 2012 Lexus RX 450h Review
What's New for 2012
For 2012, the Lexus RX 450h sees no changes of note.
It used to be pretty much impossible to find a luxury crossover SUV that got good fuel economy. But the Lexus RX hybrid changed all that when it debuted six years ago, providing respectable performance and an impressive city rating of 27 mpg. Although the 2012 Lexus RX 450h has a couple of rivals that didn't exist when its forebear (the 400h) debuted back in '06, it continues to be a top pick.
As with its RX 350 brother, the RX 450h has a 3.5-liter V6 engine, but being a hybrid, it is also supplemented with electric drive and the typical hybrid traits like regenerative braking. Notably, the 450h is more powerful (by 20 horsepower) than the standard RX, yet gets fuel economy about 40 percent higher. This best-of-both-worlds proposition doesn't come cheap, however; the 450h costs nearly $6,000 more than the 350. So if saving greenbacks is more important to you than being green, know that it will take a number of years to recoup that cost in fuel savings.
Along with its impressive efficiency, the 2012 Lexus RX 450h provides all the other RX benefits such as a plush ride and a handsome cabin fitted with top-quality materials. There are also plenty of high-tech features available, including a navigation system with an intuitive, mouselike multifunction controller and a superb Mark Levinson sound system.
The few other hybrid luxury crossovers choices include the Porsche Cayenne S Hybrid and related Volkswagen Touareg Hybrid. But both are quite a bit more expensive and not as thrifty on gas. There are also diesel-fueled models like the BMW X5 xDrive35d and Mercedes-Benz ML350 Bluetec, though they don't deliver such satisfactory fuel economy. In light of this, as well as the Lexus' refined, light-effort approach to daily driving, 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 2012 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.
Standard features include 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 2012 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 hp 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 2012 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, a stolen-vehicle locator and an 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 government crash tests, the RX450h received a total score of four stars (out of five). It earned 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 2012 Lexus RX 450h look and feel much more expensive than its midlevel luxury 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 is the navigation system that features the Remote Touch interface, a mouselike controller that replaces the traditional touchscreen operation. 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 2012 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.