What's New for 2013
The Lexus RX 450h gets an updated look for 2013, adopting the latest Lexus grille design. There are a few other cosmetic enhancements as well, along with a power liftgate and an iPod/USB audio interface added to the standard features list. Also new is a Sport mode as standard equipment, which changes steering effort, throttle response and transmission shifts for a more engaging driving experience.
SUVs and good fuel economy go together like a vegan at an Outback Steakhouse. Well, that's the way it was until the introduction of the Lexus RX hybrid, which has the same sort of gasoline-electric powertrain that made the Prius what it is. Of course, the rating of 30 mpg EPA combined earned by the 2013 Lexus RX 450h pales in comparison to the 50 mpg offered by its diminutive Toyota corporate cousin, but for a midsize luxury SUV, it's unbeatable. In fact, the mpg ratings of the RX hybrid's nearest competitors typically rank in just the low 20s.
As a hybrid, the RX 450h features a 3.5-liter V6 paired to electric motors that are powered with batteries. These are automatically recharged by capturing energy normally lost during braking. The result is a powertrain that is not only impressively fuel-efficient but pretty powerful as well. The downside, however, is that the RX hybrid also comes with a price tag that's about $6,000 dearer than a gas-only RX 350. According to the EPA, you'd have to drive the RX 450h for 8.5 years before you'd recoup the hybrid's price premium with fuel savings alone.
Unlike some other luxury hybrids, the RX hybrid's price premium does not come with extra equipment. The RX 450h and RX 350 are pretty much identical when you go beyond what's cooking under the hood. Besides the price you pay, however, that's not really a bad thing. Both provide a plush ride, a spacious cabin, strong build quality and the availability of many high-tech features.
Frankly, the 2013 Lexus RX 450h makes for a dubious economic choice compared to a regular Lexus RX 350. You'd have to be willing to either own the car for a very long time or pay considerably more for the environmental benefits associated with a hybrid. Having said that, the RX 450h is far more fuel-efficient and cheaper than other hybrid-powered luxury SUVs on the market like the Porsche Cayenne Hybrid. The same can be said for the diesel-powered BMW X5 and Mercedes-Benz ML350. In other words, if you're looking for the least oxymoronic fuel-efficient SUV, the RX 450h is without question the one to buy.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2013 Lexus RX 450h is a midsize SUV that seats five people. There is only one trim level.
As such, the RX hybrid comes standard with 18-inch wheels, automatic headlights, foglamps, LED running lamps, rear privacy glass, heated mirrors, a power liftgate and keyless ignition/entry. Inside you get automatic dual-zone climate control, a power tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, eight-way power front seats with two-way power lumbar adjustment, reclining and sliding rear seats, cloth upholstery, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and auto-dimming mirrors. Electronic features include the Safety Connect emergency communications system, Bluetooth phone and audio connectivity, and a nine-speaker sound system with a six-CD changer, satellite radio, an auxiliary audio jack and an iPod/USB audio interface.
The Display Audio with Back-up Monitor package adds a rearview camera, a larger central display screen, Bluetooth phonebook download capabilities, the Lexus Remote Touch electronics interface, the Enform suite of app-based features, real-time traffic and other information, and a 12-speaker sound system with HD radio and iTunes song tagging.
The Premium package adds a sunroof, power-folding mirrors, roof rails, a rearview camera, leather upholstery and driver memory functions. If that's not enough stuff, the Comfort or Navigation packages can be added to the Premium package. Comfort adds automatic wipers, xenon headlamps and ventilated front seats (available separately). Navigation adds the Display Audio with Back-up Monitor contents plus a navigation system and voice controls.
Finally, the Luxury package requires the Premium, Comfort and Navigation packages. To them it adds 19-inch wheels, LED headlamps (available separately), 10-way power front seats, a heated wood/leather steering wheel, upgraded leather upholstery and smog-sensing automatic climate control recirculation.
The Navigation and Luxury packages can be enhanced with a head-up display, a dual-screen rear entertainment system and a 15-speaker Mark Levinson surround-sound audio system. Other stand-alone options include an automatic parallel parking system and adaptive cruise control with a pre-collision warning system (requires all-wheel drive).
Powertrains and Performance
Powering the Lexus RX 450h is a combination of a 3.5-liter gasoline V6 and electric motors. Front-wheel-drive models use two motors; one acts as a starter/generator and the other provides propulsion. The all-wheel-drive RX adds a third electric motor to drive the rear wheels. Total output amounts to 295 horsepower that is routed through a specialized continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT).
In Edmunds testing, the 450h went from zero to 60 mph in 7.5 seconds, which is on par with the conventionally powered RX 350 and other midsize crossovers.
EPA-estimated fuel economy is a very good 32 mpg city/28 mpg highway and 30 mpg combined with front-wheel drive, while all-wheel drive returns 30/28/29. Properly equipped with all-wheel drive and the optional towing hitch, the RX 450h can tow 3,500 pounds.
Every 2013 Lexus RX 450h comes standard with antilock brakes, traction and stability control, front and rear side airbags, side curtain airbags and front knee airbags. Also included is the Safety Connect emergency communications system that includes automatic collision notification, an emergency assist button and stolen vehicle location services. The optional adaptive cruise control system includes a pre-collision warning.
In Edmunds brake testing, the RX 450h came to a stop from 60 mph in 130 feet, which is longer than average for a midsize crossover.
In government crash tests, the RX 450h received four out of five stars for overall crash protection, with four stars for frontal impact protection and five stars for side-impact protection. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety gave the RX 450h the best possible rating of "Good" in the frontal-offset, side and roof-strength crash tests.
Interior Design and Special Features
Upscale appointments, exceptional build quality and cutting-edge tech features make the 2013 Lexus RX 450h look and feel suitably expensive for its price. Authentic wood trim and high-quality leather lend an air of opulence, and the optional Mark Levinson sound system is one of the best on the market.
The controls are more complicated than past Lexus (http://www.edmunds.com/lexus/) products, but now there are more features that need controlling. When you opt for the Display Audio or Navigation packages, you get the Lexus Remote Touch system, which is a mouselike device that allows the user to move among a variety of icons on a large centrally located screen. It's a nifty technological achievement, but in practice, we've found this to be a love-it or hate-it interface and recommend playing around with it before you take an RX 350 home.
The front seats could use some extra adjustment range and thigh support, and lateral support is lacking. However, rear passengers will find the seating roomy and comfortable thanks to reclining and sliding adjustments. There's also ample luggage space, with as much as 40 cubic feet behind the 40/20/40 split-folding rear seats and 80 cubes when they're all lowered. There is no third-row seat, however, so an Acura MDX or Infiniti JX35 should be considered by those who have the occasional need to haul the cousins around.
The 2013 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 suspension is softly sprung, but this RX feels more solid and buttoned-down than past models. The steering also provides more weighting and response than expected. Activating the new-for-2013 Sport mode should at least make the RX feel livelier.
As for its status as a hybrid, the RX 450h is capable of approaching 30 mph in electric-only mode, which improves fuel economy around town and in traffic. An "EV" mode is also at the driver's command, which allows electric-only propulsion at very low speeds and for short distances.