2014 Lexus RX 450h SUV (3.5L V6 Hybrid CVT Automatic)
Driven On 4/22/2014
The Lexus RX 450h is a refined, comfortable and extremely quiet luxury SUV at a size that will prove just right for many families. But it's a questionable value, due to a lack of standard equipment along with the hybrid powertrain's price premium that could take up to a decade to recoup with fuel savings.
PerformanceThe RX 450h, like its gas-only RX 350 sibling, exhibits a quiet competence but is merely average in acceleration and braking. Handling is below average and the heavy effort steering at low speeds may dissuade some drivers.
Electric motors combined with a V6 engine yield 295 horsepower and a 0-60 sprint in 7.6 seconds. This is slow for a midsize luxury SUV. But it maintains speed without excessive engine droning on steep highway grades.
It stopped from 60 mph in 123 feet, which is an average distance for the segment. The pedal lacks "feel" as with other hybrids. This will seem odd at first, but you'll likely acclimate.
Spot-on highway effort yielded excellent stability in windy conditions. But surprisingly heavy effort while turning, especially at low speeds. An eagerness to return to center creates a strange elastic-band effect.
That heavy effort steering may make the RX seem sporty at first, but it's a hindrance in tight corners. Stability control intervenes early and often, defending against overzealous drivers.
The heavy-effort steering at low speeds may be a problem for some drivers. However, transition between electric and gas modes is ultra-refined. This is not a hybrid that draws attention to itself.
Optional tow package requires all-wheel drive, but results in a 3,500-pound tow rating. This is the same as the regular RX, as well as the Acura MDX and Infiniti QX60.
The optional all-wheel-drive system relies on an electric motor to power the rear wheels and can only do so for a short period of time. Fine for snow, not so much for a muddy field or road.
ComfortThe whisper-quiet operation of the hybrid powertrain around town only enhances what is a tomb-like interior. The ride is supple, if not quite as plush as expected, and the seats should satisfy most.
Both front seats adjust eight ways and are (optionally) heated/ventilated. Rear seats manually slide/recline. All are softly padded and generously sized, but the driver's seat could use more thigh support.
Not as cushy as you'd expect from a Lexus RX, and actually rather firm on bumpy sections of our evaluation loop. Luckily it lacks the nautical bounding over undulations found in past Lexus models. Generally well-sorted.
This is an incredibly quiet cabin, even in high winds at elevated speeds. Electric mode is free of haunted-house electric noises like in other Toyota hybrids, and V6 engine noise is relatively hushed.
InteriorThe RX offers a middle ground in available space between compact SUVs like the Audi Q5 and bigger three-row models like the Acura MDX. Could be just right for many families. Remote Touch electronics interface can be distracting.
There's too much pointing and clicking of on-screen icons with the Remote Touch mouse-like interface, drawing attention away from road. Climate controls are simple, but temperature is only displayed when changed.
Large, regular-shaped doors and a reasonable step-in and seating height offer excellent ingress/egress. Optional "keyless" door/hatch locking and ignition.
Excellent room for four, tight in back with five. Head- and legroom are above average for the midsize segment even with the optional sunroof. The rear seat reclines and slides, but there's no third-row option.
Rear quarter view hampered by large pillars and big headrests. A rearview camera is only available in one of several packages.
Deep center and door bins, but the open bin under center console isn't especially useful. Less cargo room than three-row competitors (40 cubic-feet seats up, 80 down), but not by that much.
ValueYou'll save money at the pump, yes, but you'll need to in order to make up for the hybrid's $7,000 price premium. Standard feature content is lacking for the segment, but there's no denying the top-notch materials and construction.
Build Quality (vs. $)
The RX's build quality is very good (as expected for the price). Paint, materials, seams, switches, knobs and dials are all high quality. Armrests are overstuffed and covered in soft leather.
Leather, HID lights, sunroof, rearview camera and advanced electronics interfaces are available as options, but they're commonly standard in this segment and price range. A loaded RX 450h is on par with rivals though.
RX 450h costs about $7,000 more than an equally equipped RX 350. Using EPA-estimated yearly fuel costs, it would take 10 years to recoup that premium at the pump. The Infiniti QX60 Hybrid is similarly priced.
EPA estimates are 30 mpg Combined (32 City/28 Highway), yet we managed an impressive 36.2 mpg during our evaluation route that consists of driving on the highway and mountain roads, as well as in traffic.
Warranty coverage is competitive, but not outstanding at 4 years/50,000 miles basic, 6 years/70,000 miles on powertrain and 8 years/100,000 miles on hybrid components.
Initial ownership terms are competitive, but not outstanding: 1st and 2nd scheduled maintenance visits are included, plus a 4-year/unlimited-mileage term on roadside assistance.
Fun To DriveThere is some fun to be had in the RX 450h if you accept the challenge of keeping the engine off and electric mode engaged as much as possible. Of course, this is more of a mental and throttle precision exercise. Driving fun in the traditional sense? Not really.
This is not a vehicle you feel "at one" with. Rather, it's a bit cold and distant, and more of a transportation appliance. An extremely refined and comfortable one, but an appliance nevertheless.
Despite efforts to improve the driving experience and liven up the design, the RX has not been blessed with the sort of personality granted to more recently introduced Lexus models.