Brian Moody, Road Test Editor
The 2010 Lexus RX 450h is a multitasker. These days the term is often used as a code word for doing many things poorly rather than fewer things well. This does not apply to the new Lexus, but the all-new RX 450h seems to embrace so many missions, it can be hard to tell what the point of this vehicle really is. Is it a luxury SUV or a fuel-sipping hybrid?
The 2010 Lexus RX 450h looks nice inside and most materials have a quality feel, but certain luxury items are missing from the 450h's standard features list. With a combined average of 26 mpg it's clear this RX doesn't make a huge case from a fuel-savings perspective, and that sort of goes for the luxury theme as well. For approximately $50,000, we'd expect features like heated front seats and would hope for fewer Toyota parts-bin pieces sprinkled throughout the interior. For the less badge-conscious, a loaded Toyota Highlander Hybrid might work just as well.
Ultimately, non-hybrid crossovers like the Toyota Venza and Highlander are better overall choices. They're more fun to drive, and for less cash, can be optioned to look and feel nearly as nice as the RX hybrid.
The 2010 Lexus RX 450h is stable around town and the double-wishbone suspension soaks up most road imperfections. There's not a lot of excitement in driving the RX 450h, but that may be just the kind of thing Lexus buyers expect and appreciate. What those buyers will likely not appreciate is the necessary commotion that accompanies a gas-electric hybrid powertrain.
When the RX comes to a stop, it's obvious that more than simple braking is going on — the brakes can be grabby and then there's a noticeable electric whine as the vehicle comes to a full stop. It's all part of the regenerative braking system that adds extra juice to the battery pack whenever the car is coasting or braking.
The hybrid version of the RX isn't especially quick either, with a 0-60-mph run of 7.2 seconds. This is noticeably slower than last year's RX 400h, despite the RX 450h's 27 more horsepower (295 hp). In everyday driving, the RX feels adequate in terms of acceleration, but if you need an extra dose of speed, you really have to prod the accelerator.
Like the Highlander Hybrid, the RX 450h has an EV mode that lets you drive using only the electric motors. This is a great idea, but in order for it to work properly, many criteria (speed, temperature, battery charge) have to be met. In nearly two and a half days of driving and about a dozen attempts, we were only able to engage the full-electric mode on two occasions.
There's nothing objectionable about the 2010 Lexus RX 450h's interior — the front seats are supportive and feel like they belong in a luxury car. Still, despite the calming combination of colors and textures, the all-out luxury theme seems to have been dialed back a bit versus SUVs from Infiniti and Mercedes-Benz. Many surfaces look and feel like they're from a high-end Toyota rather than a $50,000 Lexus.
The rear seats are a bit of a disappointment as well. The RX has a very spacious interior, but too little of that space goes toward making rear passengers comfortable, which is all the more surprising given that Lexus chose to keep its latest RX a five-passenger vehicle rather than adding a third-row seat. Reclining rear seats help, there's enough headroom and hip room is decent, but legroom is surprisingly scant for a midsize crossover. This won't apply to every buyer, but the backseat seems really snug when a forward- or rear-facing child seat is installed.
One thing Lexus and parent company Toyota do well is label buttons and switches. If you're looking to raise the interior temperature or adjust the electric mirrors in the RX 450h, it will take the average person about 3 seconds to figure it out. Every control is well placed and many items are located in such a way that the driver will instinctively reach for and hit the correct button before he/she even knows where it is.
Most of the RX 450h's controls have a logic to them that is comforting, which is also true of the new Remote Touch feature. A padded hump in the center console, the Remote Touch controller functions a little like a computer mouse using a large curved hand rest and a small joystick that you move with your fingers. The navigation screen is large and bright, with high contrast that's ultimately easy on the eyes. The combination of the Remote Touch feature and brilliant screen is such that anyone even remotely familiar with a home computer will feel at ease.
On the more practical side, the hybrid RX has 40 cubic feet of cargo volume behind the rear seat. By comparison, a Toyota Sienna minivan has about 43 cubic feet with all seats in place. Fold the rear seats down and the RX doubles its ability to carry stuff. Storage up front in the RX is adequate, with large front door bins and a deep center console storage bin for everyday items like keys, cell phone and a wallet. There's extra space in an unusual but easily accessible storage area that's carved out of the center console just below the center stack.
Design/Fit and Finish
Interior and exterior fit and finish were excellent on our 2010 Lexus RX 450h test car, although there's nothing especially inspiring about the RX's outer skin. Other luxury crossovers like the Infiniti FX and even the Lincoln MKX look more dramatic thanks to some complex curves and generous use of chrome. By comparison, the RX 450h's exterior lacks drama and feels like a safe choice designed for mass appeal.
Inside, curved design elements, wood grain trim and open space conspire to give the Lexus a home interior flair — and we mean that in a good way. Indeed, the RX is a very nice place to spend time mainly because the cabin remains quiet even at freeway speeds. The optional Mark Levinson audio system sounds quite good, and overall the cabin is comfortable if not opulent.
Who should consider this vehicle
Those who appreciate a little luxury in their hybrid SUV but don't want to attract attention will probably like the 2010 Lexus RX 450h.
The manufacturer provided Edmunds this vehicle for the purposes of evaluation.
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