Jason Kavanagh, Senior Vehicle Test Engineer
Mind control is said to be beyond the reach of modern science, but there are occasions when you question the popular wisdom. Take the Lexus RX in all its forms since its introduction in 1999. There's no logical explanation why an SUV would be the best-selling model for a nameplate established to sell luxury sedans. Must be mind control, then.
Or maybe Lexus put on its collective thinking cap, hit on a popular combination of qualities and is now reaping the fruits. If this is to be believed, then the 2010 Lexus RX 450h is a logical successor to the RX 400h. In enhancing the qualities that have made the RX series such a success, the newest hybrid SUV from Lexus takes a step closer to normalcy.
It's like that movie A.I., the one in which the robotic kid just wants to be accepted as a regular boy, except we didn't abandon the RX 450h in the woods to be disassembled by self-aware toaster ovens.
Pricing Not Announced Pricing of the 2010 Lexus RX 450h won't be announced for a few months, but it's likely to start within a pebble's throw of the outgoing RX 400h's $42,905 base price. Once you add in the optional equipment found in our front-wheel-drive RX 450h tester, we expect the asking price to crest $50,000.
This kind of cheddar needs some context. Consider that the price of the non-hybrid RX 350 starts at $37,625. When you do a simple payoff analysis based on the RX 450h's fuel savings, you will find the smart money frowns on springing for the hybrid unless you rack up enough miles to balance the equation. Our math suggests that breaking even will require you to drive the RX 450h something like 185,000 miles.
Usually hybrids deliver compelling attractions beyond fuel economy to make them worth the expense. Acceleration has historically been a hybrid perk, owing to the way a hybrid's electric motor bolsters low-end torque. Alas, the RX 450h bears some unexpected news there.
Slower Than the RX 400h The RX 450h's hybrid powertrain develops a combined power rating of 295 horsepower — some 27 hp stronger than the RX 400h — due to the inclusion of a more powerful 245-hp 3.5-liter V6. Nevertheless, it turns out that even with a fortified engine, the 4,619-pound RX 450h proves slower than the last RX 400h we tested, itself the heavy AWD version.
The 2010 Lexus RX 450h hits 60 mph from a standstill in 7.6 seconds (7.2 seconds with 1 foot of rollout like on a drag strip) and completes the quarter-mile in 15.6 seconds at 91.8 mph, trailing the RX 400h by nearly a half-second in each category. Though certainly not slow, these results don't reflect that in routine driving the RX 450h isn't particularly eager to leap off the line unless you really give it the spurs. This lackadaisical response might be a trade-off for the RX 450h's more fuel-friendly ways.
If you're the kind of buyer who previously gravitated to the RX 400h, this drop in speed by the RX 450h will be of little concern. Same with the RX 450h's meek personality. Just as its predecessor never quickened a pulse, so, too, doctors could prescribe the RX 450h to patients as a sedative.
Where It Gets Better OK, so the RX 450h has a pretty long payoff period and is slower than its predecessor. But don't go thinking Lexus has lost the plot with the RX 450h. Far from it — the 2010 Lexus RX 450h is exactly what it needs to be. It rides smoother than ever, and glides free of road hum or wind roar.
Lexus generally tunes its suspensions with a bias toward marshmallowy plushness. Of course, once you match the heft of the hybrid bits to this philosophy, the best you can usually hope for is a vehicle that doesn't sink to its knees and crash into the suspension's bump stops.
Fortunately the engineers at Lexus have navigated these treacherous waters admirably. They've added to the RX 450h a new double-wishbone rear suspension, not to mention a quality of suspension control that was missing in the RX 400h. The real surprise is that this suppleness doesn't fall apart on broken pavement. Although the RX's prodigious mass can be detected through the seat of your pants, it doesn't dominate your impression of the way the RX 450h travels down the road.
Practiced at the Art While frugal with fuel, hybrids are often knocked for driving like escapees from a 1980s-era video arcade. Lexus knows this, and has lavished attention on making the hybrid-ness of the RX 450h more transparent. The regenerative brakes bite more predictably on their way to bringing this 4,619-pound SUV to a halt in 127 feet from 60 mph, and we can detect a substance to the steering that was lacking in the outgoing RX 400h.
There's also less of a jolt in the powertrain when the V6 finally fires up to help the electric motors propel the RX 450h, too. We won't go so far as to say Lexus has exorcised all the hybrid telltales in the RX 450h, but it's made noticeable progress.
Oh, and the 2010 Lexus RX 450h achieves an estimated 32 mpg city/28 mpg highway, substantially bettering the outgoing RX 400h. We logged 26 mpg overall during our testing after driving this RX through two tankfuls with a pretty heavy foot on the throttle. For a largish SUV, this is a respectable showing, and we have no doubts the RX 450h will achieve or surpass its EPA rating when driven in a more typical manner.
Touch Me Remotely With the RX 450h, Lexus is debuting Remote Touch, its latest take on a multimedia interface for the navigation and audio controls. Instead of a twist-and-press knob like those found in German sedans, Remote Touch employs what is essentially an inverted computer mouse located on the center console. You move the flat nub around to navigate a cursor on a large, well-lit screen set back in the upper portion of the dashboard.
Haptic feedback in the nub provides texture to its action and prevents bumpy pavement from sending the cursor skewing haphazardly across the screen. Overall, the system works well once you customize it to your liking, and the ergonomics of the controller's placement are outstanding. We'd prefer if the radio presets had remained as old-fashioned buttons, though.
Elsewhere, the cabin is a mixed bag. The rear cargo area is huge, but the spaciousness of the rear seating area doesn't live up to the promise of the SUV's ample exterior dimensions. And the opinions of our editors were split on the luxury quotient of the RX 450h's interior. Too many pieces were obviously lifted from Toyota's parts bin for a Lexus-nameplate vehicle, and where are the heated seats?
Against All Odds When you consider that it cribs attributes from SUVs, wagons, luxury cars and hybrids, the 2010 Lexus RX 450h is less than the sum of its parts. You might be expecting more from a $50,000 Lexus than the 2010 RX 450h delivers. At the same time, this perspective ignores the realities of the RX franchise's success, which can be measured by 103,340 RX sales in 2007 and 17,291 RX 400h sales in the same time period.
The new RX 450h doesn't try to woo you with an engaging personality or the ultimate in SUV capability, or even just smart fiscal conservatism. Instead, this Lexus achieves exactly what it aimed to do — polish the rough edges off the RX 400h. Straying too far from a winning formula would be foolish indeed.
News Editor Kelly Toepke says: Quite simply, I like the 2010 Lexus RX 450h. I liked the RX 400h, and as I'm sure Lexus hopes, I like this one even better. Sure, it offers the same level of driver feedback as a Viking oven, but I'm not convinced that the average buyer will notice. They're even unlikely to pick up on the slightly slower acceleration.
What they will notice is the tomblike quiet cabin, the broad range of electronic goodies and slightly fewer trips to the gas station.
I'm also not convinced that people shopping for a Lexus hybrid are focused on pricing. As Engineering Editor Jay Kavanagh points out, it would take approximately 185,000 miles for the 450h to equal the value of choosing the non-hybrid RX. Seems to me Lexus hybrid owners are more likely to be concerned with their green image than they are with the green in their wallet.
And if that's the case, the newly refined Lexus RX hybrid will appeal directly to its target audience.
The manufacturer provided Edmunds this vehicle for the purposes of evaluation.
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