A week spent in the midsize hybrid radiant crossover SUV from Lexus
Smooth engine and transmission
Fit and finish, ergonomics, switchgear
Premium over the non-hybrid
2015 Lexus RX 450h
Back in 1998, Lexus was the first luxury brand to base a sport utility vehicle on a unibody platform – in this case the Toyota Camry – and succeeded in creating a whole new type of sport utility vehicle, the crossover. Six years later, Lexus came out with the first hybrid crossover version in the segment.
Lexus notes that the letters "RX" stand for "Radiant Crossover" – so just how radiant is the hybrid version?
Up front the 2015 RX 450h sports Lexus' signature "spindle" grille, L-shaped LED daytime running lights and a pair of fog lamps set into deeply-recessed bezels. Along the sides, the hybrid model is differentiated by a lower bright chrome trim piece with the word “hybrid” in blue, while in back the rear wiper parks itself under the upper rear spoiler, out of the way of accumulating snow and ice.
Inside, the RX retains its title as a benchmark for midsize luxury crossovers. Overall fit and finish is outstanding and it's highlighted by a stunning one-piece upper dashboard that features complex curves. There's also real bamboo wood that trims the interior including the motorized and heated steering wheel.
Instruments are clear and easy to read, with the smooth console and center-stack buttons and controls being very intuitive. But like many current Lexus models, one issue we had involves the computer mouse-like controller residing atop the center console. Once you get the hang of it (it even gives the user tactile feedback), it seems to work well enough, although it did seem a bit overly-sensitive at times. The downside, however, is that the whole setup seems to demand too much of the driver's attention, almost to the point where the best option is often pulling off the road to perform certain functions.
On the other hand, the semi-aniline leather-trimmed heated front seats are both firm and supportive with just the right amount of side bolstering, while the 10-way driver's seat (the passengers is also 10-way) features three memory settings.
Cabin ingress and egress is easy and there's plenty of head, shoulder, hip and legroom for both front seat occupants as well as for three adults in a back seat area that features a nearly flat floor. Folding those rear seats is also easy, even from the rear as there are two release levers located on either side of the rear cargo area near the rear hatch.
Speaking of that, cargo volume matches that of the non-hybrid, due to Toyota's ingenuity of placing the battery packs under the rear seats. Behind those seats there's a fairly generous 40 cubic feet of storage space. With both rear seats flipped forward, that expands to a useful 80.3 cubic feet.
Because of the high seating position and plenty of glass – including a small window aft of the A-pillar, the views out the front and sides is excellent. Rear quarter visibility, however, is impaired by the wide C-pillars and low roofline. Fortunately, all RX models now feature a standard rearview camera, although the backup screen lacks those useful reverse guidelines.
Under the hood
The hybrid system in the RX 450h consists of a 3.5-liter Atkinson-cycle V6 engine with a front-mounted 116-kW electric motor generator mated to a continuously variable transmission. AWD models add a dedicated 50-kW electric motor that powers the rear wheels.
The 450h is rated at 32 mpg city, 28 mpg highway and 30 mpg combined EPA fuel economy (30/28/29 city/highway/combined MPG with AWD). My own observed fuel economy in fairly aggressive around-town driving was 26.5 mpg.
On the road
Not a single crossover that I know of will ever be mistaken for a sports sedan and this is the case with the RX 450h.
Although its handling is ultimately secure, there's very little in the way of feedback through the leather-wrapped steering wheel. On the other hand, suspension compliance is excellent and while there's a fair amount of body lean, it, too, is well controlled.
The hybrid system is smooth, strong and refined with good acceleration Merging into traffic and accelerating, even at freeway speeds, is fairly effortless. The 450h is also unaffected by crosswinds. As is typical of most Lexus models, in both around town driving and on the expressway, very little road, wind, tire or engine noise enters the cabin.
In particular, Lexus deserves accolades for what it has accomplished with hybrid brake regen systems. Despite the fact that the 450h is equipped with one, braking is very good with plenty of feedback and it's easy to modulate the brake pedal.
Equipment and pricing
RX hybrid pricing starts at $41,720 for a base FWD model and can climb as high as $63,700-plus for a fully optioned and accessorized AWD model.
As befits their über- premium nature, all RDX hybrids come with leather seating, walnut, bird's eye maple or ebony bird's eye maple wood trim, premium audio, full power features including a tilt-and-telescopic steering wheel and one-touch up/down windows (the quietest I've ever experienced), power rear door, dual automatic climate control, auto-dimming inside rearview mirror, heated front seats, proximity key with push-button start, alloy wheels, heated outside mirrors and driver's seat easy exit (steering wheel motors forward, driver's seat motors back when the vehicle is turned off). Also standard are front door storage pockets that fold outward for easier access.
Our tester, a Deep Sea Mica, AWD model, was close to the top of that range with a base price of $48,846.00. Adding the Comfort Package (rain-sensing wipers, heated and ventilated front seats - $825), accessory connector ($100.00), LuxuryPackage (bamboo wood trim, moonroof, 19-inch alloy wheels, semi-aniline leather trim, LED headlamps and fog lamps with headlamp cleaner, illuminated scuff plates, driver's seat/steering wheel/mirror memory - $6,035), Navigation System (voice command, Lexus Enform, 1-year Sirius XM NavTraffic, NavWeather, stocks, sports and fuel prices - $1,915.00), Intuitive Park Assist ($500.00), Pre-collision Warning System with Adaptive Cruise Control ($1,500) and cargo net ($59.00) brought the total MSRP, including delivery, to a fairly breathtaking $60,689.00.
The Bottom Line
The 2015 RX 450h has a lot going for it – attractive styling, great fuel economy, a quiet ride and comfortable, richly- appointed interior. There's also very little performance difference between it and the standard model – in other words, you no longer have to don a hair shirt to reap the benefits of an additional EPA estimated 12 miles per gallon in the city and 8 miles per gallon combined.
But the RX could use a more responsive steering setup and sharper handling, while the infotainment joystick still leaves a bit to be desired. Not to be overlooked is the fact that the hybrid commands a $6,600 premium over the non-hybrid model.
But the fact remains that environmentally conscious luxury crossover buyers should be pleased with the RX 450h's ride, performance and fuel economy. Throw in Lexus's legendary reliability and dealer experience and it amounts to a total package that, while pricey, is not only radiant, but hard to beat.