The Lexus RX essentially created the luxury crossover market when it debuted in 1998. By using a unibody chassis rather than a body-on-frame setup like most SUVs, the Lexus was quieter, more comfortable and nicer to drive than any of its competitors. Lexus had an immediate hit. Now more than 15 years later I have been given the keys to a third-generation model. Meet the RX 450h.
The “h” signifies that this particular family machine is powered by a hybrid system. Toyota makes some of the best hybrids in the business, but I worry that the weight and heft of an SUV may be too much to ask of the Hybrid Synergy Drive setup. With lots of crossover competition from America and the German’s alike the RX 450h has some stiff rivals. Can this latest version of Lexus’ segment defining crossover keep up with the now rampant competition?
Read more about the 2014 Lexus RX 450h after the break
The only noteworthy part of the exterior design for the RX is the addition of the Lexus Spindle Grille.
The Lexus RX has held a remarkably similar shape since it was first introduced. The same general silhouette, complete with sloping back and small jutting roof spoiler that defined the first model. It’s almost as if Lexus took lessons from Porsche. The new model is larger and sleeker than its predecessor, but the family resemblance is strong.
Otherwise, this car is pretty standard Lexus fare. The overall look is clean and unobtrusive with soft curves and crisp edges. Nothing radical or exciting, exactly how Lexus would prefer it. Our tester here is shod in a color of paint called Silver Lining, and aside from the one dark-blue and one dark-red exterior color option, you can only get your RX Hybrid in various hues of boring.
The only noteworthy part of the exterior design for the RX is the addition of the Lexus Spindle Grille. The design feature has proven to be a very love-it or hate-it item in the office, but to my eyes, this is the worst interpretation of it. The sharp angles look attractive on cars like the IS, but when they are stretched and malformed to make it over the bulbous front end of the RX the results are less than pleasing.
I do like the headlamps though. This car had the optional LED headlamps that also included a headlamp cleaner for those bug-filled Spring drives.
The seat ventilation was so bad that I could turn it on full when my passenger wasn’t looking, and they never noticed.
So the exterior didn’t really excite me, but that was never the intention of the car’s designers. The focus at Lexus is always on quietness, comfort and quality. The interior holds true to Lexus’ strengths and proved to be a relative fortress of solitude. Thanks to the Premium Package fitted to my tester I was gifted with full leather interior trim, a power moonroof and memory settings for seat and wheel position. The Premium Package also added safety items like power-folding side mirrors and blind-spot monitoring. Considering this machine starts at nearly $48,000 dollars, the fact that I have to pay another $2,760 for an option package to get leather seats seems a bit like robbery.
That wasn’t the only option on my car either. A comfort Package added rain-sensing wipers that worked very well and heated and cooled seats that barely worked at all. The seat ventilation was so bad that I could turn it on full when my passenger wasn’t looking, and it went unnoticed. As far as I can tell, the seat ventilation system is nothing more than perforated leather on the seats and a blue LED in the center console.
Aside from the fact that venting system for seats didn’t really work, the thrones themselves were very comfortable. The leather is soft, and the seats were supportive. I didn’t run into the same issue that Mark and I both had with the ES where we just couldn’t get comfortable, rather it only took a few seconds to get the seating position just right.
If you feel like putting full-sized humans in the back they will be nearly as comfortable as those in the front seats, and thanks to thoughtful touches like extra door storage and very well padded fold-down center arm rest, they won’t mind staying back there for longer lengths of time.
If you are wondering why this is its own segment let me, and about $6000 worth of options, explain. One of the other options on this specific RX is what I am calling the “Shut Up, Kids!” package. That includes two rear seat screens, wireless headphones for those passengers, a 120-volt power outlet, a 12-volt power outlet and some extra AV inputs for a video game console. Sadly, those AV connections are completely incompatible with any video game console system made in the last 10 years.
The screens are modestly sized, but display a decent enough picture, and they also allow individual access to some of the various audio options and the whole thing is controlled via a remote. Don’t lose it though, as I could not find any other means of accessing or adjusting the content on the system without it. Also, be prepared to stop frequently for batteries as the wireless headphones use standard AAs.
Thanks to the insistence of Lexus that you enter your car’s VIN number, the process is far from quick or easy.
This particular option package does come with a few adult-oriented goodies with it as all including Navigation, Voice Control, Lexus Enform and the various SiriusXM functionalities like weather, sports and traffic. All together, this package will run you a cool $4,920, and that is a shame really. Not only is that price eye-watering, but the highly touted Lexus Enform system that lets you run apps like Pandora from your smart phone directly on the main console is utterly, mind-numbingly awful.
Before you can even use Enform you have to download the app to your phone and signup. Thanks to the insistence of Lexus that you enter your car’s VIN number, the process is far from quick or easy. Lexus does offer a function that will let you scan the VIN barcode on the car, but how many Lexus buyers will know what that even is, let alone where to find it? Once you get the app installed and working, you can start to use the system.
This involves going through the menu system on the center console and looking for the single option vaguely name “apps.” No Entune logo or anything, it just says "apps." Click into the system and it says no access to phone, because I forgot to connect my phone to Bluetooth. Connect to Bluetooth and try again; success.
I am now connected to Entune, but before I can actually do anything the system must check for updates. Oh goody, it found some. This kicked off a 25 minute process of me driving into town and the update download constantly failing. Apparently if your phone has anything less than perfect signal it will halt the download. Nearly half an hour later I have a full update done and the system connects. I move the cursor over to Pandora radio and click play. A small “activating app” screen appears followed quickly by another error message. It is asking me to “open the app on your smartphone.” I then pull out my phone, open Pandora, and proceed to try again. It gives me the exact same error message.
Well then, Lexus, this is fun so far.
I think for a minute, and while Pandora is still open I also reopen the Lexus Entune app on my phone to find it has changed dramatically to nearly mirror the screen on the dash. I press Pandora on this screen and tada, the system finally begins to function as advertised.
Why in the hell it had to be so complicated I will never understand, but next time I will stop at “connect to Bluetooth” and just stream Pandora straight to my phone.
You could argue that most of the Lexus’ price tag is going to fund the hybrid system that is nestled under the hood. The familiar Toyota Hybrid Synergy Drive system has been renamed to Lexus Hybrid Drive for luxury duty and in the 450h it consists of a the family 3.5-liter V-6 and the small electric motor and battery combination.
Lexus claims that AWD version like I have here will hit 60 mph in 7.4 seconds, but frankly that feels like a flat out lie.
While hybrid combinations have been used more effectively in recent years to boost performance while saving fuel, this setup is not one of those systems. With a total power output only 295 horsepower the 4,500 pound RX feel super sluggish. Lexus claims that AWD version like I have here will hit 60 mph in 7.4 seconds, but frankly that feels like a flat out lie. Some unofficial and old-school stop watch action has me pegging this beast at closer to 8.1 in Sport Mode. It gets progressively slower in Normal and Eco modes.
Nobody will be buying the RX 450h for its performance though, they want the fuel economy. With a sticker rating of 30 mpg city, 28 mpg highway and 29 combined, this hybrid paints a rosier picture. Or it would if I got anywhere close to those numbers. I have spent the majority of my time with this machine in Eco mode, which makes it utterly terrible to drive, and I am sitting at 26.5 overall. That includes a fair bit of slow speed city driving where the hybrid system is working at its best. Yes, 26 for an SUV is respectable, but it far from exemplary and there are cars in the class that will give you better real-world numbers.
As a final note on performance, the top speed is only 112 mph.
Aside from being painfully slow, the Lexus RX 450h is not the worst thing I have ever driven. The AWD system helps keep things planted when pushing the car hard and the regenerative braking system helps keep the brakes from being overloaded with repeated hard stops.
The suspension setup is obviously catered towards comfort and not speed. The car never felt like it would fall over in a corner but it is wobbly enough that I gave myself a bit of motion sickness around a particularly twisty bit of road I know.
If you just need to commute or take a few friends to a movie, the car will be a pleasant companion. The stereo is nice enough, the seats are comfy and the cabin stays mostly whisper quiet.
Price is one of my biggest pains for this machine. According to my included sticker, the RX 450h AWD carries a base sticker of $47,810. This tester has a full $11,470 worth of options and when you add in the $910 destination fee the total comes out to $60,190. You can buy lots of other machines for that much money.
Speaking of cars you can get for the money, the Audi Q5 TDI is one of the best on the market. For $54,580 you can have a decked out Prestige model with the 3.0-liter V-6 diesel engine and nearly identical options. From the upgraded stereo and navigation system to the fancy headlights, there is almost nothing missing from the Q5.
The big omissions in the options list include the seat venting system and the rear screen entertainment system. Sin ce the seat coolers didn’t work, that isn’t much of a loss, and since this Audi is a full $5,500 cheaper than the Lexus you can afford to buy each child a set of fancy Bluetooth headphones and an iPad while still saving a couple thousand dollars.
On paper the Audi does lose out in fuel economy though with its 24/31/27 ratings. Still, the Audi has almost the same horsepower rating with 240 ponies and it has an incredible 428 pound-feet of torque. When you take into account that my previous real-world testing of the Q5 saw fuel economy numbers of about 35 or so in mixed driving and the RX doesn’t stand a chance.
With the Audi Q5 we looked at what happens when you chase luxury and fuel economy at expense of the back seat amenities. If keeping the small humans in your life comfortable and happy is the most important box on your luxury SUV checklist, you would be hard pressed to beat the Acadia.
It has second-row buckets that make kids feel special, there is an option for rear seat entertainment systems and you can even still get the wireless headphones. It comes with just as much safety equipment as the Lexus and even has a few extra goodies like adaptive cruise control. There is also several cows worth of leather and some slabs of wood too. I will concede that the leather is not as nice, and the wood looks very fake, but considering you can get one of these things nicely optioned for about $54,000 it is not a bad deal.
The 3.6-liter, V-6 engine will not return numbers nearly as good as the Lexus, but it is more powerful and makes the Acadia feel better to drive.
Gallery GMC Acadia Denali
I have been hard on the Lexus RX 450h, and it may seem undeserved. In truth, it is still a good car. It is quiet and comfy and the fuel economy is better than most of its rivals. All said though, it doesn’t do a better job at anything than the dozens of other machines you can buy at this price. Lexus built a reputation on creating the best cars in the segment while also maintaining a competitive price point. This feels like a “me too” car that offers nothing in the way of refinement or progress and it still costs an arm and a leg. Lexus can make some of the best cars in the world, this just isn’t one of them.
- Very quiet cabin
- Competitive MPG even if it does underperform ratings
- Nice stereo and leather interior trim
- Unbearably slow
- Far too expensive