By David Colman
Hypes: Most Solid Build Quality in the Industry, Great Hybrid Grunt
Gripes: Dash Controls Starting to Look Dated
Why is the Lexus RX the best selling luxury SUV in the US? According to the Institute for Highway Safety, only nine vehicles sold here had zero deaths per million registered vehicles. The RX350 was one of those nine. It also sells itself because it does everything you’d expect from such a premium vehicle, and does it all well. This universal approbation applies even more emphatically to the hybrid version we drove. This RX450h is both faster and more economical than the standard RX350, albeit at higher initial cost. The front wheel drive (FWD) RX350 depends on a 270hp V6 for motivation, and retails for a base price close to $41,000. Its fuel economy hovers around 21 MPG in all types of driving. the FWD RX450h of our test produces 295hp thanks to the boost of twin electric motors added to the standard V6. This combo yield an impressive 29 MPG in overall driving, and carries a base price of $48,845.
What’s most impressive about the hybrid drive train is its instant supply of torque. When you lean hard on the accelerator, this beefy, 4,870 lb. hauler jumps forward with cat like agility. You can abet the thrust by judicious use of the continuously variable transmission, which yields simulated gear ranges that boost acceleration dramatically, especially when you select 2nd or 3rd gear simulacrums from the CVT’s floor mounted bump stick. Paddles are not offered for shifts from the steering wheel
Like all Lexus products, the RX is handsomely crafted and pleasurable to operate. In particular, the $3,060 Premium Package which graced our test vehicle included bamboo interior trim and steering wheel. This matte finished wood not only brightens otherwise dark interior surfaces, but also provides the perfect gripping surface for the steering wheel’s upper and lower quadrants. It’s so delightful it’s almost worth the Premium Package price all by itself, but the package also includes leather interior trim, blind spot monitoring, one-touch open/close moon roof, auto folding, heated and self dimming exterior mirrors, 3 memory settings for both driver and front passenger seats, and finally a pair of anodized aluminum roof rails. Any way you cut it, the Premium Package makes financial sense, and adds immeasurably to your comfort and the RX’ ease of operation. In particular, the blind spot monitors are effective tools, with their subliminal suggestive orange lights that blink in the outside rear view mirrors when side traffic impinges.
Due to its weight and tall stance, handling is not the forte of the hybrid RX. Although our sample was fitted with new for 2015 triple-split, five spoke alloy wheels finished in light gray, the all season tires these wheels support (Michelin X 235/55R19) are configured more for comfort than adhesion. Notably, the front end of the RX washes out early in turns due to lots of under steer built into the design of the suspension and chassis platform. While losing traction in the front wheels is always preferable and more controllable than losing grip in the rear wheels, the FWD RX’ tendency to continue on a straight course even after you have cranked the steering wheel for the next turn feels a bit disconcerting.
The RX, with its strong sales lead in the luxury SUV segment, remains mostly unchanged for 2015, In addition to the new 19 inch rims, other minor improvements this year include standard auto-display backup camera, new LED fog lamps, new three flash turn signals, new Lexus Enform Apps, and finally, a revised and improved control knob on the center console for manipulation of the infotainment system. After having spent the previous week aboard the all new Lexus RC350 coupe, the control apparatus in the RX seemed somewhat dated and inferior by comparison. For example, the mouse on the RX’ central tunnel is not nearly as slick as the iPad-like finger slide interface on the RC coupe. Also the RX’ screen seems too small when compared to the Vista Vision unit of the new coupe. You can look for improvements in these areas when Lexus introduces a revamped version of the RX expected to debut in the 2016 model year.
2015 Lexus RX450h
- Engine: 3.5 liter V6 with VVT plus twin front electric drive motors
- Horsepower: 295hp
- Torque: N/A
- Fuel Consumption: 30 MPG City/28 MPG Highway
- Price as Tested: $58,315
- Star Rating: 8.5 out of 10 Stars