In most auto enthusiast circles, Lexus tends to get a bad rap, but what’s worse, is that the brand is inaccurately categorized as a follower, not an innovator. If you subscribe to that group, consider this. In 1998 Lexus introduced the RX, the world’s first luxury crossover. The RX is Lexus’ best selling vehicle, and is one of the top selling luxury cars in the US. In 2006, Lexus introduced the RX400h, the world’s first luxury hybrid. As far as luxury crossovers go, the Lexus RX is the gold standard, and to date, no competitor has managed to knock the RX off its pedestal. The RX is now in its third generation, and Lexus is hardly resting on past success.
As the car in which all others are judged against, it was time for The Garage to see what makes the RX so popular. The RX is available as the RX350, and hybrid RX450h. Both models are available in front or all-wheel drive. Our test car was the all-wheel drive model.
It is a given that you don’t attain best-seller status without good looks, and the RX450h does not disappoint. The Lexus is understated, classy and refined as a Brooks Brothers suit. The optional 19″ wheels make the car. Critics may complain that the RX may be too restrained in its styling, but a proper luxury car isn’t one that grabs you by the lapels demanding your attention. Our test car was finished in a rich-looking, but somber Truffle Mica. The RX450h has a different grill than the RX350, which is a shame. I understand why Lexus would want to offer some visual cue to differentiate their hybrid model, but in my opinion the grill on the RX350 is more attractive.
The highlight of any Lexus is typically the interior, and the RX450h positively shines. Rich, smooth leather, and lustrous wood make for a welcoming cabin. Every surface you touch is made of high quality materials. More impressive is that Lexus is able to pack so much technology and features into the RX450h, yet never loses sight that luxury also means ease of use. The RX’s controls are simple and intuitive. For 2010 the RX now uses a mouse type device to work through the navigation, audio, and Ã‚Â other controls. It is a cinch to use.
Toyota and Lexus have, in my opinion, the best navigation interface in the business. The system is further enhanced with XM Weather, that alerts the driver of any weather warnings in the area. The standard audio system provided exceptional sound quality, but Lexus offers a Mark Levinson stereo for serious audiophiles.
But perhaps the greatest feature of all was simply the comfort the RX450h provided. The power, heated and cooled seats offer the rare ability to make you feel better just by simply sitting on them. Together with the power tilt/telescoping steering wheel, it only takes a moment to find your ideal driving position. Once settled in, the Lexus provides excellent comfort over long drives. Perfect in execution for its mission, the interior of the RX450h is nearly faultless.
The RX450h is powered by a 3.5L V-6, and three electric motors in our all-wheel drive test car. Max power is 295hp, coupled to a CVT transmission. The RX is not going to set your heart on fire, but there was always ample power on hand for all driving situations. Lexus takes a slightly different tact with the RX450h-in this application, Lexus wanted to offer the performance of a V-8 with fuel economy rivaling smaller, less powerful crossovers. The recipe works. Unlike a Prius, which reminds you the lack of power is for the sake of fuel economy, the RX450h’s mantra is that you can have your cake, and eat it too. With no penalty in straight-line acceleration, the 28mpg I averaged is astounding in a car of this size and weight.
The RX450h won’t raise the hairs on the back of your neck in driving, but I tend to doubt the typical buyer will be out hunting Porsche Cayenne’s. That said, the RX offers a comfortable ride. There is a sport package available that firms things up a bit. The Lexus proved to be predictable in all situations. The steering is somewhat isolated, but offered more weight than I had expected, a pleasant surprise. Where the RX450h truly shines is on the highway. Nearly silent while cruising at a steady 80mph, the RX feels invincible, and made short work of a family vacation to Cape Cod.
When The Garage evaluates a car, the most important question is this: Does the car do what it was intended to do? In the case of the RX450h, the answer is an absolute yes. As a luxury hybrid crossover, the RX is without peer. It excels in all areas. But is it worth the extra five grand over an RX350? It would take years to make up the extra premium in price versus the savings in fuel, but knowing you are ‘going green’ is incentive enough for some buyers. If an automaker can make you go green with no sacrifice, well, it’s a no-brainer. And in the case of the RX450h, it is easy to see why Lexus has ruled the luxury crossover market from the day they created it.