Australian’s have developed a taste for sitting high. It’s a complex that has seen SUVs now command the greatest share of the new car market, a share that continues to grow.
The desire to obtain the higher seating position is amplified at the premium end of the market. When it comes to the top end brands, SUVs are now attracting more buyers into premium showrooms than anything else and often represent the customer’s first premium brand experience.
The dominance of the SUV really can't be understated. Jaguar’s first SUV, the F-PACE is the fastest selling model in the British marque’s history and BMW recently predicted its new X3 would easily outsell the 3 Series sedan, the model range that was once its bread and butter.
Lexus is also cashing in on the SUV boom and is currently enjoying a record-breaking year on the back of its NX and RX lines.
Now the RX is arguably Lexus’ most recognisable model line. Unbelievably, the RX is currently in its fourth generation, proving time really does fly. This current incarnation debuted in 2015 meaning it’s still as fresh as a daisy.
Innovation has always been closely associated with the RX. Way back in the day (2006), long before Tesla was the coolest show in town, Lexus launched the RX400h, which was Australia’s first petrol-electric hybrid SUV. There’s some lineage here to get excited about.
History is one thing and the 2017 Lexus RX450h is another. This new model isn’t trying to live on past glories. The RX450h is a car that’s strangely alluring and one that stands out from the crowd.
What makes the RX450h demand attention is how it blends technology and design. It’s unique and uniqueness is not always appreciated in the arena of mass vehicle production.
This new generation RX450h now has the modern styling that’s commensurate with its modern drivetrain.
It’s a wonderfully precise exterior, like other Lexus models the combination of lines and sharp angles draws the eye. It’s very Japanese, which is a good thing. Lexus isn’t trying to just settle in amongst conservative Germans.
Of course, the RX450h should look the part, it has a starting price of $90,160 plus on-road costs. Our tester was equipped with the optional F Sport pack that requires an additional spend of $12,945.
While it may sound expensive, in a detailed study comparing the RX450h against its competitors, it’s a very reasonable value proposition. With the F Sport box ticked, the RX450h wants for nothing, it’s loaded with equipment.
Adaptive suspension, 20-inch alloy wheels, tilt and slide panoramic roof, LED headlights, colour head-up display, electric seats with heating and cooling functions, wireless phone charging, 15 speaker Mark Levinson audio system and a whopping 12.3-inch infotainment screen are all included.
Some premium brands consistently serve up underwhelming interiors, in this case, the cabin is typical Lexus with beautiful materials and impeccable build quality. It’s a fabulous place to sit and it can really lift the mood during a tedious morning commute. Even the often neglected roof and visors are covered in lovely materials.
All the controls are subtly angled towards the driver which provides that cockpit type experience. It’s only the buttons for the seat heating and ventilation that are strangely positioned in front of the gear selector, this location isn’t ideal.
When I was in Japan, I learned it’s all about the little things, the adjustable door storage bins live up to this philosophy. It’s such a simple but effective idea that makes us wonder why all cars don’t have them.
Rear passengers are treated to a very generous amount of leg and headroom, so if you must undertake a long family road trip, everyone will have enough space.
At 12.3-inches the infotainment screen is hard to miss. The resolution of the screen is jaw-droppingly clear. It stands proudly at the summit of the dashboard which is a different approach for Lexus, it’s not as well integrated into the interior as the screens in other Lexus models.
Disappointingly, the impressive screen is driven by the flawed Lexus Remote Touch Interface. The system is clumsy and lacks the level of precision found in other cars at this price. It’s incredibly frustrating and remains the weak point of all Lexus interiors.
Infotainment software aside, the high point of the RX450h is found in its hybrid powertrain technology. The 3.5-litre V6 petrol engine and electric motors combine to deliver 230kW of power and 335Nm of torque.
Throttle response is excellent and the heavy RX gets off the line quickly and smoothly with an immediate delivery of torque. It’s no speed demon by any means but its performance is proportionate with its hulking weight.
While the RX450h wears an F Sport badge, it’s not an overly sporty SUV when it comes to ride and handling. The RX is all about comfort with its light steering and plush suspension.
The RX450h is a remarkably refined highway cruiser and it will easily insulate occupants from the noise of city traffic. Regardless of speed, wind and tyre noise doesn’t disturb the cabin ambience. When driving in electric-only mode, it’s difficult to know if the RX is actually on, it could be driven through a library without drawing the ire of rule-loving librarians.
Even the continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT) is devoid of any whine or drone.
Regardless of the driving situation, the RX proved itself to be extremely comfortable with a soft and floaty feel. The suspension easily smooths out uneven road conditions. It never feels out of place.
It’s an anchored ride with plenty of grip courtesy of the clever E-Four all-wheel drive system. An electric motor drives the rear axle while the front wheels can be propelled by petrol or electric power, or a mixture of both should the occasion warrant it. The E-Four system distributes torque to the rear wheels when the driving style and conditions dictate.
As clever as the AWD system is, its purpose is centred around improved dynamic performance and handling, not off-road exploration. This isn’t a bush basher for cashed up bogans.
After a week of testing the RX450h, we were unable to get anywhere near the official claimed fuel consumption figure of 5.7L/100km. With sensible driving, we returned a figure of 8.2L/100km. For the size and weight of the car it is efficient, but not to the level written on the spec sheet.
When it comes to ownership, Lexus is yet to embrace the age of capped price servicing. Transparent maintenance costs remove some of the trepidation associated with a spend of this size. Intervals are set at a consumer-friendly 12 months/15,000km. Lexus dealers provide loan cars and offer a pick-up and drop off service if you reside or work close enough to a dealer.
Lexus has the best standard warranty of any premium manufacturer doing business in Australia. The RX450h is backed by a four year/100,000km warranty. It’s hard to be critical of the warranty coverage when other premium marques only stump up three years, however, five years has a much nicer ring to it.
It requires a bit of thinking to determine what the RX450h is likely to be shopped against. Lexus buyers are unlikely to be followers and as such will think differently. After all, if blending in with the Joneses is an important criterion, the X5 is the way to go.
The RX450 with its individual styling and unique hybrid system is aimed at buyers with an eye for style and efficiency. Those categories will line it up against Jaguar’s F-PACE, though the Jag is tuned for a sportier drive and utilises very frugal diesel engines. For similar dollars, the F-PACE 30d R-Sport is more efficient and faster to triple figures but doesn’t offer the same amount of rear seat space.
If you value comfort above all else, the RX450h is the ticket. With a modern hybrid drivetrain, it’s refined, quiet and relaxed as it undertakes its duties. On top of this is the much-improved exterior styling that gives the car a reinvigorated feel and some genuine presence on the road. The RX450h isn’t looking to melt into traffic. Then there’s the interior, Lexus has given the RX a premium interior that sets a very high benchmark. Most importantly, this fourth-generation RX is the most convincing yet and well worth a drive before the urge to follow the Joneses kicks in.
2017 Lexus RX450h Specifications
Price from $90,160 plus on-road costs Engine 3.5 litre naturally aspirated V6 hybrid Power 230kW @ 6000rpm Torque 335Nm @ 4600rpm Transmission CVT automatic Combined Fuel Consumption 5.7L/100km Tank Capacity 65L Length 4890mm Width 1895mm Height 1685mm Wheelbase 2790mm Performance 0-100km 7.7 seconds Turning Circle 11.8m Ground Clearance 195mm Kerb Weight 2105-2210kg Service Intervals 12 months/15,000km Warranty four year/100,000 kilometre
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