Lexus is intelligently — and profitably — expanding its product line with vehicles such as its well-engineered 2014 RX 450h hybrid.
The refined gas-electric crossover is well-developed, with good performance, sparkling fuel economy, carlike comfort and maneuverability and roominess. No wonder it’s among Lexus’s top-selling models.
The RX 450h is priced at approximately $46,310 to $47,810 and has standard all-wheel drive and a smooth continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT) that can be manually shifted and put in driving modes ranging from “Economy” and “Sport” to “Snow” and “EV.”
The RX 450h got numerous improvements for 2013, so there are no significant updates for the 2014 model. This vehicle is more tried-and-true than ever.
The 450h uses a 3.5-liter V-6 with three electric motors and a battery system to generate 295 horsepower, enabling quick off-the-line acceleration and high-speed passing.
Most owners will rarely need sport mode because the smooth, responsive transmission works fine in “D” (Drive) mode for normal driving. In EV drive mode the electric motor (traction motor) powered by the hybrid battery (traction battery) is used to drive the vehicle.
EV mode lets you drive in residential areas early in the morning and late at night, or in areas such as indoor parking lots,without concern for noise and exhaust gas emissions. You can drive about half a mile solely in EV drive mode at under 26 m.p.h., or farther, depending on hybrid battery level and driving conditions.
The 450h is pretty quiet even when the gasoline engine kicks hard in for more performance, but EV mode naturally helps you save gasoline.
The RX 450h is 188 inches long and heavy at about 4,870 pounds because it’s loaded with luxury equipment.Yet, it delivers estimated fuel economy of 30 miles per gallon in the city and 28 on highways.
Premium fuel is recommended for the best performance, although Lexus says regular-grade gasoline can be used. However, it warns that fuel with an octane rating lower than 91 can cause engine “knocking” and that persistent knocking can lead to engine damage.
The quiet, nicely designed upscale interior has items including genuine wood interior trim. There are a good number of storage areas, although the owner’s manual seems as thick as the bible and gobbles up space in the glove compartment. (At least the informative manual is easy to read.) Doors have useful snap-out pockets, and there’s a deep covered console storage bin. The back of the front seats have storage pockets for rear passengers.
All doors, which have large outside handles, open wide for quick entry and exit, but the 450h is a little higher than a car so it takes a more effort to climb in and slide out.
It’s plenty roomy up front and in the reclining and sliding split 40/20/40 split backseats. Separate electric motors power the rear wheels, eliminating the need for a space-eating rear seat floor-level center driveshaft. However, the middle of the backseat is rather stiff and best suited for the pull-down armrest, which contains two cupholders.
The power front seats provide good support, especially in curves, and backlit gauges help assure good visibility of them in sunlight. Small, but well-marked, dashboard controls are accompanied by a center display screen that’s easy to use—once you get used to it.
However, ordinary tasks, such as checking radio stations, call for too much attention to the screen and thus cause a driver to take eyes from the road.
The RX 450h is attractive — some might even say it looks racy — but its sloped rear roof causes rear-vision problems for a driver. Large outside mirrors automatically fold when the 450h is parked to prevent parking area damage and greatly assist rear visibility.
The 450h is well-equipped, with an upscale car’s usual luxury, comfort and convenience items.
However, there still are attractive, but costly, option packages. They include a $995 Mark Levinson premium surround sound system, $2,775 navigation system with voice command, backup camera, and (how could you resist?) a $3,060 premium package with a power moonroof, leather trim interior, blind-spot monitor system and Bamboo interior trim and steering wheel.
Safety items include 10 air bags and an effective anti-lock braking system controlled by a linear-action brake pedal.
Handling is nimble. But the power steering, although quick enough, feels artificial. The 18-inch aluminum wheels help handling. So does a sophisticated suspension, which provides a supple ride without getting sloppy on bad pavement.
The cargo area is moderately large. It has a wide, but high, opening. A thoughtful scuff plate prevents damaging the lip of the cargo opening when objects are scraped over it. Rear seatbacks easily flip forward to greatly expand the cargo area.
The hatch opens and closes automatically, and has a jam protection function. If sensors in the hatch detect an obstruction while it is closing, the function returns the door to its fully open position.
And, oh yes, the interior-padded hood glides open on twin struts so you don’t need an awkward hood prop. Not that you’d want to mess with anything under the hood with all those engine compartment electronics. Take one look and you’ll see what I mean.
Pros: Fuel-stingy. Roomy. Fast. Nimble. All-wheel drive. Luxurious. Stylish.
Cons: Artificial-feeling steering. High cargo opening. Poor rear vision. Costly options.
Bottom Line: Has a lot going for it.
Dan Jedlicka has been an automotive journalist for more than 40 years. To read more of his news and vintage car reviews, visit: www.danjedlicka.com.
Article Last Updated: April 22, 2014.
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An automotive journalist who has reviewed more than 4,000 vehicles in a nearly 45-year career, Dan is publisher of DanJedlicka.com.