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February 8, 2014

2014 Lexus RX 450h

by Mark Savage

H = hybrid in luxurious 450h crossover for a smooth quiet cruiser
lex450Lexus makes quiet, comfortable and reliable vehicles as well, if not better, than most car makers and its RX crossover has been a hit for years, being an early entry into the crossover, or tall wagon, market.

Certainly Lexus does nothing to embarrass itself with its latest RX iteration, and this was the 450h, which means it’s a hybrid. That translates to better gas mileage and quiet startup and running. But then all of the RX models are quiet as a church on a snowy Sunday morning.

Yet quietness is just one of the RX 450h’s virtues.

The metallic tan (satin cashmere metal is what Lexus calls it) test vehicle delivered good gas mileage with its hybrid assist system and in both Normal and Sport mode it accelerates well. Steering effort is moderate and handling is smooth and linear so you always feel in control.

A seamless all-wheel-drive system keeps it well planted even in heavy snow. I had this during a pre-Christmas snowstorm and traction was excellent.

Under the hybrid’s hood is Lexus’s proven 3.5-liter V6 that features variable valve timing and is backed up by a hybrid battery system that combined gives the RX a substantial 295 horses. There are three driving modes, with Normal and Sport allowing all those ponies to be used, although you’ll likely burn more gas. The ECO mode, which I used for several days, delivers lame low-end power. You creep, although smoothly, away from stoplights.

The hybrid uses an electronically controlled continuously variable transmission with an intelligence feature that helps it understand your power needs and driving habits. This system gives it an infinite amount of gear ratios, allowing the crossover to accelerate as efficiently as possible. It’s incredibly smooth, but again, most of us will prefer anything but the ECO mode.lex450 1

Lexus says the RX will pull 3,500 pounds, with the proper towing package. Note too that there are several other trims, with the base RX350 two-wheel-drive model featuring a silky 6-speed automatic and coaxing 270 horses solely from the 3.5-liter V6.

Braking is quite good too, with 12.9-inch vented front discs up front and solid rear disc brakes. Anti-skid and traction control systems also are standard.
I was surprised that I wasn’t as happy with the RX’s ride as in previous models, but I did have this in winter when frost heaves are more prevalent, and when all things mechanical stiffen up. A few days featured temps in the 5-15 degree range.

Whatever the reasons, the RX rode decidedly rough over bumps, such as raised seams and frost heaves. It handled pot holes and other road indentations well with its independent suspension all around and a double-wishbone rear system.

Inside, comfort was king, in all but one way.

The black leather interior, part of a $3,060 premium package, was stylish and comfortable, and of course, quiet.

lex450 int

Lexus creates quiet and stylish interiors that feature real wood trim, like this in the RX.

Its attractive dash was simple to see and figure out quickly. It looked great, with a matte silver surround on the center stack and bamboo trim on the door armrests, center console, plus a bamboo and leather steering wheel and shift knob, part of that premium package. The bamboo is a light tan that really gives this interior a unique sophisticated look.

Seats are another Lexus strong point and these are extremely cozy and supportive, both front and rear. They’re well shaped and feature soft leather that makes long rides easy. Step-up is moderate for the RX making access easy and the rear seats split and fold flat for good longer cargo storage. Even with the seats up though there is ample room for a family’s luggage.

Yet I found two drawbacks here.

One, those rear seatbacks are mighty heavy to fold back up after they’ve been lowered. This is a grownup’s job.

Two, but more important in our climate, the front seats are not heated. I was shocked by that in a crossover with a list price of $47,810 and once it was loaded with a few option packages this one hit $55,550. Unthinkable that heated seats would not be standard, or part of the premium package. Instead, heated and cooled seats are a separate $640 option.

Ironically a week earlier I’d driven a $25,000 Kia Forte that featured heated seats and a heated steering wheel. Lexus may want to reconsider its content on the upscale hybrid model.

Yet there is a power rear hatch and power tilt/telescope steering wheel along with exterior mirror lights that are activated as you approach the vehicle to help ease entry at night.lex450 int2

The test crossover also included a $995 Mark Levinson surround sound system with 15 speakers, which was truly memorable. A $2,775 navigation package included the nav system with voice command, a backup camera and Lexus Enform system to help link you up electronically with all your various mobile devices and gives you Sirius satellite radio and traffic and weather alerts for a year.

The previously mentioned premium package not only adds leather seating and the gorgeous bamboo trim, it adds power folding heated outside mirrors, a 3-memory setting driver’s seat and a sunroof. Most importantly it gives you a blind-spot monitoring system in the exterior mirrors. This alerts you to vehicles in your crossover’s blind spots to prevent fender benders.

One other interior concern remains the Lexus radio system. It runs on the nav screen, but you must use a console-mounted mouse to access radio stations. There are no memory buttons on the screen or dash, so dialing in a station takes a couple steps, awkward to use while driving.

Otherwise the interior and driving ability of the hybrid RX is reflective of its price tag. Gas mileage, a key component of any hybrid buying decision, is better than your average gas-powered mid-size crossover with AWD.

lex450 2I got 23.5 mpg, 2 mpg less than the computers indicated. The EPA rates this at 30 mpg city and 28 mpg highway. About 60 to 70% of my driving was city.
By comparison the base RX350 with front-drive gets 18 mpg city and 25 mpg highway. It lists at $39,760 and going to AWD bumps that to $41,160.

Your call on the hybrid portion, but the RX remains a family friendly, comfortable and quiet crossover with good utility, especially with its AWD system.

FAST Stats: 2014 Lexus RX 450h

Hits: Reliable crossover with hybrid power that extends gas mileage, comfortable, super quiet and stylish interior, power hatch and rearview camera. Easy handling and all-wheel drive helps in snow.
Misses: No heated seats or steering wheel at $55 grand. Ride is stiff on bumps and hybrid has poor acceleration in ECO mode.
Made in: Japan
Engine: 3.5-liter V6 w/front electric drive motors w/hybrid drive, 295 hp
Transmission: ECVT-i
Weight: 4,652 lbs.
Wheelbase 107.9 in.
Cargo: 40.0 cu.ft.
Tow: 3,500 lbs.
MPG: 30/28
Base Price: $47,810
Dealer’s Price: $44,941
Major Options:
Mark Levinson premium surround sound system w/15 speakers, $995
Navigation system w/voice command, backup camera, Lexus Enform w/destination assist, edestination + Sirius NavTraffic, NavWeather, etc., $2,775
Premium package (leather trim, blind-spot monitor system, bamboo interior trim/steering wheel, moonroof, power folding auto-dimming heated outside mirrors, 3-memory driver’s seat), $3,060
Delivery: $910
Test vehicle: $55,550
Sources: Lexus, http://www.autos.yahoo.com
Photos: Courtesy of Lexus

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