Mostly my test drives are a couple hundred miles around Southeast Wisconsin over the course of a week, but this week was a rare exception when I drove the Lexus RX 450h to Omaha and back, more than 1,100 miles.
As many a high-end suburban household has discovered, before me, the RX is a perfect prescription for an enjoyable highway drive. And the 450h, the hybrid model, adds fine fuel economy to its other attributes of style, comfort, ride and room.
The RX, which some claim started the crossover fad, is stylish with a grille that no amount of overstatement can describe beyond large and aggressiveness. It’s distinctive, and not many vehicles can make that claim.
Overall the RX looks chiseled and modern and with its C-pillar blacked out at its base the Lexus’s roof appears to float. Pretty cool for a crossover!
But loaded down with boxes and luggage and two passengers the RX proved it can haul and do it comfortably. We folded down the rear seats, triggered the power hatch and piled in suitcases, overstuffed boxes and photo equipment. The RX swallowed it all and we could even see out the back window, mostly.
Ride is luxurious and smooth. Highway driving (and there was plenty) was a breeze and we barely felt a jiggle or bump inside the Lexus. As with many luxury vehicles there are several ride modes here, Eco, Normal and Sport. Normal was fine and provided moderate steering feedback and good acceleration from the 3.5-liter V6 combined with an electric hybrid system to create 308 horsepower.
Switch to Sport mode and the steering firms a bit (not needed on the highway really) and the electronic continuously variable transmission delivers more torque during acceleration to help the RX climb swiftly and smoothly to highway speeds. You’ll never be put off by engine noise though as the interior remains hush quiet even under aggressive acceleration.
Naturally acceleration is more moderate in Normal and Eco modes. The ECVT shifts smoothly, but doesn’t give the RX a lot of torque in those modes. If you upgrade to the F Sport model there’s a Sport+ drive mode that further increases acceleration beyond Sport mode.
For the record, a base RX 350 with front drive and an 8-speed automatic features a 3.5-liter V6 that creates 295 horsepower, that’s up from the 2015 model’s 270 horses. Both that and the hybrid models drink regular 87 octane unleaded.
Your gas costs are modest in the RX hybrid compared with most other crossovers of this size (192.5 inches long on a 109.8-inch wheelbase). The hybrid is rated at 31 mpg city and 28 mpg highway. I got between 27.4 and 28.7 mpg in my drive, which averaged about 90% freeway driving. For the record, the gas-powered V6 models start at 19 mpg city and 26 mpg highway with AWD, like I was driving.
Note too that the braking here was stellar, plus there’s an automatic sensor system to help the driver brake when an emergency is anticipated. Plus, this has all-wheel-drive, which is helpful many months of the year in Wisconsin.
Inside the silver test vehicle featured a black leather interior with gray stitching. Lexus creates well-formed seats to hold five adults and the front are sporty buckets that give plenty of side and hip support. There’s a power lumbar for the driver and three seat memory buttons on the door. Rear seats will split and fold, plus they will slide forward if your rear-seat passengers are short and/or you need more cargo room.
The RX 450h delivers a whisper quiet ride and interior along with fine perforated leather seats and leather door trim. This one also had wood trim on the doors and the console with pewter-look trim around gauges and air ducts. The shift lever has been relocated too, now on the console whereas in earlier years it was part of the center stack protruding from the dash. The console mount is much better and allows Lexus to create a more easily read dash.
In a previous drive I noted the large 12.3-inch navigation/radio screen, but this RX had just the standard 8-incher) atop the dash, a bit disappointing in a luxury crossover. And sadly Lexus sticks with its clunky console-mounted knob to tune the radio and select items on screen for navigation. It still tends to lock onto items you don’t want and distracts you while driving. Set it and forget it before you put the vehicle in motion – my friendly advice!
However, one audio item of note is the Cache Radio system Lexus offers. It allows you to record 10 minutes of live radio programming and play it back, a nice feature if you’re listening is interrupted by a call or other intrusion.
As mentioned above, the seats are comfortable and made more pleasant by three-level heating and cooling. That cooling breeze from a hot leather seat on a sunny summer day is quiet a relief. We all know how awesome heated seats are in winter and this is pretty much the exact reverse of that. A heated steering wheel and power tilt/telescope steering wheel is standard here.
Standard now on the RX 450h is a blind-spot warning system and rear cross-traffic alert.
Add-ons here included a major sound system upgrade of $1,080 for a Mark Levinson system with 15 speakers and 835 watts of power. Boom! A panoramic viewing monitor for $800 lets you see clearly all around your car, a possible aid in tight parking spots. The illuminated door sill is nice at $375, but not essential, likewise the $200 touch-free power hatch that Lexus likes to call a Use the Force liftgate. You stand by the hatch and wave your hand over the Lexus logo to power up the hatch. Cute!
With all the options the RX 450h, which started at $53,035 ended up at $57,274, including a $975 delivery fee. The base RX 350 with gas-powered V6 and front-drive starts at $44,115 and the AWD model at $45,515. There’s a racier F Sport 350 in FWD and AWD, from $50,015 to $51,415. Moving up to the 450h F Sport moves entry price to $57,490 and that has AWD.
A few other notes beyond price. The RX looks cool with its low roofline, but that can lead to some entry and exit head bumps for short drivers. Those of us who are on the short side often keep the driver’s seat fairly far forward and at that angle you can tap your noggin on the door sill, so watch out for that.
Also, the RX’s step-in height is fairly tall, so many short folks may feel it’s a stretch.
A few other pluses include the big sunroof and visors that slide (I know it’s a thing with me). The crossover also has a small spare tire under the rear cargo floor, plus some under floor storage space and a first aid kid.
Nice effort that checks off nearly all the boxes a luxury crossover buyers should be considering.
FAST STATS: 2017 Lexus RX450h
Hits: Smooth ride, roomy, good mpg, AWD, excellent brakes and a quiet interior. Heated/cooled front seats, sunroof, power hatch, power tilt/telescope and heated steering wheel. Strong power in Sport mode. Love it, or hate it looks, but it’ll get noticed.
Misses: Tall step-up height, clumsy radio tuning via mouse on console, wide screen area, but small screen within it. Low roofline can be a head bumper entering and exiting the vehicle.
Made in: Cambridge, Ont.
Engine: 3.5-liter V6 w/hybrid drive, 308 hp (combined)
Transmission: ECVT automatic
Weight: 4,608 lbs.
Wheelbase: 109.8 in.
Length: 192.5 in.
Cargo: 18 cu. ft., (55.9 cu.ft. rear seats down)
MPG: 31/28 (EPA)
MPG: 27.4-28.7 (tested)
Tow: 3,500 lbs.
Base Price: $53,053
Dealer’s Price: $50,848 (includes delivery)
Panoramic view monitor, $800
Color heads-up display, $600
Touch-free power hatch, $200
Mark Levinson, 15-speaker, 835-watt premium audio system, $1,080
Body side moldings, $209
Illuminated door sill, $375
Test vehicle: $57,274
Sources: Lexus, www.kbb.com
Photos: Mark Savage