2017 Lexus RX 450h first drive review
Perhaps in an attempt to make up for their delayed entry into our market, Lexus is focusing on being the primary luxury manufacturer when it comes to hybrids. Two of the three introductory products in the Lexus India line-up are hybrids, and the RX 450h is the premium one. Like all Lexi (is that the plural?), the RX 450h is based on a Toyota, but in this case it's a Toyota India has never seen, the Harrier.
The modern Lexus range features a striking design philosophy, and the RX 450h is probably the biggest head-turner this side of the sportscar line-up. As with all the latest Lexi (yes, we're sticking with that), the face is dominated by that enormous spindle-shaped grille that extends from the top of the lights all the way down to the skid plate at the bottom of the bumper. Towards the sides, from the bottom of the bumper, snakes up an L-shaped housing for the LED fog lamps. In fact, if you look around, you'll see these L-shaped motifs all around the entire Lexus range, right from the shape of the lights to the grilles to the chrome garnishes.
Speaking of the lights, the RX 450h packs in three LED 'eyes' per headlamp unit which also incorporate LED DRLs. The indicators use a sequential action and scroll outwards like in the Audis. If the front end looks striking, the side profile is a smash hit thanks to that sexy floating-roof effect engineered into the C-pillar. Factor in the sloping roofline, muscular wheel arches and some clever kinks in the body work and the RX 450h looks tremendously dynamic from the side. The design squares off cohesively at the rear with high-set wrap-around lamps, a smart spoiler and some subtle chrome work in the bumper. Spanning 4.9m in length and 1.9m across, the RX 450h is a seriously big machine and easily the most striking-looking vehicle in its class - the Jaguar F-Pace is more handsome, but this will surely turn more heads.
Interestingly, the extroverted design theme isn't quite so pronounced inside the cabin where it evolves into a more subtle, yet still highly likeable approach. The handsome multi-layer dashboard is wrapped in leather and houses a large 12.3-inch display that is controlled by a large joystick-like device near the gear lever. The idea is clever, but we found the joystick a little too sensitive to inputs which makes it tricky to use on bumpy roads. As of now, navigation is not available in India. There is an analogue clock housed between the central air vents, under which are controls to the crisp and lovely 15-speaker Mark Levinson audio system. Additional luxury features come in a three-zone climate control, a panoramic sunroof, heated and cooled seats, a heated steering wheel and a large, easy to read head-up display. The entire roof and sun visors are wrapped in a beautifully soft material that feels plush to the hands.
The dark rose upholstery seen here comes with the F Sport package that also brings redesigned bumpers, sportier seats, paddle shifters and different meters inspired by the Lexus sportscars. Where the F Sport loses out is in slightly less adjustment options for the front seats, 8-way to the Luxury trim's 10-way adjust. The Luxury trim, meanwhile, offers up to 180 different combinations of wood and leather trim for the cabin while the F Sport sees a smaller choice of 27 possible combinations. The rear bench can comfortably seat three as the floor is flat thanks to the lack of a transmission tunnel (we'll get to that later). The rear seats can electronically recline, but sliding them back and forth is a manual process. Overall, cabin quality is impeccable, and the feel of the materials and the attention to detail are right up there with what you'd expect at this price point.
The RX 450h features a new drivetrain for India, a 3.5-litre Atkinson-cycle V6 mated to two electric motors for a peak system output of 313PS. The interesting bit of tech here is a motor situated at the back that powers the rear wheels when required, making this an on-demand all-wheel-drive system. This means there's no need for transfer gears and a driveshaft going to the rear wheels, which is what makes that flat floor at the rear possible. Transmission duties are handled by an e-CVT, a similar tech to the Camry Hybrid. The paddle shifters that come with the F Sport package allow you to raise the engine revs when some stronger acceleration is required. Also in the F Sport package is a 'sound generator' which is a plastic extension of the intake that uses a diaphragm to magnify the intake growl and aim it right at the cabin. This treats the occupants to a constant V6 note, especially when the engine is under load.
The meaty power figure and the promise of entertaining acoustics create the presumption of a sporty experience, but the RX 450h performs differently than you'd expect. Performance is unhurried and instead of blasting you off the line, the big RX prefers to unravel the pace as the CVT gearbox builds revs. Power delivery is linear and given the space, the RX 450h will reach some pretty high speeds. However, the kick in the pants surge of power that you were expecting never really arrives. The reason for this is probably down to the hefty near 2.2-tonne kerb weight that comes from all those extra motors, batteries and other hybrid gadgetry. While the roads around Ooty didn't offer the opportunity, I think this car will make a fine grand tourer with its brisk but unstressed performance.
The RX offers four driving modes changeable via rotary dial behind the central cupholders. These would be Eco, Normal, Sport and Sport+, each tautening up engine response as well as steering and suspension set-up as you head towards Sport+. Suspension set-up is pleasantly supple, plush even in the softer modes and it never gets harsh even when you dial it up to Sport+ mode. This is no doubt aided by the sensibly sized 18-inch wheels wrapped in generously profiled 235/65-section Bridgestone Duellers. Steering feel is about average with consistent weighting but not much feedback. As with most hybrids that run regenerative brakes, pedal feel is a little notchy at the initial motion of travel, but once you get used to it there's fairly strong braking performance on offer. All in, you can push the RX fairly briskly but it never lets you forget just how large it is.
As a package, the RX 450h offers stunning and thoroughly unique style. The interior is meticulously put together and the feature list is generous. Safety is taken seriously with 10 airbags, including dual-stage airbags upfront in addition to the regular ABS and ESP driver aids. It's also great to see Lexus offers a full-sized spare wheel and the tire pressure monitoring system even keeps an eye on the tire housed in the boot. There are multiple other small but thoughtful features like the door windows that slow down as they reach the top to reduce chances of accidentally pinching a hand. I also liked the feature that allows you to wave your hand at the Lexus logo on the boot to have the electric tailgate open.
At Rs 1.07 crore ex-Delhi (1.09 crore for the F Sport), the RX 450h is priced right on par with the diesel V6-engined Jaguar F-Pace and Porsche Cayenne Diesel. The Lexus isn't as involving as either but offers standout style, the feel-good factor of owning a hybrid and a rich feature set, especially to the Porsche where many features are costly extras. We can't wait to spend more time with the Lexus to give you the definitive verdict.
Images by Anis Shaikh
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