What is it?
Arguably the most attractive car in Lexus’ current range in India, the new fourth-generation RX is a car you just can't ignore. It's rakish design and extremely aggressive detailing make it stand out from the crowd, even in the Rs 1 crore-plus segment, and what helps differentiate it even more is the fact that it is only one of two hybrids in its class; the Volvo XC90 T8 being the other.
But it's the design that draws your attention to it first. And what you notice immediately, without a shadow of a doubt, is that huge ‘spindle-like’ grille up front. It is a bit over the top, but there's no denying that those sharp angles and edges draw your eyes in. The maws are aggressive, the headlights look like a pair of swords and, around the side, that fast flowing roof just 'floats' above the rear in an extremely interesting manner. One thing's for sure, there is currently nothing like the RX out there, and that, coming from a Japanese carmaker, is something to celebrate.
The new Lexus RX 450h is equally interesting under the skin. Built on a stiffened and extended all-steel platform, it uses a longer 2,790mm wheelbase, extremely slippery aerodynamics and adjustable dampers that are ideal for our difficult and variable road conditions.
Under the bonnet, petrol and electric power make up the hybrid drive system. The drive system combines a 262hp petrol V6 mated to a pair of electric drive motors that put out 123Kw (167hp). Total combined power is 313hp. The combustion engine also makes a decent amount of torque but, most of its 335Nm is delivered at a high 4,700rpm. Still, because the electric motors provide all their torque from start up, the two systems blend very well together.
Further down, the V6’s power is sent to an E-CVT gearbox whose maximum and minimum ratios have been widened to both provide better punch off the line as well as a lower engine speed while cruising. And the RX uses a four-wheel-drive system that is very different as well. Here, drive at the rear is provided via an electric motor, and, to add to efficiency, the rear motor also acts as a generator and charges the battery when the vehicle is braking. A hybrid car's regeneration system also messes up brake feel so to get around that the RX 450h uses a much improved actuator to help the transition from regen to the brake discs.
What's it like on the inside?
The very modern and futuristic interior comes as another pleasant surprise. The low slung dash allows for tremendous visibility and what adds to the extremely up-to-the-minute feel is the fact that the steeply raked windscreen stretches far ahead of the driver. Next up is the huge 12.3-inch screen; only slightly smaller than your flat-screen TV at home, the high-res display is controlled by a cross between a mouse and a mini joystick. Lexus calls it Remote Touch Interface (RTI) and, though it takes a bit of getting used to, it soon feels natural and easy, if a bit over sensitive.
The offset centre console also looks quite attractive. Very different from the norm, it is extremely wide and features a blend of styles, colours and materials that make it stand out. The buttons are pretty conventional, but the manner in which the black and red leather bits contrast each other is quite novel. And then there are metallic slashes and chrome highlights that really do add a touch of class to the cabin. The centre console, for example has chrome slash on only one side – neat. And scattered quite liberally around the cabin, on the steering wheel, gear lever and pedals are brushed aluminium bits, crafted to such a high level that you want to touch them and run your fingers along the surfaces. The cabin isn't as solidly put together as many of its German rivals, and the build feels lighter for sure, but when it comes to fit and finish, it's right up there with the best.
Also impressive are the big and very comfortable seats. Built to carry large American frames, the front seats are tall, wide and wonderfully supportive. The leather is of an extremely high grade, the range of seat adjustment is wide and the fact that they are cooled adds another dimension to comfort levels. Space and comfort are also very good in the rear. Passengers at the back also get cooled seats, legroom is more than sufficient, the seat is very supportive and you can recline the backrest via a button here as well. Headroom, however, is a bit tight in the rear, especially if you are a six-footer, but otherwise comfort levels here are extremely high.
The RX also comes loaded with kit. The 15-speaker Mark Levinson Premium Surround System features exquisitely machined aluminium knobs that feel like they've been lifted off a high-end audio system. You also get a heads up display (HUD), multiple driving modes like Eco, Normal, Sport and Sport +, and there's a 360-degree camera as well. Also, to open the boot, all that the driver has to do, as long as the key is in his or her pocket, is touch the Lexus logo at the rear. And beneath the rear cargo area floor is a full-sized spare tire. You also get a massive panoramic sunroof and 10 airbags.
What's it like to drive?
As with the rest of the car, the driving experience is very different too. To begin with, on the move, the RX is quite refined, especially when driven in a relaxed manner. While you can't beat the initial hush of the electric motor, especially the silent take off delivered by this full-on 288V (650V system voltage) hybrid, the RX is also pretty refined once the petrol motor kicks in. Both wind and road noise are kept impressively low, no doubt helped by the double-glazed windows, and the RX even manages to cruise silently with the petrol motor merely ambling along. Ask for more power, and though the performance is there with 0-100kph coming up in a claimed 7.7sec, the E-CVT plays spoil sport. For one, there are no virtual gears. So when you use the paddles and click down, all that happens is that the rpm jumps up a bit. This increases the rate of acceleration, but the stretch and strain from the CVT's belts and pulley system is so much, the whine from the gearbox so loud and the disconnect between your right foot and engine speed so vast, that the feeling of accelerating hard is nowhere near as immersive as it should be. It's not that you don't enjoy the performance, it's just that the experience could have been much more enjoyable.
Ride comfort however is much nicer. This is especially true in Normal mode, which, helped by its adjustable dampers, seems to have the best balance between suppleness and control. Even medium size holes are ridden over with a good amount of comfort and this in some part is due to the 18-inch tyres and high 65 tyre profile. The suspension can be tripped up over more severe intrusions, especially if you stiffen it by using Sport +, and it (the suspension) can get noisy in this mode too, but the overall ride is pretty good.
The upside of the stiffness in the suspension is that body control is very respectable. The Lexus RX 450h doesn't roll much, even when you are driving it in an enthusiastic manner, and grip from the front end is good enough for it to manage a bit of sporty fun, as it turns into corners crisply and allows you to carry a fair bit of speed through corners. Steering responses are decent, and it feels nicely geared and direct, but there's very little road feel. Grip levels however are only moderately good on the 18-inch wheels of our test car, with understeer presenting itself quite early on.
Should I buy one?
If you are looking for an attractive, hybrid SUV that's well-built on the inside, comfortable to sit in and light and easy to drive, this car is for you. What you will also get with the Lexus brand is extremely high levels of dependability and considerable peace of mind, and that for many will be the clincher. However, the Lexus RX 450h, at Rs 1.09 crore, is expensive. While it sells alongside SUVs like the GLC and GLE in markets such as the US and the UK, it competes here with the likes of the BMW X6, the Jaguar F-Pace and the Porsche Cayenne, and that is stiff competition indeed. The dealer network, for now, is tiny and then there's the fact that it isn't a very good driver's car either: it's no Porsche for sure. What differentiates Lexus RX 450, however, is that little 'h' that follows the name – it's a hybrid, and many won't be able to resist that 'have-your cake-and-eat-it-too' sort of proposition put forward by a hybrid or 'green' SUV. And many won't be able to resist the back-from-the-future looks too. So if you are in the market for something very different, and aren't too fussed about the budget, this car just could be for you.
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