European test route confirms latest 450h is a major step forward

What is it?

The second incarnation of Lexus’s SUV, only this time it’s hybrid only – at least in the UK (some European markets and the US get the V6 petrol model, too.) The body’s all new but underneath is a platform shared with the US-market Toyota Highlander and the drivetrain is an evolution of the RX400h’s.

So that means the same set-up, with the same CVT gearbox containing a motor and a second motor in the back axle. The clever bit, the power management unit, is new – it's smaller, lighter and more efficient – and the engine, still a V6, now runs on the Atkinson cycle, which does a better job of turning petrol into energy. It’s heavy though –over two tonnes and 70kg more than the 400h.

Lexus claims an admirable 148g/km of CO2, which makes it the least likely SUV to contribute to global meltdown, and 44.8mpg – impressive figures for a car in this class.

And because this is the Euro-spec RX, it gets retuned suspension and a retuned power management unit that will provide better off the line acceleration but still (Lexus claims) return comparable fuel consumption.

What’s it like?

Strongly reminiscent of the 400h, but about 50 per cent better all round. Inside the quality’s improved and there’s a new infotainment controller that replaces the touch screen system with an iDrive style central control unit. This one resembles a computer mouse – you move a cursor round the screen with a joystick. Lexus calls it Remote Touch and it works well, and will find its way into other Lexus models soon.

Drive it and you’ll find that seamless, smooth drivetrain that characterises Toyota’s hybrid products. Unfortunately that means the engine still sounds bland and is neutered by the on-off gearbox – it seems to reduce the V6 to the role of a generator rather than a integral part of the car’ character.

But the handling and ride is much better. It’s calm and resolved at speed, and feels well tied down on the twisty Hungarian B-roads I tried it on – the new electronic roll bars (Lexus calls it Active Stabiliser System) help, but even without them the RX is flop free and precise, which makes it comfortable and easy to hustle through windy roads quickly. You might even enjoy yourself…

Unusually for a European-based car launch, we got to drive on some really rough roads, too, which the RX dealt with competently if not brilliantly – some of the bigger potholes sent shudders through the body frame.

The car didn’t quite live up to its fuel consumption claims – the best I got was 38mpg, the worst 27mpg, but that was after an hour of pushing it hard. If you were deliberately careful 44mpg should be possible.

Should I buy one?

The RX450h does a good job of fulfilling the role of a “green” SUV, with its low CO2 output and decent fuel consumption. You may be somewhat less taken by the pricing, though – it starts at £41,600, which is more than an X5 3.0d or an ML 320 CDi. And the range-topper is the £55,505 SE-L Premium, more than the top flight X5, X6 or ML. The Lexus is better equipped. though. and significantly cleaner, but you’re paying a premium for the virtue.

Dan Stevens

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catnip 10 May 2009

Re: Lexus RX 450h

Interesting about the 'remote touch' gizmo...I think I read somewhere that the computer industry is planning to move away from 'mouse' controlled systems and is developing touch screen based ones...looks like the car industry may be going the other way.

Topkat 6 May 2009

Re: Lexus RX 450h

Looks awful

jelly7961 6 May 2009

Re: Lexus RX 450h

Went for a run in on of these with a friend who is in the market for a largeish 4WD. Choice was one of these, BMW X5 SD or an ML320CDI. All roughly the same price but in both our opinions this is definitely 3rd out of these three. Lots of wind noise at high speed and a ride that never seems to settle. Choice made - X5!