The original eco-friendly 4×4 gets a makeover for 2020 and it’s more relevant than ever…
Lexus made history in 2005 when it launched the RX 450h – the world’s first luxury hybrid SUV.
The RX is now in its fourth generation and its major rivals are in catch-up mode, desperately launching electrified versions of their own big 4x4s in a world where reducing emissions is a top priority.
Lexus hasn’t just rested on its laurels. It has constantly evolved its self-charging hybrid technology and has just treated the RX to an extensive upgrade.
Styling and handling have been sharpened, while new options and equipment, including smartphone integration via Apple CarPlay and Android Auto have been introduced. There’s even the RX L – a new seven-seat variant, which has been extended by 110mm to accommodate two extra seats.
Priced from £50,905 to £62,605, the range is available in RX, F Sport (pictured) and Takumi grades.
Standard features include dual-zone climate control, smart entry and start, a wireless smartphone charger, 12.3-inch infotainment screen, power-adjustable heated front seats, LED headlights, a powered tailgate, and the Lexus Safety System+ suite of active safety and driver assistance systems.
All RX models share the same self-charging hybrid-electric tech. Pairing a 3.5-litre V6 petrol engine with two electric motors (one helps the engine drive the front wheels and another on the rear axle drives the rears), a combined 308bhp is produced, yet it returns CO2 emissions from just 134g/km and fuel economy of up to 35.7mpg.
The battery is stored under the boot floor and is charged by a combination of the engine and regenerative braking – a system which recovers energy that would otherwise be wasted during braking.
And of course, the beauty of self-charging hybrids is that they drive just like a conventional car. The system seamlessly selects the best power source on your behalf (petrol or electric mode) and there’s no need to plug in.
Subtle design tweaks mean the RX now looks fresher and more imposing than ever. That brutal front end with the epic, signature Lexus grille is not to everyone’s taste, but there’s no denying that it has serious road presence.
The cabin is more comfortable and refined, while the infotainment system now has a touchscreen and there’s a laptop-style touchpad for additional control (replacing the little joystick), near the gear selector, but it’s still fiddly to use.
There’s plenty of space in the rear for three passengers to luxuriate, while the (shallow) boot’s 453-litre luggage capacity is ample and it stretches to a useful 924 litres with the back seats flipped down.
I tested an RX 450h in top-of-the-range Takumi spec, which included goodies such as a panoramic glass sunroof, a 15-Speaker Mark Levinson sound system, head-up display and rear cross traffic alert.
There are five drive modes to choose from, including EV, which ensures electric-only motoring for short distances in town. As ever, low-speed take-off and parking manoeuvres are also likely to be in EV mode.
The downside of the continuously variable transmission (CVT) becomes apparent when and if you plant the accelerator pedal. The engine revs soar – and though it’s not as obtrusive as before – it is still noticeable.
That said, the RX is a big smoothie and at its best effortlessly cruising along, so most owners will barely notice. The more spirited will be surprised at just how capable it can be on more challenging roads.
As long as you account for the fact that it’s substantial in size and weight and will never be as nimble as a hatchback, body roll is surprisingly well controlled – thanks to a new, stiffer rear anti-roll bar and a more rigid body construction – while all-wheel drive delivers solid grip and traction.
Light steering and good visibility via the lofty driving position also mean that it’s not such a handful in town either, despite its size. And for the record, the RX has a top speed of 124mph and 0-62mph comes up in 7.7 seconds.
The RX continues to champion everything we’ve come to expect from Lexus, including superb attention to detail and top build quality. Add the brand’s reputation for dependability and top customer service, and there’s no reason why it shouldn’t be on your shortlist if you’re looking for a large, eco-friendly luxury SUV.
Verdict: The eye-catching Lexus RX 450h is an impressive blend of luxury, space and refinement – more relevant now than ever thanks to its self-charging hybrid technology which delivers reduced emissions and boosts fuel economy.