|Positives: Glorious interior, some of the best seats ever, features galore, F Sport trim adds aggressiveness, crazy creases get muted by dark paint, just the right amount of brand cache.|
|Negatives: Massive grille that can't be ignored, floating roof is visually odd, barely any gains from hybridization, can get pricey when all is said and done.|
|Bottom Line: A worthy successor to the RX model, even with its crazy styling and dramatic details. We're not sure the added hybrid costs are worth it, but we laud Lexus for trying to do something different. Polarizing exterior styling aside, it's one of the most comfortable CUVs we've ever driven.|
The 4th generation CUV breaks new ground in three major areas. First, the exterior styling -- as edgy as it gets and at least consistent with the rest of Lexus's daring brand identity. The interior gets seriously gussied up and far more handsome (and ergonomic, too), and the powertrain in the 450h F Sport gets hybridization. And where most hybrid trims in the industry look more muted, more vanilla, the F Sport version of the RX 450h looks ready to race. We drove the RX 450h in the late spring to see if it would be true to the consistency of the RX line.
We're guessing the F Sport trim was originally intended to not just boost the performance looks but also the actual performance of the RX 450h, but the execution is a bit compromised in our opinion. In terms of actual driving, the F Sport package provides the CUV with an adaptive variable suspension and a Sport+ setting for the drive modes. Sport+ improves throttle response and firms up the power-steering assist and the dampers.
Unfortunately, the changes are less than dramatic, and the RX 450h remains more on the soft side in terms of steering feel and suspension firmness. That being said, most customers who go for a Lexus crossover probably have little expectation in the way of performance and care more about looks and luxury, which the RX F Sport has in spades. One signficiant note, on long drives the All-Speed Dynamic Radar Cruise Control combined with the Lexus Safety System+'s Lane Departure Alert with Steering Assist worked in perfect harmony and kept us from growing fatigued.
Ride Quality: Not the most Lexus-like plush ride we've experienced but generally smooth. Repeated bumps upset the suspension and make it feel less than composed at times.
Acceleration: Healthy acceleration from the V6 and electric motor get you going when you need it.
Braking: Progressive brakes that modulate well. Absence of grabbiness and good stopping distances. It's a bit heavier than the RX 350, so it takes a few more feet to come to a stop from 60 mph.
Steering: Steering is a bit on the numb side, but you can still place it into corners with reasonable confidence. Sport+ mode didn't seem to improve the firmness or feedback much.
Handling: Body roll was kept in check for a fairly heavy (4,740 pounds) vehicle.
This aspect causes us some conflict since the RX 450's tech aesthetics are quite good. The massive 12.3-inch center screen is beautiful to behold, but the infotainment control mouse (known as Remote Touch Interface or RTI) is absolutely infuriating and has the precision of a wooden spoon in a bowl of noodles. The gorgeous screen is customizable and contributes to quick familiarity when set the way you want it, but the fussy RTI is utterly distracting to operate precisely (because that's impossible, really). At least there are optional buttons to get what you need, and the climate controls and audio also have separate controls, thankfully.
Infotainment System:One of the nicest screens we've seen. Too bad it's hampered by Lexus Enform's weird purplish font and archaic graphics.
Controls: Great button locations for climate, audio and navigation. This is good news because the RTI knob is just plain terrible and should be avoided altogether. It's the one lousy aspect of the car's tech.
Bluetooth Pairing: Quick pairing and zero issues throughout our week-long drive.
Voice Call Quality: Impeccable voice call quality. Easy to hear and be heard on multiple phone calls.
The new version is full of creases, cuts, angles and pinches. It's meant to be consistent with changes in the rest of the lineup. In our opinion, it's one of the better looking models, up there with the GS and IS. The 450h F Sport has the advantage of getting darker, more pronounced exterior trim in form of a huge mesh grille, more dramatic wheels, requisite badging and black side mirrors. There's nothing remotely shy about its styling, and though it's a risky move, the shift works in our opinion.
Front: Everything is angular and dramatic, including the triangular fog light housings. The mesh grille looks much better than the base RX 350s with its rather pedestrian horizontal bars. We'd tone down the chrome, but hell, this is supposed to evoke luxury.
Rear: Nothing's unattractive here, and it's at least consistent with the rest of the vehicle. The exhaust ports nicely mimic the shape of the taillights.
Profile: There's a lot going on here, and this is probably the RX 450h's worst angle, but it's not bad. There's just a preponderance of cut lines and creases, but it is a contemporary look that's not as curved as the new Nissan Murano's body -- yet somehow it manages to look better. Our only major critique is the floating roof at the rear. Darker paint colors keep that aspect more subdued, thankfully.
Cabin: Unlike most of Lexus's models, the RX 450h F Sport's interior is spectacular. The seats are attractive especially in brighter hues, as is virtually every surface of the interior thanks to a modern but fluid design.
It's one of our favorite crossovers this year in terms of comfort levels for driver and passenger. The seats are just about perfect, and we can only cite Volvo seats as a better place to plant your tukus. Pretty much every surface exudes high levels of quality and communicates luxury at every opportunity. Lexus seems to have paid extra attention to the interior of the RX and rightfully so given the huges sales numbers nailed by previous versions.
Front Seats: Some of the best in the business. Deep, supportive and well-bolstered. Great leather that's soft to the touch and great ventilation and heat.
Rear Seats: Very comfortable with ample head and legroom. No one will feel relegated to sit here, even for hours of driving.
NVH (noise/vibration/harshness): Very quiet even at high speeds. Build quality is in line with what we've come to expect from Lexus. No rattles or vibrations that we noticed. It keeps you refreshed on long drives.
Visibility: A great seating position with a low dash and thin A-pillars give excellent forward visibility. The design of the floating roof impedes some rearward visibility, unfortunately.
Climate: We loved the ventilated seats, and the air conditioning was quite good, making a hot summer drive more than comfortable. At times, it was actually shockingly cold. Climate control buttons were easy to use but a bit too close to the shift knob.
There's not much the RX 450h doesn't have in terms of safety features. It comes chock full of driver aids, including blind-spot warning, lane-departure warning, and forward-collision warning with pedestrian detection and automatic emergency braking. The backup camera comes standard on this model, and there's also an available 360-degree camera, rear cross-traffic alert and adaptive cruise control that does a beautiful job providing a measure of steering assist that helps on long drives.
IIHS Rating: All RX models earn a Top Safety Pick+ due to good crashworthiness across the board and superior crash avoidance technology.
Standard Tech: ABS, traction control, electronic stability control, blind spot monitoring with rear-cross traffic alert, tire pressure monitoring, brakeforce distribution and brake assist. It also comes standard with Lexus Enform Safety Connect that has automatic collision notification, stolen vehicle location emergency location button, and roadside assistance.
Optional Tech: Our tester came with Lexus Safety System and adaptive front lighting system headlamps.
The RX 450h does a commanding job of providing multiple and ample storage options for your daily gear. Aside from a somewhat awkward space beneath the center stack and in front of the shifter, everything else is well-placed and well thought-out. The cargo space has plenty of room, making it easy to do a road trip or long haul drive on the weekend.
Storage Space: Great expanding door pockets for easy access, deep front cupholders, large center console armrest and a cubby for smaller items just beneath the center stack.
Cargo Room: The rear cargo section is ample with 55.9 cubic feet of space.
Here's where some shoppers remorse could occur. In AWD format, our car was supposed to get 30/28 mpg under normal driving conditions. Ours was markedly less, but admittedly, we're not the most light-footed bunch here in the office. The extra you pay for this trim level might not seem worth it when all is said and done. After all, you can get the RX 350 in F Sport trim, too. That model is rated at 20/28, so you might not actually see too much difference and save yourself thousands in the process. Also, keep in mind that the hybrid drinks premium fuel, while the gas version takes regular.
Observed: 24 mpg combined over the course of seven days of driving approximately 30 miles per day. One longer road trip involved 320 miles of mostly highway driving.
Driving Factors: We drove on highways and local roads and mostly in Sport+ mode. Had we driven more in urban areas, our mileage likely would've been higher.
We thoroughly enjoyed the upgraded 12-speaker premium audio system in the RX 450h. The sound was rich and loud with clear notes at all volumes. The fact that it comes standard on the 450h is a plus.
Overall, we thoroughly enjoyed our time in the RX 450h. It was attractive, composed and extremely comfortable. Lexus has done a fine job in creating the next generation of RX in very dramatic fashion, and the formula works for the most part. Anyone looking for driving excitement would be better off in a Jaguar F-Pace or a Porsche Macan (or even a Mazda CX-9, for that matter). But what the RX 450h does is provide a posh, edgy-looking crossover that upper-middle class drivers will love. They also likely will not forego the premium 450h F Sport trim for the 350 because that's just not as prominent on the scale of appearances.