Driven: Lexus RX 450h

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Lexus’ sharply-styled SUV offers a discerning alternative to the usual European options.

What you’re looking at here is the descendent of a bona fide pioneer. Before 2004, if you wanted V8 power, well, you had to buy a vehicle with a V8 engine.

Then along came the second-generation Lexus RX and with it, the RX 400h… the world’s first hybrid luxury vehicle.

It pretty much set the template for what all similar dual-powered premium vehicles would aim for, namely a normally aspirated petrol V6 coupled with electric motor offering the equivalent power of a burbling V8 sans corresponding gurgle at the fuel pump.

It also had a rather novel all-wheel drive system called the E-four system, the V6 driving the front wheels, while the electric motor turned the rear axle to give 4×4 performance when required. And so the RX 400h kicked off what would be a very successful hybrid programme that has to date seen more than 1,45 million Lexus hybrids sold worldwide.

The human-machine interface in the cabin has been vastly improved courtesy of a new 12.3-inch central display featuring touchscreen functionality. The multimedia functions can of course also be operated using a new trackpad version of Lexus’s Remote Touch Interface, or with voice control, replacing the old button-activated system.
The human-machine interface in the cabin has been vastly improved courtesy of a new 12.3-inch central display featuring touchscreen functionality. The multimedia functions can of course also be operated using a new trackpad version of Lexus’s Remote Touch Interface, or with voice control, replacing the old button-activated system.

Delivering What An SUV Should

This pioneering provenance never really made an impact in our market though and, to be honest, it’s been something of a surprise that the Lexus brand has never garnered the following here that it has in the US, Asia and to a lesser degree, Europe.

And perhaps the latter is the issue. When it comes to luxury vehicles, South Africans have always gravitated to the Europeans and particularly the Teutonic Triumvirate of Audi, BMW and Mercedes-Benz.

I’ve long been a fan of this Japanese brand and especially its SUVs that deliver exactly what a premium SUV should, namely high spec, top-drawer build quality, and powerful but refined engines. Which is exactly what this RX 450h does in spades.

An RX Revision

The whole RX range has recently undergone a revision, adding some aesthetic upgrades, and suspension tweaks, along with connectivity and safety technology mods.

Visually, you’ll notice slimmer, sharper headlamps, a reworked grille, with a mesh pattern of radiating three-dimensional ‘L’ shapes, and a more rounded front bumper.

At the back there’s a redesigned lower bumper that links smoothly to the rear wings, plus new LED combination lights with a mirrored L-motif.

Those new front headlamps also introduce Lexus’ proprietary BladeScan tech. Compared with existing technology that points LED lamps towards the road, the new technology directs the lamps back towards an adjustable blade mirror rotating at 12 000rpm.

This allows far more precisely controlled light distribution and shading to avoid dazzling other drivers. Basically, BladeScan technology is not just 10% brighter than other LED systems, but it allows you to recognise pedestrians and it illuminates hard-to-see areas like road shoulders and road signs.

What you’ll notice most once behind the wheel though is a substantially revised chassis set-up that has dialled in a smoother, more level ride control, reduced body roll, and more immediate response to steering inputs.

Sharp-Looking and Beautifully Put-Together

New-design shock absorbers and tech like Active Cornering Assist that suppresses any mid-corner understeer, and a retuned electric power steering, all keep the RX composed and stable when turning left and right at pace.

And this all dovetails wonderfully with the RX 450h’s creamy smooth and efficient drivetrain that sees the 3.5-litre V6 engine paired with electric motors for a combined output of a punchy 230kW.

With many autobrands imbuing their big SUVs with increasingly powerful engines and stiff, performance car-like suspensions, the Lexus RX 450h offers a more sensible alternative.

Here’s a sharp-looking and beautifully put-together luxury SUV with measured comfortable dynamics and a drivetrain to match. It’s a discerning choice.

Words by Steve Smith

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