Big in Japan
As SUVs have gained in popularity over the last decade, they have divided the car-buying public like Marmite. Everyone does one & now in large, medium or small sizes, with I’m sure extra large & extra small next on the list. Loved by footballers & their wives, but loathed by the Green Party & environmentalists, al of the major players have been trying to make their models more eco as well as tax friendly.
What to do then about appeasing both sides ? The answer comes from Lexus, in the guise of its latest sexier, more distinguished RX450h, a hybrid SUV, with footballer looks. It offers all of those SUV benefits- 4WD, high driving position, status, size & safety- with the addition of an electric hybrid motor, allowing the tax man to get less of your income & the green lobbyists to sit down, a win-win situation.
Thanks to this hybrid technology, the RX450h is cheaper to run than its competitors, although with the entry level mode starting at over £41,000 & my test car levelling out at £54,935, your green credentials might be tested to the limit. In reality, it’s the monthly cost of leasing the Lexus that will be more important to company directors & the like; when I tested the RX450h this year the cost was an Initial rental of £2,994 (+VAT) followed by 47 monthly payments of £499 (+ VAT). This may sound expensive, but it is in the BIK saving that the RX outperforms the BMW X5, Range Rover Sport & Audi Q7, with the RX Luxury at 22% BIK, compared to 29% + for the other large SUVs. That’s a fair wedge to keep for yourself !
What is this car like to drive? The answer is, I missed it as soon as it went back to Epsom. It looks brilliant & is much improved over the old model. Taking it’s cue from the smaller NX it’s all jagged edges & shaded lines with the massive front grille dominating. Inside the cabin has got even better. The old model was looking a little dated , but the new one moves Lexus closer to the Germans in terms of sheer build quality & soft touch fittings. There’s lot’s of leather, heated & air cooled front seats being a stand out. The intersecting dash is simple to understand & the massive widescreen SatNav/info-tainmemnt system looks great as well. The mouse-style controller locate between the front seats does take a bit of getting used to but after a couple of days it’s second nature to select the function required whilst on the move. The steering wheel controls are also simple to use. My only negative is Lexus insistence on placing an analogue click in the middle of the dash, which to my mind is unnecessary.
Lexus always gives when it comes to goodies & the latest RX is the same.The entry-level version comes with plenty of toys, including dual-zone climate, DAB radio, SatNav, Bluetooth connectivity, rain-sensing wipers, automatic LED headlights with Front & rear parking sensors all standard.
My Luxury version adds a better media & navigation system with a bigger screen & more speakers, plus the air-conditioned front seats, lovely on a rear English hot day.
Practically, the RX is only available in five-seat form. The cabin is large with plenty of leg & headroom for five, but the middle passenger in the back will have less head room than those in the outer seats due to a higher-set seat. Central storage comes in the form of a spacious cubby box between the front seats, with a cable-free phone charger also located underneath the central console. Large door pockets which move to open wider are a bonus & with multiple cupholders, cabin storage is not a problem. There’s also no transmission tunnel to straddle, which makes the Lexus more comfortable for the middle passenger than some alternatives.
The RX’s boot offers up 453 litres of storage space, but because of the battery, it’s quite shallow & is therefore smaller than the equivalents in rivals such as the Q7, new XC90 & X5. Rear seats can be dropped to increase the load bay area if necessary & the rear bench can be slid forwards or back to either increase leg room or boot space. As my son discovered, you can even recline the back seats for additional passenger comfort virtually lying down for a snooze !
Start the engine & the hybrid tells you nothing. It’s actually quite demure & it’s not until you start to motor above 50mph that any real noise can be a heard. Even at 70 mph it’s incredibly quiet & the RX is a really nice place to be.
The powerful electric motor allows you to pull away in silence, plus it will continue for a couple of miles on electric power alone. On the open road the RX’s show’s that it’s all about comfort rather than excitement. Even on Cheshire’s windy back roads, it didn’t put a foot wrong & unsurprisingly, was at it’s best on the motorway. With the adaptive cruise control on I ate up the miles & with the added bonus of the systems radar keeping me a safe distance from the car in front, long distances are handles impeccably. There is a start push button on the dash and a clever light that tells you the car is ready to go. It will comfortably cruise at 30 mph and will also give you that enjoyable thump in acceleration on the motorway when required. I admit that I like to engage with a car on occasions, but would happily give that up for the sheer relaxation one gets from the RX hybrid. As with all Lexus models, it does everything it sets out to do and does it extremely well.
Lexus claims an official combined fuel economy of 51.4 mpg. I managed 36.1 mpg so I don’t think that’s too bad all things considered. Top speed is 124mph with a 0-62mph time a spritely 7.7 seconds. As with its sister hybrid’s, if you get one you will wonder how you ever coped in anything else, such is the ease with which these Lexus hybrids drive. I can’t think of higher praise than arriving at a meeting chilled and relaxed, which is how I felt after three hours in the RX when I arrived at my destination. Any negatives? It’s quiet and you may miss the growl of another similar-sized car. And that is about it. It’s a car for passengers more than drivers because it’s so easy to drive & that bizarrely could put customers who like to ‘drive’ a car off. That I think would probably include footballers, who will not like the RX450h, as they have more money than sense. That is why you can now buy a really ugly Bentley SUV, just & only for young men with far too much money who kick a ball for a living. For us mere mortals, the new RX450h is an infinitely more sensible choice on one’s wallet, with the added benefit of lower emissions & lower company car tax, as well as striking good looks, it’s a compromise many clever people will be happy to take.
Frankie says relax. 4/5