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2010 Lexus RX 450h (Hybrid) – Road Test

It’s been a couple of years since I last drove the Lexus RX hybrid. It was so outstanding my wife and I wanted to trade our first-born for one.. too bad we only had a chinchilla to trade.

For the 2010 model, Lexus have re-designed the RX from the ground up… sounds like the perfect reason to grab the keys and see if it can measure up to the previous model.
First Impressions
I love the look of the RX and obviously many other people agree because it outsells all other luxury CUV/SUV’s by a large margin. It would take a very keen eye to spot the difference between the 2009 and the 2010 model – even though it’s an all-new version and not just a refreshed model. Personally, I think Lexus chickened out by making it far too similar to the out-going model. If I was the one dropping $60,000+ on the latest model I’d certainly want everyone to know it’s an all-new vehicle and not just the same car, different paint job.

Using the terrific Lexus keyless “Smart Key System” (you put your hand behind the door handle to open it, touch a spot on the top to lock it – way better than BMW’s version BTW) – I jump behind the wheel. The interior looks considerably different from the older model. It appears to be a bit more sparse and less inviting than I’d remembered. Having just stepped out of the Toyota Venza, my wife wanted to quickly return to it and forget about the RX450h!!!

I told her they were two similar vehicles, but not even in the same market – so she couldn’t compare them to each other. Unfortunately, we both spent the entire week comparing the two vehicles. Oh dear – guess which one we preferred?

Adjusting the multi-way leather seats was easy and the leather and wood electric tilt/telescope wheel made it very easy to get into the right position. Once I’d set the mirrors, steering and seat into the optimum position I pushed the memory button and that was it – no more adjustments for the rest of the week.

I really like it when you can set a vehicle up that quickly and you never have to refer to the owner’s manual – too often something as simple as setting a memory button requires a peruse through the manual to find out what the quirk is that you’re missing to make it work. Speaking of the owner’s manual – it is so big it takes up the entire glove box! Weighing in at 0.850 kg [4 lbs 14 oz], ditching it would actually save some fuel! (The Sat-Nav manual itself weighed in at more than 0.45 kg [16 oz] !)

After getting comfortable, I check out the automatic climate control – always a pet peeve of mine – could Lexus have gotten it right? Nope. The dual zone automatic climate controls work just like 95% of the automatic systems that saturate the automotive kingdom – and it sucks – big time. Why oh why can’t luxury manufacturers just give us round dials with red on one side and blue on the other – no engineering degree needed to operate?

No, instead we get tiny little black buttons – smaller than a Skittle – to set the temperature up or down in increments, along with matching fan speed buttons in a different location!! Arggggh. Taking the time to operate these tiny little buttons in a parking lot with the vehicle parked is one thing, but hurtling down the highway and having to read the words and locate the buttons is just dangerous. Fortunately, I usually have the wife in the co-pilot seat and I just bark my orders to her and she adjusts everything for me – others aren’t quite so fortunate though.

While still on the climate control, we never could get it set to a comfortable level – we were either too hot or too cold. For example, the upper vents would be blowing cool air while the floor vents were blasting hot air. Meanwhile, the rear passengers were toasty warm. The bum warmers were just that – warmers. On a cold day I want my but roasting like a chestnut not almost hot like a warm bun (pardon the pun). The seat coolers were.. um.. not that impressive either. It may have been this particular vehicle, because in the past we’ve been thoroughly impressed by the Lexus seats – hot and cool.

OK, enough of the negative – everything else about the RX450h is positive.

The 8-inch (203 mm) LCD Sat-Nav screen sits nice and high and the screen also doubles for the backup camera when reverse is selected. Adjustments are made using a couple of buttons and a controller that looks and feels like a mouse that you’d use with your computer. It was much more comfortable and easier to use than other overly complicated setups from other manufacturers.

I wouldn’t be surprised to see this becoming the norm in the future. Using it however was nothing short of frustration while the vehicle was in motion. It can’t be adjusted or re-programmed while on the move, so imagine this scenario… you’re driving from one state or province to another and you feel kinda hungry. Let’s just use the Sat-Nav to find us a local burger joint or a gas station.

Or how about if you need to re-program it to get around a traffic jam… there’s a novel idea!!!. Nope, no way.. you have to come to a complete stop before you can access that information. If the manufacturers can put sensors in the passenger seat to make sure the airbag doesn’t go off in a collision, surely they can program the Sat-Nav to allow the passenger to make adjustments to the system while on the go. Talk about useless… buy an aftermarket one.

As with most hybrid vehicles, you press the start button and nothing appears to be happening – then the engine fires up – the RX450h is no different in that regard. Other than the start, there is no way to tell that you’re driving anything other than a regular vehicle. Even the once wooden or squishy feel of the brakes is long gone. It drives and stops just like a regular CUV/SUV.

The electric steering is perfectly weighted with just enough heaviness to give you decent feedback. As you’d expect from a luxury SUV, road imperfections are swallowed up and the ride is silent. Cornering sharply when entering the highway was better than anticipated, with body lean very well controlled, almost sporty. Mashing the throttle caught me off-guard. Wow! It hustled way faster than I was expecting – usually, hybrids are a bit more “leisurely” shall we say, to get up to speed, but the RX was off and running with no fuss what so ever.

The 8-way power seats are firm and very comfortable – back seat passengers commented that they too were very comfortable. After driving for a couple hours, we got out of the RX refreshed and no one complained of being stiff or sore – a true testament to the comfort of the seats. Rear seat occupants also get to recline the seatback. Legroom, knee room and shoulder room is very good. Headroom may be an issue for tall passengers though 1.8 m+ (6-‘+).

Out on the highways and back roads, the RX450h is composed and extremely quiet. The only noise perceivable came from the large outside mirrors as the wind whipped over them when we were travelling at 120+ km/h. Even at that it wouldn’t have been noticeable if we had the stereo on and I was the only one that commented on it – no one else could hear it.

Lowering the rear seats to load cargo is as simple as pulling a lever in the rear compartment – you can also flip it forward from the rear passenger door area too. The seats fold almost perfectly flat for maximum storage, but unfortunately, the front passenger seat doesn’t fold forward to allow long items to be transported – sometimes even luxury vehicles transport long items and I’ll never understand why manufacturers don’t take this into consideration. The driver’s seat moves back to maximum whenever the car is turned off, so this can eat into cargo space if the driver isn’t an NBA star.

The rear cargo area is large and square making it extremely useful for transporting cargo. There’s a cargo net for grocery bags and a cargo cover to hide your stuff from prying eyes. The rear seats slide fore and aft to increase legroom or cargo space, depending on your needs. There is a small intrusion of the struts, but other than that the cargo area is very usable. I measured 1,067 mm (42”) long at the maximum and 990 mm (39”) at the minimum with the rear seats up and a surprising 1.829 mm (72”) with them down.

Width measured in at 1,422 mm (56”) – 1,143 mm (45”) including the struts, and height was a bit difficult to measure because of the sharp drop of the rear window, where the measurement came in anywhere from a minimum of 508 mm (20”) to a maximum of 736 mm (29”).  The entire cargo capacity translates into a maximum of 2,273 litres (80.3 cu.ft) with all the seats folded and 1,132 litres (40 cu.ft) behind rear seats when they are upright.

The terrific audio system is comprised of 12 speakers, an AM/FM/XM radio, and a 6- disc CD changer that is MP3/ WMA compatible. There is an Auxiliary and USB jack inside the centre console for added musical options. An optional 15 speaker Mark Levinson 7.1 Surround System is available along with a dual-screen DVD rear-seat entertainment system if you add the Ultra Premium Package to your RX .

The Conclusion
The longer I had the RX450h, the more I enjoyed it. It does everything it’s designed to do with the added benefits of All-Wheel Drive and the wonderful Lexus hybrid system. The CVT transmission is without a doubt the best iteration I’ve encountered to date with none of the usual annoying factures that usually come with CVT transmissions.

There’s a reason this is such a huge seller – it just does everything so perfectly
Much bigger inside than it looks from the outside
Very comfortable

Accessing the USB plug takes a lot of patience and diligence
The bum warmers/coolers dial is hidden and not so useful anyway
Auto climate controls

Immediate Competition:

Acura MDX/ZDX, BMW X3/X5, Land Rover LR4, Mercedes M-Class, Volvo XC60, VolvoXC90
(hybrid SUV/CUV): Ford Escape hybrid, Toyota Highlander hybrid

By The Numbers…
For more information visit: www.Lexus.ca

Powertrain:            3.5L 24-valve DOHC VVTi V-6, with Lexus Hybrid Drive (Atkinson Cycle); CVT Multi-mode automatic transmission; AWD
Horsepower (kW):     295 (220) Net
Torque (N.m.):         234 (317) @ 4,800 rpm
0-100 km/h:         6.9 seconds

Curb Weight:         4,810 lbs (2,110 kg)
Cargo Capacity:     Behind Front Seats: 2,273 litres (80.3 cu.ft)  // Behind Rear Seats: 1,132 litres (40.0 cu.ft)
Towing capacity:     1,587 kg (3,500 lbs)

Fuel Consumption:
  [Premium – 91 Octane]
City: 6.6 L/100 kms //  Highway: 7.2 L/100 kms // Combined: 6.8 L/100 kms
I averaged 8.8 L/100 kms during combined driving.

Copyright © 2010 by Iain Shankland. All rights reserved.
Text / Images: Iain Shankland

Also Published on Automobilsport.com & Flagworld.com