GRR

The Goodwood Test: Lexus RX450 H

14th May 2018
erin_baker_headshot.jpg Erin Baker

Each week our team of experienced senior road testers pick out a new model from the world of innovative, premium and performance badges, and put it through its paces.

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Heritage

Lexus, the posh arm of Toyota, has been in the UK for 28 years. A newcomer it may be, in relative terms, but right now it looks like the wisest player out there, for it was pretty much the first out of the traps in eschewing diesel in favour of hybrid powertrains.

The badge’s large RX SUV was launched as the RX300 in 1998. Seven years later, in 2005, Lexus used the launch of the second generation to introduce its hybrid technology, in the RX400h, which was the world’s first luxury hybrid SUV. It was a runaway success, particularly in Europe, where Lexus had been regarded until then as a dull brand making dull saloons for dull Americans. The RX400h, by contrast, was an innovative, premium SUV for middle-class families enjoying active weekend lifestyles. By 2009, Lexus offered the RX only with a hybrid system aboard, in a sign of how much faith it had in its engineering. At the time, the SUV market was awash with diesel engines.

Nowadays, the Lexus 450h is still regarded as one of the finest, most reliable five-seat large SUVs out there, and this year a seven-seater version has been added to the fray.

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Design

With each iteration of the RX, this large SUV has got better looking. You could say that about most models – it’s part of the genius of car designers to make each outgoing design suddenly seem obsolete. But Lexus really has got more and more European in its styling, with more contemporary, smart and sleek styling that doesn’t appear too zany and, well, Japanese, for European tastes. 

Inside is still a mixed bag, however, with a fantastically wide, flowing dashboard that gives a real sense of space to front-seat passengers, but the infotainment graphics remain behind some of Lexus’s Euro competition, such as JLR, albeit Lexus electronics probably work a darn sight better.

You also still get that movable mouse to control the selection of functions on the screen – you can shove the little button to highlight functions, and then press the buttons on the side to select. I always find it infuriatingly fiddly, but I imagine if you live with one of these cars for longer than a few months, you grow to like it.

Our test car also had a leather steering wheel with lacquered wooden inserts, which my motoring colleagues sneer about, but I found pleasing to touch. You’ll find motoring journalists sneer about Lexii quite a lot, with the exception of the new LC500 sportscar, but the RX450h is a very popular SUV among owners. Which brings us on to…

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Performance

This is not a total eco hair shirt – you’ve still got a V6 under the bodywork, with 260hp, as well as an electric motor at the front (167hp) and at the back (69hp), which means this car reaches 62mph in 7.7 seconds, which is plenty when you’re driving the family tank and not expecting or looking for outright performance. There are two-wheel and four-wheel-drive versions to choose from and if the hybrid isn’t your cup of tea, there’s an RX200t turbo-petrol on offer, but we’d choose the hybrid every time; it’s a full-time hybrid which means it’s the petrol engine which kicks in and out, not the electric motor. You’re looking at 127g/km CO2 emissions and a quoted 51mpg, with the hybrid. 

But the real performance indicator is that lovely Lexus chassis, which somehow retains an element of smooth, dynamic handling despite the size of the body. Suspension is the usual MacPherson strut at the front and double wishbone at the rear, but there’s some Japanese magic somewhere that makes this car feel lithe, taut and very unlike the Americansville luxury saloons of old.

Lexus still favours a continuously variable transmission (CVT) which has its detractors due to a constant searching for, and occasional slurring of, gears, and in some cars CVTs are widely hated, but Lexus has mastered the art of the CVT and it blends seamlessly with the rest of the flowing hybrid powertrain.

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Passion

Not much, admittedly. You might well ask which SUV does offer any driving or ownership passion, but you have the Land Rover Defender and Range Rover, both of which install a certain amount of British pride in their owners, and SUVs from Rolls-Royce and Ferrari coming up, as well as a crossover from Aston, so I’m afraid we do have to start talking about SUVs evoking passion. The Lexus, though, isn’t one of them. It’s a very pleasant surprise, don’t get me wrong – in fact, according to my seven-year-old, it’s the best car he’s ever been in, and he’s been in the Rolls-Royce Ghost and BMW i8. He likes the electronic seat movement, the leg space, the cool dashboard layout, and these are all good things, just not, well, things to get passionate about. But I like this car a lot, and I’d welcome one in our household (I am in fact eyeing up the seven-seat version as we speak, as we have four boys between us). Watch this space.

Price as tested: £60,290

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