Alhough not of the plug-in variety, this hybrid motor is what puts the ‘h’ in the Lexus RX450h. The SUV comes powered by a 3.5-litre V6 petrol mill, which is helped by two electric motors, one under the hood for charging and one at the back to deliver power to the wheels. This combined hybrid powertrain churns out 308bhp and 335Nm of torque which is sent to all four wheels by a CVT gearbox. It recharges through regenerative braking and recouping energy from the engine.
Push the start button and you will be greeted by an eerie silence. Once you slot the gear-lever in D and lightly tap the pedal, the car starts moving with a near-silent shove using the electric motor. There’s a dedicated EV mode if you wish to use, but remember there’s no plug-in charging facility. So a true electric feel will be available only when enough charge is built up on the run. Refinement levels are top-notch even when power is drawn from the petrol engine. Full marks to the carmaker for providing that smooth shift from electric power.
A twist-dial knob above the EV button helps toggle through multiple driving modes like Eco, Normal, Sport and Sport +. The car feels lazy on the pick-up in Eco mode, but that's mainly to reduce fuel consumption and is therefore ideal for city commuting. However, flick the knob to select Normal mode and the drive gets interesting. The throttle response gets better while still retaining the linear character and yet making things livelier. It’s difficult to differentiate between the Sport and Sport+ modes. Also, here it becomes clearly evident that the F-Sport’s engine is not tuned for a really sporty demeanour. The CVT gearbox too lets the engine rev till the redline (where the fantastic V6 note can be heard), but you are never thrown back in the seat when you mash the throttle. Even so, the transmission has pre-set ratios that can be controlled through paddle-shifters. There’s not much of a rubber-band effect here and you don’t really feel the need of a DSG or other transmission.
We tested Lexus’ claim of the RX450h F-Sport accelerating from 0-100kmph in 7.7 seconds and the hybrid SUV did exactly that. Nonetheless, you don’t feel the surge as the revs climb, even though the initial push due to the electric motors is quite evident. There’s not much feel at the brake pedal, but it’s good enough to stop the 2.2 tonne vehicle quickly from 100kmph to standstill.