What is it?
Luxury crossovers, a flourishing segment today, was pioneered internationally two decades ago by Lexus, when the car maker launched the Lexus RX in 1998. This soft-roader has been a pillar of the brand ever since, and still is one of the best-selling Lexus model today. Its combination of sharp exteriors, robust reliability and attention to detail has won over millions of people internationally. Recently, Lexus launched the RX in India in the Hybrid version only. So will this popular Lexus click over here? It’s got its work cut-out if it has to justify its Rs 1.13 crore price tag.
At first glance, the RX’s styling may come across as brash and too futuristic. But with time it does grow on you, as the heavily chiselled body demands a lot of attention and from certain angles it looks bold and beautiful in a very futuristic way. The front is dominated by the signature Lexus spindle grille which, in the F Sport variant that we drove, comes in a sporty mesh trim. The triple L-shaped fully LED headlamps sport a sharp design that look like something out of space-age. At the rear, the RX has the stereotypical Lexus look - with the wrap-around tail lamps and a well-proportioned bumper and boot section. But it’s the RX’s silhouette which draws mixed opinions. Where some people will love the quirky nature of the abstract cuts and the creases on the doors, some might find it ugly and over-the-top. Overall, the RX definitely makes a lasting impression and comes across as something unique and futuristic.
How is it on the inside?
In sharp contrast to the quirky exterior styling, the interiors are dominated by simple straight-lines. The driver-focused centre console is well laid out and the squared-out design looks clean, if a tad old-school. Quality levels, though not as consistent as its European rivals, is actually good thanks to tight panel gaps, soft touch plastics and tactile operation of all the knobs and switches. But when one is shelling out almost Rs 1.5 crore for this car, one must needs nit-pick since the standards expected are far higher. The matt-grey finish on the centre console doesn’t exactly shout luxury and even the gear-shifter and power window switches feel out of place in such an expensive car.
As far as comfort is concerned, the front seats are one of the best we have experienced in recent memory. They have the right mix of suppleness and lateral support, especially in the Sport variant which we drove. View upfront is good too, but as with most modern cars, rear vision is hampered by the small rear windscreen and thick C-pillar. The rear seat itself is roomy enough to accommodate even tall people and also wide enough to accommodate three people in reasonable comfort. But there is a big hump in the middle of the back bench that results in compromised headroom for the centre passenger. The boot is not generous as far as capacity is concerned, but it is well shaped which makes loading and placing luggage easy. Another big plus is the full-size alloy spare wheel all Lexus cars come equipped with. In our harsh environment, this is a welcome feature which none of its rivals offer.
The RX is feature loaded too and is equipped with 10 airbags, ESP, LED headlamps, panoramic sunroof, powered front seats with memory, cooled front seats, front and rear parking sensors and a reverse camera. Just like in the ES sedan, you also get a fantastic sounding Mark Levinson sound system which has a pleasing output and never distorts even at high volumes. Apart from the long list of equipment, you can also choose from several exterior and interior colour combinations in the RX450h.
How does it drive?
Like the ES300h, the RX450h is powered by a hybrid motor. The system uses two electric motors, one under the hood that primarily handles charging and the other in the rear differential to help drive the wheels. The rear-mounted motor works in tandem with the Atkinson-cycle V-6 to produce a combined 308bhp. But even alone, the 3.5-litre V6 motor makes 258bhp which should result in a phenomenal performance. But if you are looking at the RX purely as a performance SUV, then you will be a bit disappointed.
Start the RX450h, and there is no sound of the engine cranking. As soon as you step on the accelerator the V6 motor comes to life and the RX450h surges ahead with minimal effort. Like with all Lexus cars, the refinement is remarkable and when driven in EV mode only, the RX400h truly defies logic as there is no noise whatsoever. The V6 motor is a gem and Lexus has done a fine job of blending it with the electric motors as the transition from EV to hybrid power is seamless. At slow speeds in Eco mode, the RX450h is relaxing to drive as the CVT gearbox never jerks or sends extra power to the wheels than anticipated. Drive faster though and the RX450h feels too lethargic and the throttle feels spongy in Eco mode. Normal mode feels the best, as it still retains a linear character and there is lot more enthusiasm from the powertrain and gearbox.
Unlike CVTs coupled to small engines that moan and drone under hard acceleration, the creamy smooth V-6 in the RX450h never protests as the transmission keeps it boiling near the redline. RX450h’s CVT transmission also gets pre-set ratios which you control through the paddle-shifters. Although this mode works well at moderate throttle inputs, anything more and the CVT gearbox merely holds the engine at high rpm. So is the RX450h’s powertrain sporty? Well the slipping feel characteristic of the CVT is not very energetic, nor is it very satisfying when you’re trying to hustle. The RX450h is much better suited to cruising or stretching a litre of fuel.
It’s the same as far as handling is concerned too. Weighing 2.2 tonnes, the RX450h feels heavy when pushed hard through corners. Drive it in a sedate manner though and you will enjoy the RX450h. The precise steering has a fluid action and when driven in Sport mode, the suspension keeps body roll well in check. Long sweeping bends is where the RX450h feels the best as it shows good stability and composure. What limits its handling prowess further are the low resistance tyres which tend to squeal at the slightest hint of hard driving. The ride, on the other hand, is on the firm side. Yet, it is comfortable and well judged. The suspension does a good job of insulating the passengers from the surrounding as it functions in a silent manner. A patch of heavily rutted road does catch it out though. Also in Sport mode, the suspension feels a bit too firm as the RX tends to rock from side to side over less than perfect roads.
Should I buy one?
There is much to like about the RX450h. It feels well-built and reliable and its ownership experience promises to be class leading too. The in-your-face futuristic styling hints at owning and driving something high-tech and the comfortable interiors add to the overall experience. Then there is the refinement, which is remarkable and easily one of the best we have ever experienced. But problems for the RX450h start as soon as you glance at the price list. Marked at a whopping Rs 1.11 crore for the Luxury variant and Rs 1.13crore for the F Sport, this Lexus SUV is very expensive and at this price you can buy rival cars that are much more established and offer more in terms of equipment and driving pleasure. So if you want something unique, that is easy on our mother nature and supremely refined, then the RX450h is a good buy. Nevertheless, paying Rs 1.5 crore on-road for the RX450h is hard to justify.
Where does it fit in?
Internationally the RX rivals the BMW X5 but thanks to heavy import duties and hybrid powertrain, the RX is even more expensive than Mercedes GLS and the Audi Q7. It is quite similarly priced to the Porsche Cayenne.
Pictures by: Kapil Angane