Lexus, the Toyota-owned luxury car brand, began its operations in India last year with the RX450h. It’s the carmaker's mid-size luxury SUV that's offered in two trims - Luxury and F-Sport. We've put the latter through our exhaustive road test regime to find out if the RX450h has the capability to fight it out in the arena of mid-sized luxury SUVs.
Design and style
We at Carwale aren’t fans of bulbous additions or a bloated look to increase the proportions of an SUV. The RX450h, thankfully, doesn't have any of these traits. In fact, it has an aggressive stance with sharp looks and a starship styling that adds a lot of exterior drama. The F-Sport gets the brand's signature massive honeycomb spindle grille, but in a subtle mesh pattern. Flanking it are sharp angular LED headlamps featuring distinctive L-shaped DRLs that can shimmer even on the brightest of days. The extra oomph is added by the LED side indicators. These aren't just conventional boring bulbs flashing, but dynamic turn indicators that show the direction of travel. Pretty neat!
The car’s futuristic looks also extend to its sides with sharp chiselled lines giving it a well-sculpted look. The sloping roof at the back with blackened C-Pillar lends the vehicle a unique shape. The muscular wheel arches host 18-inch seven-spoke alloys that give the SUV that much needed sporty character. It is well-proportioned at the back with a nicely shaped bumper, boot and the wraparound LED tail lamps completing the radical look of the F-Sport.
One doesn't have to climb into this SUV and the low-slung dashboard provides good visibility while driving. Like the exterior, the interior design is also busy especially with plenty of buttons and the spread of plastic. Though the quality is good, panel gaps are tight and the use of soft materials gives a good feel; but there isn't really a wow factor. And that's something which one would be certainly within their rights to expect from a luxury car. Still the attention to detail is phenomenal. For example, the velvet material on the sun visors and dashboard leather feels special. Even the mats are nice and thick.
Both seats are powered, cooled/heated, well bolstered and hold you extremely well. The rear seats are supportive too and recline at the press of a button. Rear legroom is more than sufficient, but due to the sloping roofline, headroom can be a little tight for taller occupants. Boot space isn't impressive as the full size spare wheel eats up space and is raised due to the electric motor beneath. Nonetheless, there's hands-free access (Lexus badge has a sensor) to the well-shaped loading area which is wide enough to take in big bags. Also, the rear seats fall/rise at the touch of a button accommodating more luggage.
Safety and equipment
The sci-fi scheme of things are not limited to looks only as the Lexus RX450h comes with plenty of tech. The nice and large 12.3-inch infotainment system sitting on top of the off-set centre console is paired to a Lexus Remote Touch Interface (RTI) controller, which looks like a joystick. As interesting as it may seem, it isn’t as fast as BMW’s i-drive or Audi’s MMI, as its processor is a little laggy. It takes time to get used to it and since it works like a mouse, it also takes up all your concentration. Thankfully, the display is connected to a 15-speaker Mark Levinson audio system which will please even an irritated audiophile. Then, there are multiple safety features including ten airbags, cruise control, parking cameras and sensors, multi-terrain ABS and a tyre pressure monitoring system to add to the extensive list of safety features. Still, automatic parking could have been a delightful feature.
Engine, Performance and Braking
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.
Ride and Handling
As for the handling part, the steering is light with consistent weighting. However, while attacking corners the car feels heavy, tyres squeal and it understeers with the stability control light flickering. For a vehicle with sporty pretensions, it's not so engaging to drive. But, it’s very stable, composed and the body roll is in check too. Drive it sedately and it will be very comfortable even during long hauls.
Now for the ride part, the F-Sport's suspension set-up is on the firmer side. As a result the high speed ride isn't bouncy and the car settles nicely after going over undulations. On the flip side, the sharp-edged bumps are felt by the passengers and even the side-to-side movement increases. Nevertheless, the suspension takes rough roads well. The 195mm ground clearance along with the 18-inch wheels wrapped in 235-65 section Bridgestone Duellers help its case further while tackling broken patches or potholes.
Price and Fuel Economy
The price can be a big let-down for buyers as it comes as a CBU model. At Rs 1.52 crores on-road, it is more expensive than the established segment leaders like the Mercedes GLS, BMW X5 and Audi Q7. But then again remember, this price is due to the high import duties and the hybrid powertrain. In terms of fuel efficiency, we couldn't mirror the claimed ARAI numbers of 18.8kmpl. However, with 10.87kmpl in the city and 11.65kmpl on the highway, the RX managed to put up decent real-world numbers under our testing cycle for such a heavy car.
The Lexus RX450h is endowed with plenty of technology, driving aids, safety, refinement and comfort. All of this is in a new avatar that complements the edgy look of many other current-gen Lexus models. With the need for tree huggers arising with each passing day, this hybrid is also a step in the right direction. However, the RX becomes an expensive choice amongst arch rivals, who have locally assembled models that offer more features at a lesser price, thus pushing the RX450h F-Sport to the back burner.
Pictures by Kapil Angane
|CAR NAME||Lexus RX450h|
|Valve gear||4 valves per cyl|
|Power||308bhp at 6,000rpm|
335Nm at 4,600rpm
|Power to weight||141.6bhp per tonne|
|Torque to weight||154Nm per tonne|
|CHASSIS & BODY|
|Tyres (F/R)||235/65 R18|
|Type||Rack and pinion|
|Type of assist||Electronic|