The world is clamoring for hybrids. Especially since VW has probably signed the death warrant on Diesel, at least in the U.S.
Luckily for Lexus and Toyota, their brands have been THE place to go for Hybrids selling the funky and agrarian Prius sedan here since 2000.
And hybrids have come a long way, in performance, livability, and technology.
So if you’re looking for a luxury SUV, but still want to feel good about yourself among your eco-conscious friends, where to go?
Ahem… right here.
The 2017 Lexus RX450h.
Feel good is what the RX450h is all about. Partly, because Lexus can’t keep their hands off of it, constantly refining, updating, and tweaking.
Take our tester. Lexus did a major redesign last year, and the already handsome big SUV got some extra testosterone, and now looks more angry, muscled, and ready to pounce. Giving our RX a big bump in appeal is the F-Sport package, which includes a more distinctive front bumper, unique upper and lower grille inserts, rear valance and spoiler.
Our tester in its rich black Caviar color, with charcoal 20’ F Sport alloy wheels, was one of the most ominous looking SUV’s we’ve seen. Adding to the menace, our tester featured optional Triple-Beam LED headlights.
A save-the-world hybrid? This thing looks like it wants to chew up the planet and spit it out.
The aggressive looks carry on into the interior, although it’s not so dark looking, thanks to some rich looking red leather on the seats and door trim. The leather feels good to the touch, but Lexus hasn’t gone soft on the F-Sport motif of performance here, either. The seats are superbly supportive sport buckets with prominent bolsters, and are heated and cooled for your comfort.
A unique F-Sport gauge package serves up a nice big tachometer in sport mode, while our tester’s optional color heads up display makes it easy to keep eyes on the road. Also carrying the theme are aluminum pedals, shift knob and various trim. The fat leather wrapped steering wheel features red stitching and a nice assortment of controls on the wheel.
RX models with Navi still employ Lexus’ mousepad controller to activate many of the infotainment features. And although, it’s better than it was, it’s still fiddly, and it’s hard to get the precision you need.
Luckily there are plenty of secondary controls on the dash that are clear and easy to use, so you can bypass the mouse most of the time.
The infotainment system itself is excellent, with a monstrous 12.3” screen that comes in a package with the optional navigation, and awesome-sounding 15-speaker, Mark Levinson premium audio system. And while this is an F Sport, it’s also still a Lexus, meaning you’re well looked after, with superb quality materials and just about every luxury imaginable. The rear seat is notably spacious and comfortable, and our tester’s Touch-Free power rear door made getting to the cargo hold a snap.
But let’s get to the meat of the subject.
Do the words F Sport and Hybrid belong on the same vehicle?
Under the hood, this isn’t your grandma’s Prius. You’ve got a muscular 3.5-liter V6, which combined with electric motors on the front and rear axle, give you a nice fat 308 horsepower. Punch it with Sport Mode dialed in, and it pulls off the line with a solid hit of torque, and a surprisingly nice growl.
For the economy-minded, Lexus ranks the 450h with a combined 30 mpg. In our day-to-day leadfooting (hybrid-footing?) we were closer to the mid-20’s. Of course, if you take it down a notch and leave it in Eco-Mode, you can probably get to the magic 3-0.
But the F Sport won’t make it easy, because it is a lot of fun to drive. The unique sport-tuned suspension with front and rear performance dampers takes the float out of the RX, and gives back a surprisingly firm – but not harsh – ride.
The steering is also firmer on the F Sport, and for a large SUV, the RX is fun to toss about on a curvy road. And the standard all wheel drive gives a confident feel. The suspension bits also make it feel more responsive and lighter on its feet in city traffic, so it’s really win-win here.
Those looking for a cushy experience might find the 20-inch rims add some harshness. Those looking for plush should probably go for a non F-Sport, but we think it’s a fair trade-off for the added grip and responsiveness. And the 20’s just look a lot better too.
When you’re not pressing on, the big Lex gives you added confidence thanks to the full enchilada of safety gear, including Blind Spot monitor with Rear Cross Traffic Alert and Active Braking, Departure Alert with Steering and Lane Keep Assist, Pre-collision with Pedestrian Detection and all-speed dynamic radar cruise control.
Despite the RX being a tall vehicle, its coupe-like high shoulders mean visibility is somewhat limited. Coming to our rescue was the optional 360-degree Panoramic View Monitor – making it super-easy to negotiate parking, and also featuring a wide-angle forward view, great when pulling into traffic from a parking structure or side street.
All this goodness comes at a price, of course. The RX450h F Sport starts at $56,495. The panoramic monitor ($800), Color HUD ($600), Touch Free rear door ($200) triple beam LED headlights ($1,615) and Navi with Mark Levinson Sound ($1,510) brings the grand total to $61,220.
Compared to a similar RX350 F-Sport, the 450h adds close to $6,000 to the sticker. With the current reasonably cheap cost of gas, you’ll probably never make up the difference with the 3-6 mpg better you’d get compared to an RX350. Still, you would be using less fuel, and it’s technically intriguing to see how sporty hybrids have become. And if gas prices jump, you might make back the difference in price.
So if you’re looking for a sporty, luxurious SUV, the RX is a great choice – and we would definitely opt for the F Sport model, for the tough looks, driver-focused interior and enhanced drive. And if a hybrid is high on your list of priorities, the RX450h gives you eco-friendly goodness without spoiling any of the fun.