REVIEW: 2017 Lexus RX 450h – Quietly Superb

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The Lexus RX class is a sales leader in premium midsize crossovers for a reason. The RX 450h Hybrid version improves upon excellent.

What is it? 

In one snowy month of testing, we had the distinct pleasure of trying the Jeep Grand Cherokee Trailhawk 4×4, Jaguar F-PACE 35t AWD, and now this 2017 Lexus RX 450h. Each has its own set of strengths, and none has what this tester would refer to as a “weakness.” We’re glad the Lexus showed up third in line because it made us appreciate what Lexus is doing to put up those sales numbers. Quite simply, Lexus focuses on what suburban family crossover buyers want, need, and are willing to pay for. The RX 450h trim tips the balance a bit towards those in more urban areas with an eye towards green living.

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Pricing and trims

The Lexus RX line starts with a conventional powertrain and 2WD at about $44K. The hybrid RX 450h starts at about $54K and rises to close to $60K when fully equipped. Lexus offers an F Sport package that hints at a sportier feel for about the same money as the luxury versions. All RX 450H trims come with all-wheel drive.

Our 2017 Lexus RX 450h added the Luxury Package, Panoramic Moonroof, Upgraded Navigation and Infotainment and had an MSRP including destination of $58,915. That puts this Lexus about $6K above the price of the Jeep and Jaguar we recently tested.

Safety

Simply put, the Lexus RX 450h may be the safest automobile for sale in America. Not only does Lexus offer the active safety measures that earn this vehicle the Top Safety Pick Plus rating, Lexus makes them standard. Neither the Jeep nor the Jaguar we tested this month could earn the Top Safety Pick Plus Designation. The Lexus RX has been doing so for years.

There were no safety options on our vehicle because they are all included in the price – and that goes for every trim of the RX, including the base.

The RX class has everything going for it. It is in the safest vehicle category, it has AWD which our research proves is a safety feature, and it scores as high as anything on the road in its crash tests. If that isn’t enough, consider its safety legacy. HDLI and IIHS real-world driver death rates derived from police reports showed the RX class has effectively earned a zero driver death rate over the most recent three model years studied. This is it folks, the safest thing you can drive.

Performance

Lexus has more experience building V6 hybrid engines than any other car company and it shows. The engine produces a respectable 308 hp and has great low-end torque.

Ease away from a stop and the RX 450h moves ahead on only electric power. Once underway, the V6 engine smoothly engages. It is a silent and vibration-free experience. The RX 450h can also operate under only EV power in many other circumstances. For example, in traffic on the highway. Floor the thing and it simply takes off under full power like any other good crossover. 0-60 MPH is about 8 seconds, which in a vehicle this size and shape feels quick. We will say that the AWD system is noticeably front-wheel biased. On more than one occasion, when we engaged full power, merging onto the highway for example, and we swear a front tire broke loose for an instant.

Lexus uses a CVT transmission with the RX 450h, rather than the geared transmission of the gas-only trims. We like the CVT more. It is smoother and suits the vehicle’s green mission perfectly.

Our mileage in highway and suburban driving was 28.5 MPG. The EPA Combined rating is 30 MPG. We were surprised and also disappointed that Lexus labels this vehicle “Premium Fuel Only.” That hurts the cost for fuel per mile in a vehicle that is focused on lowering that number. Ready for a wake-up call? The Lexus RX 450h has 50% better combined fuel efficiency than the smaller Jaguar F-Pace we tested this month (30 MPG vs. 20 MPG). The Jeep Grand Cherokee is even lower than the Jaguar at just 17 MPG Combined.

Ride and handling

Comfort is the message this vehicle conveys. Even over broken up winter roads it was always smooth and never transmitted any harsh vibrations or bangs from potholes. The RX 450h steers well and it is easy to handle. If you are looking for a sports car, this isn’t it, but Lexus surely has what you want. Start with the F Sport trim of this very vehicle and see if that is more your taste. The RX is suited to real-world driving, not imaginary racetrack dreams or off-road fantasies.

Seating

The heated and cooled front seats are trimmed in perforated, premium leather. They are very comfortable and during a 3.5-hour drive, we were always able to find a position we liked.

In back, the seating area is large and adults can easily find comfort. There is also more than enough space for three-across in a pinch.  The 38 inches of rear legroom is about the same as the Jeep Grand Cherokee’s 38.6 inches.

Cargo

The RX 450h has a very large cargo area. The angle of the rear glass cuts total volume to about 60 cubic feet compared to the Jeep Grand Cherokee’s 68 cubic feet.

Infotainment and controls

Our RX 450h had the optional larger infotainment screen and we loved it. It is super-wide and big enough that one need not choose between seeing the Nav screen and the audio. The remote touch interface is still not our favorite, but is far from the most annoying in the luxury segment. Controls are intuitive. We switched the clock to daylight savings time at a stoplight in three clicks of the mouse. It spun the analog clock and re-set the digital ones at the same time. Neat.

Overall

The Lexus RX 450h is a green crossover with unequaled safety credentials.  Lexus builds this vehicle not for the boy-racer auto reviewers that want to know how many Gs it can pull on a skidpad, or what its quarter mile time is, but rather for you, a grown up that wants a great family vehicle with upscale amenities.

At $59K the RX 450h comes at a premium of about $3K over the conventionally powered RX 350. It is hard to ignore that vehicle’s value. However, the hybrid RX 450h does have a slightly better drivetrain in some ways that adds to its enjoyment. This is the standard in the industry for good reason and buyers should start with the RX Class, or at least cross-shop it, when considering a premium midsize crossover.

2017 Lexus RX 450h

Base price: $44K (2WD non-hybrid)

Price as tested, $58,915 including $975 destination charge:  

Options:

Luxury Package: $2,975
Semi-Analine Leather-Trimmed Seats

Panoramic View Monitor: $800

Touch-Free Power Rear Door: $200

Panoramic Moonroof: $500

Nac with 12.3″ Display: $430

Likes:

  • Value
  • Fuel Efficiency
  • Space

Dislikes:

  • Premium Fuel Only
  • AWD Feels Front-Biased

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John Goreham

John Goreham