Electricity, not garlic bread, is the future. I don’t know about you, but I never saw that coming.
By 2030 the only new cars on sale in the UK will be battery-powered but, right now, there’s never been a wider choice of powertrains – petrol, diesel, hydrogen, mild hybrid, plug-in hybrid, self-charging hybrid and full electric – to choose from.
The Lexus RX made its maiden bow more than 20 years ago and it was the first mass produced vehicle to combine the desirability of a luxury SUV with the reduced emissions of hybrid technology. These days competition is a little more widespread – Audi’s Q7, Volvo’s XC90, BMW’s X5 and Mercedes’ GLE are all available as hybrids – so Lexus will be hoping that the updates applied in 2020 – is that really a year ago? – will be enough to keep pace with its rivals.
Changes to the exterior are subtle with a refreshed front end sporting sleeker headlights that bring the RX more in line with the manufacturer’s models. The huge grille – a dominant feature on all the firm’s models – remains, leaving little doubt about its origins.
Inside there’s been significant updates to the infotainment system – there aren’t many who would argue they weren’t needed – and a number of smaller tweaks to improve refinement.
Climb into the cabin and there’s nothing that calls into question the RX’s credentials as a luxury car. The seats are very comfortable. They, and the steering wheel, offer a generous amount of adjustment making it easy to find your ideal driving position.
The materials are all high grade and the build quality impeccable. As with all high-end cars it’s the attention to detail as much as the swathes of leather that really sets them apart from the more wallet-friendly end of the market and the RX is no different.
All the controls are easy to use and possess a nice feel when you operate them. Everything is well-placed too.
The infotainment system is compatible with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay and the LCD screen is now touch sensitive which makes it much easier to avoid using the clickable touchpad that some – although I do not count myself among them – find tricky to use, especially on the move. You do now, however, have the choice of using the screen as an input device because it is now touch sensitive. Objectively I’m not that one is necessarily better than the other but for the smartphone generation it will make much more sense.
The RX is technically only available with five seats. If you want seven you’ll have to consider the RX L which does, as it happens, look a lot like the RX. However, the standard version of the SUV is not short of space. There’s a huge amount of room in the front so even the tallest of passengers should be able to stretch out and get comfortable.
There’s room for three across the rear bench but the middle seat is set higher than the outer pair and that impacts on headroom. There’s no tunnel running down the middle of the floor so while the middle passenger might have to duck, at least they won’t have to straddle at the same time.
There lots of usefully large cubbies to store your odds and ends in, including big door pockets, a decent-sized glovebox and multiple cup holders as well.
Things aren’t quite so impressive when you open the tailgate because the boot trails behind a few of its closest rivals when it comes to outright – 453 litres – capacity. It’s quite shallow and there aren’t many tethering points but the rear bench, as well as folding flat at the touch of a button, also slides fore and aft to increase boot – or passenger – space.
There is only one engine choice: A 3.5-litre petrol engine that sends its power to the front wheels through a CVT (continuously variable transmission) gearbox. It’s a hybrid so, of course, there’s a motor – or two, in this case – sitting between the engine and the wheels. The first motor assists the engine while the second is fitted to the rear axle to provide four-wheel-drive.
The powertrain boasts a combined output of 308bhp but lacks the low-end flexibility that you’d find in a diesel-engined machine and, as with most CVT ‘boxes, chasing performance can lead to an unwelcome roar from the engine as the revs soar. There’s greater soundproofing under the bonnet to combat this – and with some success – but it remains an annoyance, particularly in a vehicle at the premium end of the market.
All but the entry-level RX models are equipped with adaptive suspension that can be user-adjusted to either firm things up to improve the handling or soften them to improve ride comfort. Left in the soft Normal mode the RX deals with bumps well, especially those annoying little irregularities that can cause some SUVs to fidget uncomfortably.
Larger obstructions, such as speed bumps, are also dispatched with very little fuss but sharper-edged imperfections can send some noticeable tremors through the cabin.
If the protests from the engine aren’t enough to dissuade you from pushing the RX to its limits then the considerable body lean – even in the stiffest Sport+ mode – and disappointing grip levels should do the trick.
The F Sport trim includes option active anti-roll bars that should tighten things up a bit more but the fact is the RX is most at home on motorways and dual carriageways. It’s here that its abilities as a relaxing, refined long-distance cruiser shine through. The only sound to permeate the cabin at cruising speeds is the sound of tyres on road but it’s no worse than its rivals and certainly withing acceptable limits.
Around town, when driven with a light right foot, the RX will switch to near-silent battery power for a short time. Even when the engine kicks back in it does so seamlessly and remains muted at low speeds.
The regenerative brake system which harvests energy under braking to help top up the battery can be a little grabby which can make slowing the car smoothly a tough ask.
Lexus have always tended to plough their own furrow and the RX doesn’t deviate from that path. Its performance is adequate rather than standout, it could be better to drive and to describe the engine line-up as limited is like saying that snow is a bit white.
However, it is well-built and offers a high level of luxury inside. There’s a decent amount of kit to play with too. It’s very comfortable and refined as long as you don’t go chasing performance but, perhaps its biggest selling point is, for this class, the low CO2 emissions that its hybrid powertrain produces.
Lexus RX 450h Takumi
Price from: £63,290.00
Engine: 3.5-litre V6 petrol
Max power (engine): 259bhp @ 6,000rpm
Max torque (engine): 335Nm @ 4,600rpm
Max power (motor, front): 165bhp
Max torque (motor, front): 335Nm
Max power (motor, rear): 67bhp
Max torque (motor, rear): 139Nm
Max power (hybrid): 308bhp
Max speed: 124mph
Fuel consumption (Combined): 35.7 – 36.2mpg
Emissions (CO2): 179g/km
For more information visit www.lexus.co.uk