The Lexus RX is one of our favorite crossovers in any class. We've always liked its combination of luxury and utility. Until recently, we'd never driven the hybrid version of this midsize SUV, the RX 450h, which holds the promise of bringing greater fuel efficiency to the feature-laden vehicle. Lexus already has rolled out the 2015 models.
Appearance: The RX was one of the first luxury SUVs on the market when it debuted in the late '90s. Some might find the look a bit dated, even with the recent redesign. But the RX 450h is still handsome, with elegant lines, tapered side windows, a built-in roof rack and sloped rear hatch with integrated spoiler. Classic. Giving the RX 450h a little more contemporary touch are Lexus' spindle grille, chrome accents, LED running lights and 18-inch alloy wheels.
Performance: The RX 450h is powered by a 3.5-liter V-6 engine paired with a hybrid-electric motor, which makes for a combined 295 horsepower. That power is channeled through a continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT). Our tester was the front-wheel drive version weighing 4,500 pounds (AWD tops 4,600). That may account for the rather sluggish acceleration from a stop — you'll have to floor the accelerator to really motivate this SUV. Still, the transitions from electric to gas engine are smooth and hardly noticeable. The ride is tuned for comfort, and is well-composed. Lyra found the brakes to be inconsistent — sometimes grabby, sometimes needing extra push. The estimated fuel economy is a combined 30 MPG (29 for the AWD), which is good for such a heavy vehicle, but the V-6 calls for more costly premium gas.
Interior: Quiet and comfortable, with the usual top-notch Lexus fit and finish. Our tester's white-leather seats — striking against the dark interior — were supportive and plush, which makes them perfect for long drives. The rear seats both recline and slide, and they provide lots of legroom. (Note to families: The RX does not offer third-row seating.) For 2014, a 115-volt outlet has been added for rear passengers, which is handy for those with gadgets. We've always liked the RX's asymmetrical center console with its brushed aluminum and wood trim, as well as the inset 7-inch LCD screen that protects against glare. The driver's gauges are backlit and easy to read. The Mark Levinson premium surround sound system with 15 speakers — optional as park of Premium Package ($2,570) — is especially good in the quiet cabin. Our tester also had the $4,920 rear entertainment system with two 7-inch headrest monitors and wireless headphones. Other tech goodies: navigation with voice command, backup camera and Lexus' Enform infotainment system.
Our 3 favorites
Cargo: The rear seat backs fold flat for excellent storage space (up to 80.3 cubic feet).
Warning: For 2014, a precollision warning system is available on AWD models.
Ride: Comfortable and quiet, with little noise intrusion.
Plush seats: Leather seats are comfortable, even for long drives.
Good MPG: 32 city, 28 highway is excellent for an SUV
Understated: It doesn't scream "hybrid," with only subtle badging.
The bottom line: Does the hybrid's better MPG justify its increased cost, especially compared with the price of its gas-powered counterpart? The difference between the 350 and 450h (FWDs) is almost $7,000. That buys a lot of gas.