Words: Calvin Chan
Photography: Calvin Chan
Published: August 28, 2019
The Lexus RX, the automaker’s best selling vehicle in Canada, is due for a slight refresh in 2020, with minor exterior revisions, tech upgrades like Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, Lexus’s suite of safety assistance features as standard, and suspension tweaks for a more rigid ride. So what better time to snap up a 2019 model with incentives than now? We’re taking a quick dive into the 2019 Lexus RX 450h, built in our own backyard of Cambridge, Ontario, to see what makes it such an appealing buy amongst luxury-minded consumers.
And it’s not like the Lexus stable is sparse either. The IS Sedan offers a slick, comfortable, and sophisticated ride in a compact package, and the ES Sedan is one of the most impressive mid-size luxury sedans we’ve driven this year. And we can’t forget about the NX either, whose compact SUV stance and reasonable price tag put it well within the grasp of many. But the RX outsells all of them, and by a significant margin. Not that the RX is “cheap” either. The starting price for the RX 350 is $55,350, with the hybrid-variant RX 450h costing $64,500.
How does Lexus do it? With a proven reliability track record, a popular hybrid option that’s been around since 2005, and a plethora of luxury amenities. The RX offers all three of these automotive pillars in one cohesive package. We could start with the looks but I’d hate to comment on it too much. Looks are subjective and Lexus’ recent adoption of lightning bolt styling mixed with a Predator grill and floating roof are love it or hate it. I find the new styling attractive, though. The sharp and aggressive stance, especially in F Sport guise, belies its soft-riding chassis and rich interior. That being said, it seems like spotting any modern Lexus without an F Sport Package is the challenge of the century.
The interior is what persuades most buyers to sign on the dotted line. Fit and finish is at the top of its class and there’s not a panel gap in sight. Materials are soft, leather runs rampant even on the armrests, and the layout is simple. It’s the little things that matter, like the thickly padded steering wheel, analog clock, adjustable-depth cupholders so you can fit cups and mugs of any size without spillage, side door pockets that can swing outwards so you can grab and store larger items much easier, heated and ventilated seats that automatically detect temperature and tune to the perfect setting, and power windows that slow down right before they close so the action is quieter and less intrusive to passengers. The over reliance on its army of hard buttons for functions may seem excessive and intimidating, but it’s a refreshing alternative to the industry’s touchscreen-heavy trends. The RX is now available in both two- and three-row configurations as well, though the third row seats feel more like an afterthought than actual adult-friendly thrones.
The infotainment display perched neatly on the dashboard is massive, though the system could use some work. I don’t think I’ve ferried one passenger that hasn’t lambasted how difficult it is to change and store a simple radio station. That all comes down to the learning curve of the haptic-feedback joystick, which unfortunately does not feel natural under the fingertips. We have spent a considerable amount of time trying to learn and utilize this system over the past few years, but we still can’t nail it down smoothly. Most of the time we overshoot the menu prompts, and don’t get me started on the navigation map, which requires more dexterity than folding origami. Luckily for the new 2020 model, Lexus has slightly remedied this by making the display touchscreen, so you can forget the mousepad even exists.
There are two powertrains to choose from for the RX: a six-cylinder gasoline engine found in the RX 350, and Toyota’s famed hybrid system in the RX 450h. All-wheel drive is standard on all models, appealing to Canadians wishing for any carefree commute in the winter. The RX 450h hybrid is the model we drove, and it utilizes the 3.5-litre V6 working in tandem with three electric motors, two up front and one on the rear axle, sending a combined power output of 308 hp through a continuously variable transmission (CVT). The RX 450h follows a tried and true formula that has landed Toyota at the top of the hybrid game since the turn of the century with the Prius. In fact, we recently tested the 2019 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid, and reckon it’s one of the most fuel efficient, practical, and versatile compact SUVs currently on the market.
Sometimes, having too many hands manage a task can be counter productive, but the RX 450h manages both combustion and electricity, and the transition in between, flawlessly and seamlessly. You would be hard pressed to notice the change of the guard, as the only indication that the engine has flipped on is by the auditory buzz and clatter it emits. Acceleration is smooth yet even with the immediacy of torque from the electric motors, it never feels eager off the line. On the bright side, the brakes have decent mechanical feel and are not as characteristically mushy as other hybrid vehicles with regenerative braking. For fuel saving measures, the RX 450h can run on pure electricity for up to 60 km/h before the engine tags in and takes over. It ends up being a game of how little throttle and speed you can get away with, before the big brother engine is woken from its slumber. The more you play, the more you save, and on city driving, we ended up averaging a respectable 7.2 L/100km, impressive for such a sizable SUV. Shame that it requires premium 91-octane fuel, though.
In the naturally aspirated RX 350 where most of the power lies in the middle of the band, the hybrid’s powerband is flatter, more predictable, though significantly less involving.
Overall, the RX’s driving experience isn’t very different from your run-of-the-mill Toyota, which isn’t a bad thing in the least. The formulaic composition of a smooth engine, easy steering, and church-silent quietness give the RX 450h the all-rounded appeal. Be that as it may, you don’t feel as attached to the road as a Jaguar F-Pace, mostly because this hybrid SUV is packing heavy batteries and weighs a whopping 140 kg more than the non-hybrid model. The steering is numb, body roll is noticeable, and it doesn’t feel tight or taut around the bends. The RX rides well, absorbs impacts gracefully, yet you feel like a surrogate controlling the vehicle via a Playstation controller. The bland CVT adds to that hollow feeling. The adaptive dampers and active stabilizers that come with the F Sport packages are geared more towards providing a soothing and relaxed ride rather than a sporty one, which pretty much summarizes everything about this Lexus SUV, and something tells me that RX owners won’t mind one bit.
But the real problem is that the RX 450h isn’t a hybrid SUV for everyone. Those looking to save fuel but want a more involving driving experience might find solace in the sportier plug-in BMW X5 xDrive40e. Those who want more off-roading prowess and badge prestige might want to cross-shop with the diesel Range Rover Sport Td6. The RX 450h on the other hand is for those seeking what made Lexus’ models, like the LS 400 and original RX, famous in the first place: reliability, comfort, and refinement. If these attributes tick your boxes and you’re in the market for a luxury hybrid SUV, then you know you’ve found the one. And even though the new 2020 models aims to remedy the infotainment pickle, and perfects the formula with added tech features and a list of standard equipment, it’s nice knowing that the RX is still as satisfying, efficient, and value-oriented as ever. The winning streak continues.
Model: 2019 Lexus RX 450h F Sport Series 3
Paint Type: Nebula Grey Pearl
Base Price: $75,450
Price as Tested: $75,450
Length/Width/Height (mm): 4,890 / 1,895 / 1,720
Curb weight (kg): 2,110
Engine: 3.5L V6 with hybrid system
Horsepower: 308 combined hp
Engine & Drive Configuration: Front engine, AWD
Fuel Consumption ( City / Highway / Combined ) L/100km: 7.5 / 8.4 / 7.9
Observed Fuel Consumption (L/100km): 7.2