Yes, yes, yes, oh YES: looks, space, quietness, economy
Oh dear me no: fiddly infotainment interface, cost, no CarPlay/Android Auto
It feels like a very long time since Toyota started flogging cars with batteries in Australia. I was a doubter. Back then, replacement batteries cost princely $7,500 to replace. Lack of government backing meant most buyers continued to prefer fossil fueled transport.
That was a couple of decades ago now and things have changed. Just about all taxis are Toyota Hybrids. Taxi drivers have always had a canny nose for economy, and money they don’t spend on petrol equals profit.
In the last few decades, the battery price plummeted and is now little more than $2,500. Not only that, but no batteries have needed replacing. I suppose that accounts for the huge warehouse of cheap batteries wanting homes. Toyota has extended the warranty on the battery packs several times. It now stands at 8 years and every owner in that period is covered.
So it was with not a little bit of eager twiddling that I waited patiently in the foyer of the luxurious Lexus HQ, in South Eastern Sydney, nestled prettily on the shores of Botany bay. With this top notch luxury address comes a top notch luxury SUV. I liked the previous RX SUV. It drove well and had a range of engines befitting a prestige marque. When the new model came out, the old one seemed a bit ordinary, not because it was ordinary, but because the new one looked and felt cutting edge.
The exterior is gorgeous. The front end features deeply sculptured facets reminiscent of superbikes like the Kawasaki Z1000 ABS SE. I know this because I own that very bike. The likeness of other features was not lost on me either. The rear end is also deeply sculptured, and in between a floating roof has an almost ethereal quality. The 3rd pillar has visually disappears leaving the impression of fancy wizardry. The headlights are LED, with a “swoosh” of LED daytime running lights underling a stunning set of tri “L” lights which look like jewels in a glass case. There is now a reassuring familiarity between the RX and NX SUVs, because they now share the design language with other Lexus models including the hourglass grille.
Getting into the car via the smart key system means no locks need human touch. The tailgate is electric. If you can’t be buggered reaching for the rubber switch on the underside of the trim, you can hold your hand near the top half of the Lexus emblem. If your hands are busy holding David Jones bags, you can use your elbow. Getting in to the driver’s seat means gently pulling on the door handle while leaving the key in your pocket.
The steering wheel and driver’s seat have moved out of the way to give you plenty of space to get out, and they don’t swing back into place until you press the start button on the dashboard. When you do, the steering wheel gently glides down and towards you to the position stored on your key. The seat also moves to the stored position, so you just have to sit back and enjoy the ride.
The heated/cooled seats are extremely comfortable and feature leather as supple Paris Hilton’s face. Ah, well, something supple anyway.
The dash layout is excellent with buttons and knobs within easy reach. Not only that but they feel like they’ll outlast time itself. The feature list is extensive so I’ll pick a few for special mention.
The 360 degree camera helps you park. Once you’re parked you can double check the result by changing the view. One view simulates a drone doing a fly-round so you can see exactly where the car is sitting in the parking place. It is genius, and it means no more excuses for being parked like a drunk.
Here is something that will tickle the fancies of gadget queens:
Lane Keeping: a Lane Keeping Assistant that is both active and passive. OK, that not unusual. Lots of cars have a beep, a steering wheel rumble and gentle torque applied to the wheel to help you back into the lane, but Lexus changes. Below 80kph you get a rumble and a beep and above 80 you get the unseen hand of a computer gently pushes the steering.
Cruise Control: Lots of cars have radar guided cruise control but the RC hybrid will allow you to come to a stop in traffic. It will move off again when the car in front does. In a nod to safety, the Lexus will only move when you flick the cruise lever up, or touch the accelerator. Lexus says it is so you don’t mow down people on a pedestrian crossing, but I think it is just the Japanese being pernickety.
Climate Control: If left in auto, the climate control heats and cools perfectly. It also opens and closes the external air supply. That’s not unusual, but every time I went through the uber-polluted M5 tunnel, the RX closed the air intake so those nasty old fumes stayed on the outside. It’s only a small thing I know, but who knew?
Clock: Then of course there is the clock. It’s no secret that Toyota clocks are generally nasty. They look like 25 year old Dick Smith Electronic DIY jobbies. Lexus however has a range of analogue clocks. It feels luxurious and along with the touch operated overhead lights, adds a classy art deco feel to the cabin.
I can’t leave this special mentions without bowing at the feet of the Auto Parking Brake. When switched on, selecting park, drive or reverse will turn the parking brake on or off without you having to remember the button. It replaces the god-awful foot operated parking brake which will not be mourned.
The geekfest continues but this is where it goes a bit wrong. The user interface for the infotainment system is dastardly and its designer needs slapping.
Lexus have two types of inputs depending on model and both are awful. One uses a super-touchy touch pad on the centre console and the other, like in the RX, uses a big toggle instead of the touch pad. It is overly sensitive, and you spend your time going from one icon to another in the centre LCD trying to stay on the one you really want. You try to select using the toggle and you’re likely to be in the wrong menu because it shifted at the last minute. It is maddening, but there’s more; the menus are badly laid out and remind me of early Idrive BMW’s which were all the work of Beelzebub himself. It isn’t a deal breaker but you certainly can’t use the system while in motion unless you want to wind up in the shrubbery wheels up. The screen is set deep into the dash to avoid glare so there is no point having a touch interface.
The LCD monitor is a high resolution 12.3” screen and our car came with a thumping Mark Levinson sound system with a rather excessive 15 speakers. It has a live quality about it especially if you use the DAB radio. It is crystal clear.
The drive is where the Lexus really feels 21st century. Depending on charge, you’ll spend a bit of time silently moving through traffic like a shark. If you have the drive system display open on the LCD, you’re able to view where the power is being used. If you’re really bored, you might even find yourself driving to stay in electric as often as possible. It’s fun in a geeky-gamer kind of way. The claim of under 6 L/100km is not too far wrong.
The heads up display puts driver info on the windscreen. Once used to it, you’ll find less and less need to stare down at the dials. Even Satnav directions come up when needed, and all float ethereally in you field of vision as you look at the road. Importantly, the speed is always right in front of your eyes.
The drive experience feels slightly remote despite the fact that there are different driving modes. You can change the way the hybrid system, suspension and steering work. I usually like the feel of knowing exactly where the front wheels are on the road surface, but there comes a time when that info is irrelevant. If you’re wafting down the M1, do you really care if you feel the road through the steering wheel? The same goes for cornering. You point the RX and it goes that way in All Wheel Drive comfort.
The cabin is ghostly quiet in EV (electric vehicle) mode. it has the high end feel of a yacht or personal jet. Words like refined and luxury come to mind. Some say it isn’t as good as the Euro’s but it is. It is just presented in a slightly different way. There are little reminders here and there of old Lexus models too. For example, the big writing on the buttons reminds me of the original LS. So too, the wafting has always been a Lexus thing. With the exception of one or two models, Lexus glides along the road giving the occupants a limousine-like ride.
The RX 450h has the smooth 3.5L V6 hybrid producing 230KW, but you can have a 1175kw 2.0L turbo or the 225kw V6 if you don’t fancy a hybrid.
All wheel drive is really just an added safety bonus because you’re never going off-road are you?
Any worries about hybrid technology vanished with the millennium celebrations. Thanks to the fact the 450h carries the same V6 as the RX 350, the towing capacity is also the same, as is the interior space. You sacrifice 7 litres of petrol tank and have only 65 litres, but that will still get you most of the way from sydney to Melbourne if the claimed 5.6L/100km fuel figure can be believed. Using the Lexus figure, you should get 1,160 out of a tank?
Before I go, a few words about the hybrid system. There is the 193 kw V6, and three permanent magnet electric motors. MG1 charges the HV battery and supplies electrical power to MG2 (front wheels) and MGR (rear wheels). The Hybrid – max system voltage is 650 and the Hybrid – battery nominal voltage is 288.
You can travel purely in EV mode while there is enough charge. At other times, the motors are either charging the battery or helping the V6 engine to power the wheels. The system uses the wheels to recover the power normally wasted by cruising and braking. Why let the kinetic energy go begging when the system can direct it back into the batteries? You might also notice the V6 switching on at idle to top the battery up. The Series parallel system means the best of all worlds.
As with most hybrids, the RX uses a CVT transmission. They now have a stepped ratio with sequential shifting, with steering wheel mounted paddles on the top two models. You only notice the stepped ratios under heavy acceleration and at other times the CVT will act normally constantly varying the engine revs with the vehicle speed. Lexus says this means the transmission always gives optimal fuel efficiency. In other words, put your foot flat to the floor and the CVT acts like a normal auto. At all other times, the CVT acts like a normal CVT.
The pernickety infotainment interface notwithstanding, there is nothing about the RX 450h I don’t like.
There is plenty of room for a trip with the doggies in the back, and, if you are so minded, you and your hunny can take a couple of friends as well. Happy days. I would gladly do a road trip in the RX 450h, and that is not a statement I’d make lightly.
The SUV is smooth, quiet, powerful and economical. Fuel consumption once available only to diesel vehicles can now be had in battery assisted cars. SUV is no longer a dirty anti-green word.
Add the Lexus level of refinement and there really is no reason not to like the RX hybrid.
I like the drive and the looks, but the 4 year/100,000Km warranty seems a bit mean. As previously stated, the batteries have 8 years warranty.
Once upon a time you might have been forgiven for being miffed at paying BMW prices for a Toyota, but Lexus really gives the Europeans a run for their money. I would prefer the RX to the BMW X3/X5, Mercedes GLC or Audi Q5 such was my level of joy. The RX feels unique whereas, the other fee feel slightly ubiquitous.
Would I buy one? Yes.
RX: 200t from $81,730; 350 from $89,080; 450 hybrid $97,734 (all drive away prices for NSW)
(price as tested: $116,634 for RX 450 Hybrid F Sport Luxury)