The Lexus RX is as close to a runaway best-seller as you can get in the luxury segment, a sport-utility vehicle that accounts for the vast majority of sales for the Japanese premium brand. Lexus has also made a concerted effort to identify itself with hybrid vehicles, which makes the 2013 Lexus RX 450h one of the flagships of Lexus' green campaign and the company's chief weapon against the more expensive diesel crossovers produced by BMW (the X5) and Mercedes-Benz (the M-Class)
Refreshed for the current model year, the 2013 Lexus RX 450h commands a price premium over the entry-level RX 350 but it also delivers improved performance and the promise of better fuel efficiency. Has Lexus made the kind of changes to the RX package that will keep it at the forefront of the premium SUV segment for the foreseeable future? Read on to find out.
The 2013 Lexus RX 450h comes in a single trim level, which can be customized by a number of options packages that range from reasonable to somewhat expensive. For a starting MSRP of $46,310, the Lexus RX 450h provides keyless entry and ignition, dual automatic climate control, a reclining rear seat, cloth seats, a power liftgate, LED running lamps, heated side mirrors, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, the Safety Connect telematics system, Bluetooth connectivity, a CD changer, and a USB/iPod audio interface.
You will no doubt notice that a number of features that one would expect to be included with a luxury vehicle are missing, such as leather upholstery and heated seats. Like its German compatriots, Lexus expects buyers to pay more for these items via the selection of options packages. The version of the RX 450h that I drove for a week was outfitted with the Premium Package (leather upholstery, moonroof, folding exterior mirrors, memory seats up front), the Navigation package (Display Audio system, backup monitor, navigation system, voice commands, Remote Touch interface), and the Comfort Package (heated and ventilated front seats, HID headlights, rain-sensitive windshield wipers). This equipment brought the total price of my test vehicle (which also came with all-wheel drive) to $59,835.
The 2013 Lexus RX 450h is the most extroverted version of the hybrid SUV to date, but not the most look-at-me model in the RX family - that honor goes to the F-Sport edition of the mid-size crossover. Even with the large, trapezoidal grille that now adorns its front end (a nod to the same 'spindle' motif that graces all other Lexus products), the RX 450h manages to remain comfortably familiar, with the more flowing body work of the 2013 edition only occasionally interrupted by a new air inlet or more forceful style line. This is still very much the same RX design that has drawn hundreds of thousands of buyers into dealerships, and while far from distinctive it's certainly not unattractive and offers a bit of a harder edge than previous models.
Inside, the Lexus RX 450h provides passengers with a design that seems to have one foot in the Toyota camp and one in the luxury world. I was impressed with the quality of the leather that was wrapped around the vehicle's seats, and the wood trim on the door panels and the center console was a nice touch, but the amount of plastic in the cockpit was surprising for what is marketed as a premium vehicle. Indeed, many of the RX 450h's controls really didn't match up with the vehicle's MSRP in terms of look and feel, which was disappointing for a vehicle up against competitors with well-turned-out interiors.
The 2013 Lexus RX 450h is to be commended for the sheer amount of passenger space that it makes available no matter where one happens to be sitting in the vehicle. Those riding in the rear enjoy fantastic legroom for a mid-size SUV, and the airy cabin fights off any sense of claustrophobia with a full load of occupants. The front seats, in addition to providing good support and a full view of the road ahead, also benefit from the way the RX's dashboard and windshield have been punched out to create even more space in the vehicle's cockpit. The crossover simply feels much bigger inside than it actually is from any position.
The RX 450h also provides a good amount of cargo space with the second set of seats fully occupied, a fact which can't always be taken for granted even in the mid-size segment. An unobtrusive cover helped to keep my groceries safe from prying eyes on my way home from the supermarket, and folding the back row forward opens up roughly 80 cubic feet of total storage space within the Lexus' confines.
As I mentioned above, the 2013 Lexus RX 450h features knobs, buttons, and an overall control layout that could have been drawn from the dashboard of say, the Toyota Highlander. There are two exceptions, however: the LCD screen perched at the top of the vehicle's center stack, and the Remote Touch interface controller sitting on the crossover's console.
The Lexus Remote Touch system is a direct challenger to BMW's iDrive and the COMAND feature offered by Mercedes-Benz, in that it offers a physical link to the vehicle's on-screen menu items rather than a touch-based interface. Remote Touch is the most comprehensive way to access the RX's entertainment system, efficiency analytics, navigation system, and setup, although the vehicle's available voice commands are also fairly in-depth. Unfortunately for the mouse-averse, the Remote Touch controller comes across as an overly-sensitive version of the same point-and-click device used with a PC or a Mac, which means that on bumpy roads - or even sometimes when cruising down a smooth street - it's way too easy to push down to select something on the screen and instead accidentally scoot the pointer up to the wrong choice. This happened to me numerous times during my week with the RX, although it probably doesn't help that I'm left-handed. I was also unimpressed by the graphics used by the Lexus RX 450h, which seem dated when compared against the latest and greatest systems offered by Ford and Nissan (an inauspicious start for a freshly developed system).
The 2013 Lexus RX 450h comes with side impact airbags front and rear, dual forward airbags, front knee airbags, as well as side curtain airbags for occupants riding in both the first and second rows. Electronic stability control and traction control are also included free of charge, as is the Safety Connect feature's ability to automatically notify first responders in the event of a serious accident. Optional safety gear that can be added to the RX includes a blind spot monitoring system and a forward collision warning system.
2013 Lexus RX 450h Crash-Test Ratings: In addition to earning a Top Safety Pick rating from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, the Lexus RX 450h also earned four out of five stars for crash protection from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
The 2013 Lexus RX 450h all-wheel drive model offers a hybrid system composed of a 3.5-liter, gas-powered V-6 and a trio of electric motors (front-wheel drive editions of the RX 450h come with only two battery-powered motors, eliminating the unit dedicated to driving the rear wheels). Total system output is a respectable 295 horsepower, managed by a continuously-variable automatic transmission.
The Lexus RX 450h features a fuel mileage rating of 30-mpg in stop and go driving and 28-mpg on the highway for the all-wheel drive model. During my time with the crossover I was only able to achieve a combined average of 20-mpg, even with the vehicle's Eco mode engaged the majority of the time. I am forced to add my voice to the growing chorus of RX hybrid drivers who have been unable to attain the same efficiency level boasted by the SUV's official EPA rating.
The 2013 Lexus RX 450h certainly doesn't look like it would provide a more dynamic driving experience than several of its mid-size SUV competitors, but it does. Although Lexus has yet to cultivate a reputation for producing vehicles that are as fun to drive as they are comfortable and reliable, the RX 450h edges closer to that line. Its suspension system put in a strong performance when holding the road through tighter turns, and body roll was not nearly as apparent in the crossover when compared to a few other prominent premium people movers. Lexus has managed to preserve the RX's ability to absorb rough roads in the process of developing the SUV's suspension system, and altogether the vehicle drove much smaller and lighter than it actually was.
The 2013 Lexus RX 450h somewhat mitigates its disappointing fuel economy with acceleration that places it comfortably in the middle of the luxury SUV pack. Power is available at all times from the hybrid drivetrain's complex, yet complementary components, and the vehicle never hesitated when I stood on the gas pedal. Punching the vehicle's Sport button seemed to make the throttle somewhat livelier, but I couldn't really detect any compelling difference in the crossover's attitude out on the road with that particular drive mode engaged. The vehicle also offered the ability to manually shift through a set of 'virtual' ratios, although strangely whenever I was at a stop and slapped the gear selector over to the manual position it always engaged third or fourth instead of first gear. An EV mode is available in the RX 450h, but battery-only travel was achievable for me exclusively at speeds approaching a crawl across extremely short distances, making it more of a novelty than a feature.
The only real complain I had about driving the RX 450h was the way its steering would fight against my inputs when pulling out of a parking spot, or when traveling at a very low velocity. Not so much a heaviness, it was almost as though there was an electric resistance being applied against my attempts to turn the wheel in these situations.
The 2013 Lexus RX 450h is a perfectly acceptable form of family transportation: roomy inside, built to a high standard from a reliability perspective, and with the kind of ride and acceleration that are valued by those willing to spend a bit more on their daily driver. Unfortunately, when it comes to realizing its promise of a 29-mpg combined fuel mileage rating, the RX 450h simply wasn't able to rise to the task during our time together, which in some ways sours the prospect of spending close to $7,000 more than one would shell out for the base RX 350. Then, of course, there's the added nuance of paying luxury prices for an interior that is more 'nice' than 'wow,' especially when contrasted against what else is out there on the SUV market. It could very well be that the RX 450h is simply a bit of an over-reach for most Lexus fans, making the RX 350 a far more palatable crossover option for brand loyalists and first-time Lexus buyers alike.
Toyota Canada supplied the vehicle for this review