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Lexus RX 450h F Sport first drive

By raccars Published

Lexus RX 450h F Sport Price: £52,995 (range starts from £39,995)

Gearbox: CVT

0-62mph: 7.7 seconds

Top speed: 124mph

Fuel economy: 51.4mpg

CO2: 127g/km

On sale: Now

Insurance group: Tbc

Three 2015 Lexus RX facts

1: In typical Lexus fashion, you can’t buy a diesel RX. There are just two engines: a turbocharged 2.0-litre, and a 3.5-litre V6 hybrid. The latter is expected to account for 90% of sales.

2: The hybrid’s low CO2 emissions of 120g/km (with 18-inch alloys) means you’ll pay just £30 a year in vehicle excise duty, while company car drivers will pay 19% BIK tax.

3: The Lexus RX features the brand’s trademark ‘spindle’ grille, also found on models such as the smaller NX crossover and the sporty RC F.

What is it?

This is what you buy if you want a premium SUV and want to make a statement about not buying a dirty, diesel rival such as the BMW X5, Audi Q7 or Range Rover Sport. Or, perhaps more accurately, it’s the model you buy because you’re a company car driver and want to save money in tax.

The Lexus RX 450h uses a hybrid powertrain – combining a 3.5-litre V6 petrol engine with an electric motor. The result is diesel-rivalling fuel economy, along with low CO2 emissions and, because it’s not a plug-in model, the range of a conventionally-powered SUV.

This is the third incarnation of the Lexus RX. The first model was launched in 1998, followed up by the second generation in 2003. The outgoing RX was launched in 2008, while its replacement was unveiled at this year’s New York Auto Show. It’s based on the same platform as its predecessor and features a ‘floating roof’ as well as a more prominent spindle grille.

Styling and interior

Lexus always used to be about understated design. It left shouting about its capabilities to garish German rivals. But that’s not true any more.

We’ll let you make your own mind up about the RX’s angular appearance. From some angles it looks very similar to the model it replaces. It features the brand’s now-trademark ‘spindle’ grille and follows the design language of models including the IS, NX and RC.

There’s no denying that the RX is now more of a head-turner than ever before. In fact, with so many BMW X5s and Audi Q7s on the road, it’s likely to attract more attention than the Germans. It’s arguably even more distinctive than a Range Rover Sport.

The outlandish appearance doesn’t really continue inside. That’s not to say there’s anything wrong with the interior – it feels premium, and the 120mm longer platform means there’s more space than the outgoing model. But in this sector, drivers want to feel like that they’re in something special – and the RX fails in that regard.

This isn’t helped by the sheer amount of buttons everywhere. We like the huge 12.3-inch navigation screen, but Lexus has stuck with old-fashioned buttons cluttering up the dash rather than incorporating them into the infotainment system.

Performance

The hybrid RX 450h is best suited to plodding around rather than trying to hurry along. The CVT gearbox isn’t ideal for making progress – frustrating, since the car boasts a fairly promising combined output of 312hp and a 0-62mph time of 7.7 seconds.

There’s also the option of a 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol engine (as introduced in the smaller NX), but this is likely to sell in very small numbers. The RX’s heavy kerb weight (around 2,000kg before you start adding the hybrid gubbins) means the 2.0-litre is out of its depth in this car, reaching 62mph in a not-particularly-pleasant 9.5 seconds.

If you’ve got no desire to drive particularly quick, the hybrid model makes for a satisfying motorway cruiser. The engine is near-silent at motorway speeds, while wind and road noise is adequately damped.

Handling

If handling is a priority when looking for a large SUV, you’d be better off looking at the likes of the BMW X5 and Range Rover Sport. Both of these are much more pleasurable for keen drivers – the Lexus turns driving into a much more clinical experience. It’s a safe and predictable handler, but it’s not in any way entertaining.

In F Sport trim, the RX 450h comes as standard with adaptive variable suspension. This lets the driver select between comfort and sport drive modes, firming up the dampers if you so wish. Even in comfort mode, the RX’s 20-inch alloys and heavy kerb weight means the ride is definitely firmer than you’d perhaps expect from a luxury Lexus.

There’s not a great deal of point selecting sport mode – while it does sharpen things up a tad (the throttle and steering, for example, as well as the suspension), it still doesn’t make the RX 450h a rewarding drive.

Price and value

This is where the Lexus RX 450h makes a bit more sense. Prices start at £39,995 for the RX 200t S, while the RX 450h costs from £46,995 in SE trim. The just-below-top-spec F Sport trim, tested here, starts at £52,995 with the hybrid powertrain.

While those figures stack up well against rivals, they’re practically irrelevant as few are in the position to buy a £50,000 SUV outright.

What is worth looking at is the finance rates – which will cost around £600 a month in this trim – and the very competitive company car tax figures.

Fuel economy

On the 20-inch alloys fitted as standard to our F Sport test car, the RX 450h returns 51.4mpg - or 54.3mpg on 18-inch wheels. This is impressive even compared to diesel examples; the BMW X5 xDrive30d M Sport, for example, returns 47.1mpg.

Plug-in hybrid models, which are increasingly being offered by other manufacturers (but Lexus says the market ‘isn’t ready’ yet), will offer more impressive fuel consumption figures on paper - but these will be skewed as part of the official NEDC test will be carried out under electric-power alone.

The RX 450h’s CO2 figure is particularly impressive at 127g/km with 20-inch wheels (120g/km on 18-inch alloys). This puts it in the 20% BIK tax band for business users – lower than any of its rivals.

Verdict

The Lexus RX 450h is a car you can buy with your head. If you want to make a statement – you care about the environment too much to drive a dirty diesel SUV – but also want a premium car with lots of space and decent levels of comfort, the RX ought to be a contender.

You’ll be thanked in the wallet – not just at the fuel pumps, but also in both VED (road tax) and company car tax, if you’re a business user.

The improvements introduced with the third-generation model also means the RX is more likely to appeal to the heart than any of its predecessors. But it still isn’t as desirable as rivals – all of which do the ‘premium SUV’ thing that bit more convincingly.

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