2014 Lexus RX 450h. Click image to enlarge
Review and photos by Haney Louka
When I was driving the Ford Fusion Energi plug-in hybrid for six weeks this past winter, it became clear that owners of such green vehicles are happy to pat each other on the back. The driver of a Lexus RX 450h was envious when she saw me plug my car into the wall, activating the illuminated blue ring at the Fusion’s connection point.
“I’m so jealous!” she exclaimed.
And after subsequently driving an RX 450h through the tail end of our coldest winter in more than a century, I know why: she would have enjoyed precious little of a conventional hybrid’s advantages over the five months leading up to that exchange.
Our 2014 RX 450h tester started life with a base price of $62,300. The mildly-refreshed 2015s are already on the market though, and the price has seen a mere $350 bump. But that modest amount gets RX buyers a whole array of additional standard equipment. Our 2014 tester was equipped with the Technology package which adds about five grand to the price. But there are several items that were part of that package which have now found their way to the “base” model, if you will.
Items like intuitive parking assist, navigation, a blind spot monitoring system, and heated wood-and-leather steering wheel are all previously-optional items that how inhabit the standard equipment list. There are optional Tech and Executive packages that help the number on the window sticker to climb to $70,350.
Other notable features that come standard on the 450h include “Siri Eyes-Free” (a feature that my $99 visor-mounted Bluetooth system has but is found on precious few new vehicles), sliding and reclining rear seats, an eight-inch display with rearview camera, push-button start, power liftgate, rain-sensing wipers, and the list goes on.
Given that the gas-engine RX 350 has increased in price by nearly $4,500 for 2015 (also a better-equipped model compared with last year), it appears that the premium being requested for a hybrid has generally decreased, which is a good thing.
As is the case with virtually all luxury hybrids, the goal of the RX is not to achieve the lowest practical consumption, but rather to provide buyers with the performance they expect while consuming less fuel. It’s an important distinction, because it speaks to the luxury market’s priorities: let’s hug the planet as long as it doesn’t hurt.
Effective 2015, the fuel consumption measurement standards being adopted by Natural Resources Canada (and therefore required for automakers) mimics what the U.S. EPA has been doing for more than six years. It’s a more realistic five-cycle program that seems to most significantly affect the hybrids on the market. It’s no surprise, since the new test includes weather extremes and more aggressive acceleration/highway speeds. And hybrids hate those conditions.
Case in point: the 2015 RX 450h is rated at 8.3 L/100 km combined, whereas last year’s number for the mechanically identical vehicle was 6.9. That’s an increase of 20 percent, while the RX 350 gasser saw an increase of only 14 percent. Keep in mind that nothing mechanical has changed here, just the standard of measurement.
2014 Lexus RX 450h dashboard & centre stack. Click image to enlarge
Our recent comparison test revealed that the RX hybrid goes about its job in a more competent manner than does Infiniti’s QX 60 hybrid with its wheezing four-banger. This is thanks to Lexus’ decision to keep V6 power under the hood of the 450h. And it recorded lower consumption to boot, demonstrating that a larger engine can be more efficient when it’s not working as hard. While it shares its 3.5L displacement with that of the RX 350, this one is an Atkinson-cycle version which achieves a higher efficiency at the expense of low-end torque. Hybrids have the advantage of an electric boost at any engine speed so that torque issue goes away.
The end result: 295 net horsepower compared with the RX 350’s 270.
Be aware that even though the RX 350 and 450h are both equipped with all-wheel drive, they are very different systems indeed. The 350 gets a front-drive based system with “active torque control” that can send as much as 50 percent of the engine’s torque to the rear wheels. The good thing about this system is that it automatically engages all four wheels under acceleration. This is a key difference compared to lesser slip-and-grip systems when it comes to how well they work in everyday situations.
The hybrid, though, has no mechanical connection between the gas engine and rear wheels. Instead, the rear axle gets its own electric motor to help when traction is lost at the front. Think of this all-wheel drive system as more of a traction aid than one for overall handling and you won’t be disappointed. But for me, I’d rather not experience the torque steer of a nearly 300 hp front driver in my luxury crossover.