The evergreen RX finds a new niche as the only self-charging premium seven-seat hybrid SUV
It’s taken 20 years, four generations and 2.7 million sales, but Lexus has finally turned its RX into a seven-seater. In so doing, it has created the first Lexus seven-seater of any kind to be put on sale in Europe.
Lexus RX 450hL Premier Price: £61,995
Engine: 6cyls, 3456cc,naturally aspirated, petrol, with front and rear electric motors
Power: 308bhp(full system output)
Torque: 247lb ft (petrol engine), 247lb ft (front electric motor), 103lb ft (rear electric motor)
Gearbox: CVT Kerb weight 2270kg
Top speed: 112mph
Rivals: Volvo XC90 T8, BMW X5, Audi Q7
Starting at £50,995, the 450hL is pitched at “premium families” who might otherwise be looking at vehicles such as the Volvo XC90, BMW X5 and Audi Q7. The unique selling point for Lexus is that this the only luxury seven-seat self-charging hybrid SUV on the market.
Giving the RX its new RX L size has meant a 110mm extension of the body behind the rear wheels and a steepening of the rear windscreen to boost third-row headroom. The power source is the same as the regular RX450’s: a 3.5-litre, non-turbo V6 petrol engine working with an electric motor on the front axle to drive the front wheels with a second electric motor on the back axle creating four-wheel drive. The total power output is 308bhp, good for a claimed 0-62mph time of 8.0sec.
When the rearmost seats are in place, there’s not quite as much room in the RX 450hL as you might expect. Small children can use those seats, but even so you still have to shove the middle seats forward to generate sufficient legroom in the back, and that knocks on in a negative way in terms of knee or leg room for any mid-row passengers.
Still, if you’re not filling the cabin with too many human beings, dash their hides, the ones that are in there will most likely enjoy the posh ambience. The seats could be more supportive, but at least the RX experience is not besmirched by the sight of poor-quality materials.
Read More: Volvo XC90 T8 review
Digital instrumentation is becoming commonplace in premium car, but the message hasn’t got through to Lexus yet. No complaints about the legibility of the analogue dials, but they just seem a bit yesterday. The too-sensitive joystick control for the 12.3in dashtop-screen infotainment system isn’t ideal either, especially if you’re right-handed.
Those cavils apart, the Lexus makes a decent fist of the luxury transportation this range-topping Premier-spec RX 450hL. Your progress will be suitably serene, thanks to the smooth integration of the electric and petrol motors, and you’ll be hard pushed to hear the V6 beyond the fire-up stage.
If you have the tread sensitivity of a ballerina, you will just about be able to drive on electricity alone, but this will very much depend on your lightness of touch as well as on having power in the batteries. The electric-only window is pretty small. Go over a quarter throttle and the V6 will poke its nose in, even if you’re in EV mode. The Volvo XC90 T8 plug-in hybrid is much more usable. That said, the most affordable XC90 T8 is £575 dearer than this range-topping Premier-spec RX 450hL.
Having decided on the Lexus, you will have to get used to the V6’s double personality: quiet on small throttle openings, but considerably less refined when asked to deliver performance. For this we must once again point to Lexus’s old favourite, the continuously variable transmission. In this application, it allows the engine to rev round to 4600rpm (the torque peak figure) when you mash the pedal. The acceleration that ensues is reasonable enough, but the mechanical noise is less acceptable in something so clearly aiming to deliver peaceful journeying. The return of peace once your desired cruising speed has been reached only serves to emphasise the difference between the two extremes. There’s a little wind rustle from the wing mirrors, but on the admittedly superior road surfaces of Switzerland even those Premier-spec 20in alloys didn’t create much road noise.
Lexus wants BMW X5 and Porsche Cayenne buyers to include its RX 450hL in the decision-making process.
In order for that to happen, those customers will need to turn to a blind eye to the RX’s dynamic shortcomings, which include a good amount of body roll in faster corners, even when the adaptive suspension is in ‘full firm’ mode. You’re always conscious of the car’s size, and of the numbness of the steering. It may be that Lexus owners aren’t that interested in hustling along, in which case all will probably be well as the RX feels perfectly comfortable and relaxed when gently pottering.
Is it worth buying, then? Well, if you have five children, those extra seats will obviously be a boon. The RX 450hL is comfy, looks decent enough and will do about 40mpg if you drive it the ‘right’ way, in which case the dynamic shortfall will never intrude negatively into your life.
Otther plug-in hybrids can deliver a broader offering of electric-only driving, but they’ll often be considerably more expensive. it also doesn’t come with the far costlier price tag that this technology often demands. The difference between an entry-level RX 450hL SE at £50,995 and Volvo’s base XC90 T8 (£62,570) is not insignificant. That alone gives it credibility. The appeal of the rest of the RX package will largely depend on your driving style.