2010 Lexus RX450h Review
By Chris Haak
The Lexus RX line of crossovers has been an unqualified success for Lexus over the past decade. And why not? While its driving dynamics aren’t going to shame any BMW or Infiniti, it has a relatively low starting price for a Lexus, a comfortable, pleasant interior, relatively good cargo room, and a fairly high driving position that many buyers have come to prefer over the last several years. The RX is easily Lexus’ bestselling model. But the hybrid version of the RX, now entering its second generation, is the slowest selling RX variant. There are far more non-hybrid RXs on the road than there are hybrids. Part of the issue is that the hybrid RX carries a significant price premium over the RX350, and part of the issue is that until recently, there weren’t appreciable fuel economy or performance advantages to buying the hybrid version.
For the all-new 2010 RX, not only has Lexus improved the gasoline only model’s fuel economy, but has also improved the hybrid model’s fuel economy. The AWD RX350’s EPA ratings went from 17 city/22 highway to 18 city/24 highway. But the 2010 RX450h AWD is rated at 30 city/28 highway, and that’s a nice improvement over the 2008 RX400h’s 26 city/24 highway. Further, the combined mileage of the hybrid is 45% more fuel efficient than the gasoline-only RX, while in the previous generation, the hybrid model was only 32% more fuel efficient than its gasoline-only cousin. So let’s see: better fuel economy, more horsepower and torque, and a better differential relative to the gasoline-only model. Sounds good to me.
The only downside in terms of fuel economy is the fact that all models of the Lexus RX require premium fuel. If other manufacturers such as Hyundai and Cadillac can wring 300 horsepower out of a 3.x liter V6 on regular gasoline, why does Lexus force its buyers to spend extra money on premium fuel? Incidentally, my overall mileage during a week with the RX450h averaged about 26 mpg. Most of that was highway miles and most of that was not going quite at the speed limit.
I’ve never been completely fond of the RX’s styling after the first generation. I do give Lexus credit for more or less creating the luxury crossover segment as well as defining the template that most vehicles in its segment still adhere to. The 2010 model’s design more closely follows many of the styling cues found in other Lexus models under the brand’s “L-Finesse” design language. Its shape is still very clearly an evolution of the previous iterations of the RX, but throws out the old model’s nearly slab-sided doors in favor of ones that go heavy on the sculpture in their lower quadrant, far more prominent fender bulges, a grille that has a more bucktoothed look, and a generally more streamlined profile.
Regardless of the exterior styling enhancements, the 2010 RX is easily identifiable as a Lexus RX – even to the point that untrained eyes may not notice that they’re looking at the all-new 2010 model. The RX450h model carries additional visual tweaks to let others know you’re in a special version of the RX, including aluminum trim below the doors with “Hybrid” badges, a different grille and front bumper from the RX350, and blue-trimmed Lexus logos front and rear.
To my eyes, the interior boasts a more premium aura than the exterior. Heated/cooled seats wrapped in buttery-soft leather, soft-touch surfaces in most places, and technology in nearly every corner make the RX450h a comfortable place in which to travel. Being a lover of nearly all things technology, I am impressed by the tech included in the RX. The interior is extremely quiet at speed and during acceleration, and left me with the impression that Lexus did a good job of sweating the small details. For example, every button pushed with consistently-damped resistance, and every knob and dial did likewise. The leather covering the steering wheel was consistent in texture and had no extraneous threads holding it together. The door panels and armrests were very well padded and an inviting place to rest one’s arm, unlike those in some lower-priced automobiles. Most impressive, perhaps, was the movement of the power windows. When a window reached the top or bottom of its travel, it would slow down before stopping to avoid an unrefined thump. I was always sure to point that feature out to friends and family who were checking out the RX.
Those friends and family members also enjoyed the comfort of both front and rear passenger seats. While I didn’t attempt to carry five passengers, when there were two rear seat passengers, both were comfortable. The rear seat has the same soft leather as the front seats do, and there is plenty of room back there. The rear seat also reclines and slides fore and aft on its track to maximize either passenger legroom or cargo volume.
My tester included the new Lexus-exclusive Remote Touch Controller with its navigation system. Basically, it’s a new interface that is similar in concept to a computer mouse that resides on the flat part of the center console. Its purpose, I believe, is to eliminate the ergonomically-unfriendly stretch to a touchscreen navigation display (not to mention fingerprints on the screen) while keeping a fairly simple interface relative to the complicated systems such as iDrive, COMAND, and MMI that the German competitors like BMW, Mercedes-Benz, and Audi have foisted upon the buying public. If you’ve ever played video games with a force-feedback joystick, the controller’s feel is similar. As you move the mouse pointer to the item on the high-resolution navigation display to a menu choice you’d like to select, you can literally feel the controller briefly tighten up as the cursor moves over the virtual button. You can then feel the cursor move off of the button if you keep moving it. The “left mouse button” in this system, if you will, is labeled as an “enter” button on either side of the mound surrounding the controller. Since I’m a right-hander, I had no trouble using it, but I’d imagine that it’s a little more difficult for lefties to use. At any rate, I found data entry to be a little slower than an old-fashioned touch screen when using this new system, even after some practice, but I did keep the screen fingerprint-free, and my friends liked checking out the Remote Touch Controller.
The audio system had multiple inputs, including iPod (which worked very well, even with my iPhone), CD, AM/FM/XM radio, and Bluetooth audio. Just a week prior to my time with the RX450h, I spent a week in a Toyota Venza V6. Of course, the Venza and the RX are related vehicles, and the Venza has stereo Bluetooth – as does the RX. I found it a little difficult to set up Bluetooth audio in the Venza (pairing it to my iPhone 3GS), but eventually figured out that it required two pairings – one for the phone and one for the stereo Bluetooth. Thinking that I had this pairing process down-pat, I was very frustrated numerous times in trying to double-pair my phone to the RX. I could get one or the other, but not both. Fortunately, the RX came with an iPod dock connector cable, so I decided to pair the phone portion only and use the cable to get my music. This solution worked well on many fronts: it gave me control over the iPhone’s music functions beyond just play and pause (some stereo Bluetooth devices can display title and artist information on the vehicle’s display and allow for changing tracks from the vehicle’s controls, but the iPhone doesn’t have that functionality, at least with Toyotas), it charged my iPhone while I was driving rather than rapidly depleting its battery, and the sound quality is better with the all-digital dock connector vs. the more or less FM quality of stereo Bluetooth audio.
The newly-upgraded powertrain for 2010 features a larger, more powerful 3.5 liter Atkinson cycle V6 that produces 245 horsepower on its own. The RX450h also, of course, includes electric motors – two that help to power the front wheels, and a third to power the back wheels. Interestingly, the RX450h’s rear wheels are driven solely by electric power when they are needed; there is no mechanical linkage between them and the engine. Overall peak power output is 295 horsepower, and the zero to sixty time is in the mid-seven second range, which isn’t bad considering how heavy the RX450h is (with its comfort and safety features, not to mention the hybrid hardware such as batteries and motors).
Lexus seems to have improved its hybrid system integration compared to some previous models I’ve driven; transitions between gasoline and electric power are far less noticeable than in many hybrids. In most circumstances, the engine shuts off when at traffic lights and restarts when the vehicle is ready to move again, but gentle throttle application and everything being in the proper state (battery charge, engine temperature, etc.) can sometimes allow the vehicle to accelerate gently to about 25 miles per hour solely on electric power. The RX450h also includes an EV mode, which does what it sounds like – keeps the engine turned off during low-speed travel as long as conditions are right, you don’t exceed 25 miles per hour, and you don’t press the accelerator too hard. I really don’t have a clue what the practical purpose of EV mode is, although I traveled more than a quarter mile in EV mode across a large parking lot just to show it off to my friends. They were particularly fond of the way you can sneak up on pedestrians. (Kidding, of course!)
The RX450h’s handling, braking, and steering were very Lexus-like. That is not really a complement. In reality, they were fine for the way a normal buyer (and particularly someone in this vehicle’s target demographic) would use the RX. The electric power steering was somewhat lifeless (but still better than, for example, a Corolla’s), and the braking was somewhat linear in feel for a hybrid. (Because hybrids capture energy during braking, the first phase of their braking is via regeneration – which basically turns the electric motors into generators and recharges the batteries) and the second phase is mechanical using traditional rotors and calipers. The same way integration of the electric and gasoline drivetrains is difficult for companies engineering a hybrid vehicle, it’s also difficult to integrate two completely different braking systems into one linear effort controlled by a single pedal.
Standard equipment on the RX450h includes 10 airbags (front, driver and passenger knee, front and rear side curtain, and front and rear seat mounted side airbags), 9-speaker audio system, auto dual zone climate contro, 10-way power driver and front passenger seats, cruise control, power windows, LCD display for ventilation and audio control, and SmartAccess keyless entry/pushbutton start. All of this equipment, the AWD and hybrid hardware, is included in the vehicle’s $44,125 MSRP (includes destination).
My test vehicle included the $825 comfort package (heated/cooled front seats, rain sensing wipers), $110 12-speaker audio system (a more expensive Mark Levinson system is also available), $660 19 inch aluminum wheels $1,175 bi-xenon HID headlamps with automatic high beams (although 1970s Cadillacs had auto high beams, they didn’t work nearly as well as these), $2,440 navigation system (with backup camera and XM NavTraffic), $2,400 premium package (leather trim interior, one-touch moonroof, auto-dimming electrochromic mirror, USB audio connector, 3-setting memory seat, and power rear hatch), $238 towing prep package (transmission cooler, radiator and wiring harness), and the $330 wood and leather trimmed steering wheel and shift knob. The final MSRP was $52,303 including destination. While that sounds like a lot of money – and it is – the Infiniti G37 convertible that I reviewed a few weeks ago was priced similarly. Although the G was a far more enjoyable drive, I felt like the RX was giving me more technology and more vehicle for its $52,000 price tag.
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