Once upon a time, a $100,000 SUV was the realm of only the most luxurious and salubriously appointed European marques. With a Range Rover Vogue starting from $244,400 for a ‘regular’ model, the 2017 Lexus RX 450h F-Sport, which starts from $102,460 seems like a comparative bargain.
Way back in 2005, Lexus claimed to have ‘invented the luxury hybrid SUV’ following the launch of the RX400h. Given the only hybrids on the road at the time were excitement machines like the Prius and the Insight, it’s fair too say the engineers at Lexus had a point. Fast forward to today, and we’ve got a fully electric Tesla SUV on the near horizon and the whole propulsion game has changed incredibly.
That means the 2017 Lexus RX450h F-Sport has a much tougher row to hoe than its forebear, such is the variety of offerings from an array of manufacturers. Sure, there still aren’t too many hybrid SUVs kicking around, but there are genuinely efficient turbo diesel and turbo petrol SUVs to choose from, not to mention the aforementioned Tesla Model X.
Regardless, Lexus has a decade head start with the RX, so you’d think by now the Japanese luxury arm of Toyota would have honed the platform into a fairly competent thing. And, to a certain extent, you’d be right.
The RX450h F-Sport sits right in the middle of the three-model-grade RX450h range. All three are AWD and the Luxury starts from $90,160, the F-Sport tested here from $102,460 and the Sports Luxury from $108,610, all before the usual on-road costs. You could ask whether an RX buyer actually cares for sporting pretension at all, and that’s a fair question, given I’ve wondered that same thing myself. Regardless, the grade sits within the range, and here it is.
For a full list of standard features, see our pricing and specification guide here but standard equipment highlights include: a 12.3-inch high-definition multimedia display, 15-speaker Mark Levinson premium audio system, adaptive variable suspension, dynamic headlight levelling, sport tuned electronic power steering, sequential LED indicators, head-up display and LED high grade headlights and tail-lights.
Despite the presence of a V6 petrol engine, the hybrid system ensures frugal fuel consumption, with Lexus claiming 5.7 litres per 100km on the ADR combined cycle. Overall power is 230kW and 335Nm, so it’s not underpowered by any means either.
We saw live numbers under that 5.7L/100km figure when we were rolling through traffic, but if you spend a lot of time on the open road, that number will head up to double figures. You’ll likely average 9.0-10.0L/100km if you spend a lot of time on the freeway or country highways, but can expect mid to low eights around town. In the tradition of petrol/electric hybrid combinations, fuel economy is at its best around town though.
The RX has now adopted much of the sharp, angular styling of the polarising NX and as such, we spent much of our week behind the wheel fielding comments ranging from ‘I love it’ to ‘I hate it’ and everything in between.
Lexus’ styling is certainly something that winds people up one way or the other. With styling being a subjective thing though, we’ll leave it up to you to make the call on whether the RX is an attractive vehicle or not. The huge grille is something I just can’t come to terms with, but there’s nothing else about the styling that upsets me too much.
What Lexus does so well is focus attention on the details. The finish on all the small detail pieces, the chrome trim, the 20-inch wheels, the way the headlights and tail-lights are designed and executed, and the general build quality is all first class. Take a look at any of those details in isolation, and the RX looks like an expensive, expertly assembled SUV.
Inside the cabin, there’s features we love and others we don’t love so much no matter how much time we spend with the RX. For instance, the 12.3-inch screen, which can be split into two large views, is among the best in the business. The infotainment operating system on the other hand, is something we can never get our head around or encourage to work easily. It simply seems fiddly and overly complex, and when so many other manufacturers have got it so right, you wonder how Lexus came up with the solution it currently uses. It’s an infuriatingly difficult system to use no matter whether you’re moving or stationary, and it detracts from the rest of the cabin experience.
The seats, as we find ourselves saying with any Lexus we test, are exceptionally comfortable and commodious. Long drives will never tire you out or result in any lower back aches and pains and as always, the ventilation function is a Sydney summer bonus.
While our distaste for the infotainment system is well documented, the cabin deserves a ringing endorsement for it’s insulation. It is so quiet and refined inside, you could trick passengers into believing they are in a European car costing many hundreds of thousands of dollars. There’s a beautiful sense of calm and quiet once you’re seated inside the RX, which makes tackling the daily grind as pleasurable as it can be.
We also appreciate the second row ventilation, plenty of clever storage throughout both rows and the wireless charging platform, which is positioned right where most of you would want to put your phone anyway. Android users can access wireless charging more easily than Apple owners who need a special case, so keep that in mind.
What deserves mention here is the experience from the eye of the passengers I carted around during my week behind the wheel. Every one of them commented on how quiet, how luxurious and how well-appointed the RX450h seemed to be, from their comfortable pews. All said it felt like being taxied around in an expensive vehicle, which is exactly what Lexus would want, so fair play there.
Now while the front and second row are suitably commodious, the RX doesn’t kick goals when it comes to luggage space. The NMH battery pack robs the rear of precious cargo space, as does the electric motor. It’s not tiny by any means, but the non-hybrid RX has significantly more usable space to play with.
If you buy an RX450h, you’ll find it difficult to slink around in pure electric mode, such is the way the system works. The transition between electric propulsion and petrol power is smooth enough, but there’s a hole in the power delivery as the system seems to take its time to wind up. This sensation could also be due to the way the CVT works, and this is yet another application of that confounding transmission that I find really hard to be positive about.
It constantly annoyed me that I had to punch the accelerator harder than I wanted to, just to get to, or stay at, city speeds. The ‘engine noise enhancer’ comes into play here too, and to my mind, has no place in a hybrid vehicle. It certainly doesn’t add to the driving experience of the RX450h the way I see it. The RX450h is not a vehicle I felt inclined to drive hard at any time, more that it presented itself as a relaxed and comfortable cruiser, so there seems no benefit to me from trying to make it sporting.
The F-Sport’s suspension system is interesting – in that it edges toward being firm around town, but still manages to soak up poor surfaces competently without ever banging and crashing. While it can fire up if you get excited, it’s no sports SUV in the vein of a Macan or F-Pace, which makes the ‘Sport’ part of the badge a little redundant. I guess it is ‘sportier’ than other variants of the RX range though, but reference my earlier comment about wanting to cruise around in it.
We liked the steering across the whole range of driving permutations, and you’ll get used to the slight difference in brake pedal feel thanks to the regenerative technology that is working away behind the scenes.
The aforementioned suspension system can be ‘tuned’ via the control wheel on the centre console and while there isn’t an enormous difference, the ‘arse-ometer’ did report back that you can feel the change when you do shift between modes. Again though, I’m not sure the intended RX450h buyer really needs this feature.
While the RX450h is by no means perfect then, it is without doubt a competent, luxurious hybrid SUV. The Lexus infotainment system simply can’t compete with the more advanced, easier to use systems offered by the competition, but there’s a lot to like about the Lexus theory of stacking in as much standard gear as possible – more so to counteract criticism of the revised pricing structure.
What that means for you the buyer, is you won’t have to jack the starting price up to the same amount anyway by ticking a heap of options boxes.