The Lexus RX range has always offered a decent large-SUV experience – a blend of practicality and comfort wrapped in a premium package. This fourth-generation RX was first launched in 2015, and subsequent seven-seat RX L models in 2018. But with the march of automotive time where standing still spells sales death, the range has been the beneficiary of a significant upgrade late 2019. Not just cosmetic, either.
Here, we have the flagship of the not-inconsiderable RX range, the 2020 Lexus RX450hL Sports Luxury that asks for $111,070 plus on-roads. Our tester came with $1500 worth of premium paint for an as-tested price of $112,570.
That’s a whopping $40K-ish more than the range tip-in point: the five-seater, four-cylinder, front-wheel-drive RX300 Luxury that wants for $71,920 plus on-roads. That’s a big price spread, but then you do get a whole lot more RX for your money.
As the largest child of the family, the RX450hL scores an extra row of seating thanks to a 110mm extension in overall length over the five-seater version. The wheelbase, at 2790mm, remains the same. Boot space is impacted, though, the RX450hL offering just 176L with all three rows of seating in play or 432L with the third row folded, while five-seat versions score 506L at their smallest, to the second row.
It always strikes us as odd that the more people you need to carry, the more cargo space is needed for all their stuff, not less. That’s why people movers make so much sense when extra seat capacity is required. But, such are the tastes of consumers that SUVs are the must-have vehicle of choice, even if that brings with it compromises. So, here we are.
The MY2020 Lexus RX range certainly fulfils the brief for people wanting an SUV capable of carrying five, or seven at a pinch, in style and (for the most part) comfort.
The 2020 model upgrade brings a raft of improvements and inclusions. It’s out with the old infotainment screen and in with a shiny, new 12.3-inch touchscreen that can now, wait for it, mirror your smartphone. Yep, Lexus has bitten the bullet and integrated Apple CarPlay and Android Auto to complement features such as DAB radio, satellite navigation, a 15-speaker Mark Levinson sound system, Bluetooth connectivity and a DVD player.
Yet, while the integration of the larger screen is nicely done, there are still questions over the graphic display, which isn’t as sharp as that found in other high-end models from rival brands. Little steps.
In other good news, Lexus has done away with the clunky and infuriating toggle previously used to control the infotainment system. In its place is a touchpad that, while a big improvement over the old user interface, still provides the odd moment or two of annoyance. Some shortcut buttons mitigate this fussiness somewhat.
Inside, the quality of materials and fit and finish are to Lexus’s usual high standards. The partial-aniline leather seats offer plenty of electric adjustment (14-way, driver and passenger, along with memory function for both) and feature heating and ventilation.
We’d question the use of timber accents throughout the dash and on the steering wheel; a material that gives off an old-man vibe, and something this old man was none too keen on.
It’s a minor gripe, though, and one that comes down to personal tastes as some buyers, we’d venture, would love the timber integration inside the cabin.
Lexus has long made its reputation on featured-packed offerings, and the RX450hL is no different – even more so for the fact there are no options, other than premium paint – to complicate the buying process. What you see on the (long!) features list is what you get. No more to pay.
Highlights include: adaptive suspension, wireless phone charging, rear-view camera, adaptive high beam, a colour (and very crisp) head-up display, heated outboard second-row seats, LED daytime running lights, LED headlights with LED cornering lights, LED indicators, dual-zone climate control, rain-sensing wipers, 4.2-inch colour driver display, panoramic roof, 20-inch alloys, power-folding third-row seats with slide adjustment, and six USB charging points.
The RX450hL also scores Lexus’s advanced Safety System+ that brings adaptive cruise control, road sign recognition, autonomous emergency braking, pre-collision alert including pedestrian and cyclist detection, and lane-keeping assist.
That’s in addition to blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert systems, while 10 airbags cover occupants in all three rows.
ANCAP awarded all variants of the RX range five stars in 2015, but as a redesigned seven-seater, is the RX450hL still part of the wider RX range? Or is it an entirely different model? Lexus, for its part, considers it a variant.
Powering the flagship RX450hL is a 3.5-litre Atkinson Cycle V6 petrol engine matched to an electronic CVT auto all working in tandem with two permanent magnetic AC electric motors – one at the front axle and one at the rear – to offer a combined 230kW (at 6000rpm) and 335Nm (at 4600rpm).
Is it fast? Not exactly, but neither is it glacial. Thanks to more sheetmetal, extra seats and a nickel-metal hydride battery pack hiding under that third row, the RX450hL weighs in at a portly 2275kg (kerb) – some 65kg more than the five-seater RX450h, and a whopping 190kg more than the regular V6 petrol RX350.
You’d expect that weight penalty to come at a cost in performance, but that’s not the case, the RX450hL completing the run to triple figures in a relatively brisk 7.7 seconds – 0.3s quicker than the 190kg lighter and more powerful RX350.
It certainly moves off the line with purpose, if not blistering pace. The electric motors provide the initial surge, but it doesn’t take much throttle before the petrol engine kicks in and takes over. We found, typically, that under normal acceleration the ICE fired up at around 20km/h, with the transition between the two unobtrusive and seamless.
The RX450hL’s AWD system is an interesting one. Fundamentally, the V6 ICE mated to the CVT auto sends drive exclusively to the front wheels. However, in the absence of transfer gears and a driveshaft, a 50kW/139Nm electric motor on the rear axle drives the rear wheels as needed to help maintain optimal traction and stability.
Around town, the RX450hL is a quiet and comfortable negotiator of traffic, isolating occupants from the outside world in the manner we’ve come to expect from Lexus. The combined powertrain works away without you ever noticing, as it should be. Stretch its legs on the highway, and it’s the ICE doing the hard work, but it too offers a quiet and dignified experience.
If there’s one complaint, and there always is with these types of applications, it’s that the CVT does make its presence felt with a noticeable drone under harder acceleration for, say, a merge or an overtake. It’s also not as responsive under hard acceleration as a conventional auto or DCT might be, taking a momentary hesitation before ‘down-shifting’ in the hunt for torque and acceleration. Conversely, paddle-shifters can row through the six ‘steps’ of the Lexus CVT, if you feel so inclined.
The benefit of a hybrid powertrain is, of course, in reduced fuel consumption. Lexus claims a miserly 6.0L/100km for the RX450hL on the combined cycle. Our week with the 2.2-tonne Lexus saw an indicated 9.8L/100km. In mitigation, that was almost exclusively spent in the inner-city grind with only minimal time spent on the freeway. A more measured week, with a genuine combination of traffic, city and highway driving should see that number tumble closer to the factory’s claim.
Around town, the ride is commendably good, as it almost always is in just about any Lexus. That it’s been refined even further to reduce noise, vibration and harshness is a measure of how seriously Lexus takes its reputation.
An increase in body rigidity – an extra 4.2m of adhesive and an additional 36 spot welds – is claimed to deliver sharper handling while also improving ride comfort. Additionally, Lexus has added what it calls a ‘friction control device’ inside the front and rear shock absorbers to, in the words of Lexus, “mitigate high-frequency vibration from road surface unevenness that cannot be controlled with hydraulic pressure”. End result? Improved ride comfort.
And that’s before you factor in the adaptive suspension underpinning the Sport Luxury grade tested here, which optimises a number of damping controls – roll, dive, rebound – according to the driving conditions and drive mode – Eco, Normal, Sport S and Sport S+ – selected. Eco, Normal and Sport S modes work on providing ride comfort, while dialling up Sport S+ ups the damping ante with a flatter, more stable ride for those – rare – moments when you want to push a bit through some corners.
The average person – and that includes me – won’t feel the differences these enhancements bring. But, and crucially, the typical Lexus buyer expects a comfortable and quit ride with minimal noise intrusion into the cabin. And on that somewhat intangible measure, the RX450hL delivers.
Road imperfections are barely felt in the cabin, while speed humps and dips in the road similarly disappear from underneath the Lexus with minimal interruption. It’s all very plush – without being overly floaty – and commendable. Road noise, too, is nicely isolated. In short, the Lexus is quiet and serene inside the cabin. Exactly as it should be.
The cabin is rich in plush, its aesthetic (timber accents notwithstanding) of unashamed, yet refined, luxury. Certainly, the front-row occupants will feel cosseted and good about themselves.
The second row, too, offers plenty of comfort, if comfort equates to space. There is a caveat, though. All the key spatial areas – toe, knee, leg and head room – are good. And with no transmission tunnel, even the middle pew is perfectly comfortable.
Until, that is, you have people stuffed into the third row, because those poor souls are not getting back there without second-row occupants sliding their seats forward. Suddenly, what was a decently sized two-bedroom apartment morphs into little more than a bedsit or studio apartment.
As for the third-row passengers? It’s like they're sitting in the crawl space in the ceiling. This is no permanent seven-seater, that last row best saved for (very!) occasional use for adults (check out the photos of CarAdvice’s own 5’10” (177cm) Sam Purcell undergoing torture in the third row in our gallery), or leave it to small kids.
Getting into that third row is easy, though, a single ‘walk-in’ lever on the side of the second-row seats sliding them forward to provide a decent aperture. The third row power-folds away in 50:50 split fashion, freeing up storage in the cargo area. Cocooning everything neatly inside the RX450hL is a powered gesture-control tailgate.
Lexus covers the RX range with its standard four-year/100,000km warranty – pretty slim by any measure, although 12 months more than its premium German rivals. Servicing intervals are every 12 months or 15,000km, and will set you back $595 per trip to the workshop for the first three visits.
Lexus has invested deeply in the RX’s midlife upgrades, and not just cosmetically either. The raft of engineering changes under the skin to improve the breed don’t leap out in isolation, but when combined work together to improve what was already a salubrious package. The typical Lexus hallmarks of luxury and comfort are evident, despite the compromised third-row architecture.
If your needs are for a genuine seven-seater to be used more than occasionally, then you'd best look elsewhere. But, if you only need seats six and seven sporadically – and then only for short trips – the Lexus RX450hL presents as a decent package.