Lexus RX450h F-Sport is luxury & fun to drive

Lexus, the Japanese Toyota-owned luxury car brand, began its operations in India in March 2017 with the Lexus RX450h. This mid-size luxury SUV is offered in India in two trims - Luxury and F-Sport. I drove the latter attractive hybrid SUV for a long and exhaustive road test to find out if it is worth the Rs 1.32 crore price tag at pan India showroom. It is priced higher because it is an imported car and attracts high import duties and the hybrid powertrain.

Despite that no car enthusiast can ignore this new fourth-generation RX. Its rakish design and extremely aggressive detailing make it stand out from the crowd. No wonder wherever I took it turned heads and made me feel proud of this beauty.

Certainly, it is the design that draws your attention. What attracts first is its huge honeycomb spindle-like grille but in a subtle mesh pattern up front. Flanking it are sharp angular LED headlamps featuring distinctive L-shaped DRLs that can shimmer even on the brightest of days. The extra oomph is added by the LED side indicators. These are not just conventional boring bulbs flashing, but dynamic turn indicators that show the direction of travel. Pretty neat.

Built on a stiffened and extended all-steel platform, it uses a longer 2,790 mm wheelbase, extremely slippery aerodynamics and adjustable dampers that are ideal for our difficult and variable road conditions.

Under the bonnet, petrol and electric power constitute the hybrid drive system. Total combined hybrid powertrain churns out 308 bhp of power. The combustion engine also makes a decent amount of torque but, most of its 335Nm is delivered at a high 4,700rpm. Still, because the electric motors provide all their torque from start up, the two systems blend very well together.

The V6’s power is sent to an E-CVT gearbox whose maximum and minimum ratios have been widened to both provide better punch off the line as well as a lower engine speed while cruising. And the RX uses a four-wheel-drive system that is very different as well. Here, drive at the rear is provided via an electric motor, and, to add to efficiency, the rear motor also acts as a generator and charges the battery when the vehicle is braking.

Like the exterior, the attention to detail is phenomenal to the interior design as well. The quality is good, panel gaps are tight and the use of soft materials gives a good feel but there is not really a wow factor here, which one would expect from a luxury car. Yet, the velvet material on the sun visors and dashboard leather feels special. Even the mats are nice and thick.

Both its seats are powered, cooled/heated, well bolstered and hold you extremely well. The rear seats are supportive too and recline at the press of a button. Rear legroom is more than sufficient, but due to the sloping roofline, headroom can be a little tight for taller occupants.

The Lexus RX450h F-Sport also comes loaded with kit. The 15-speaker Mark Levinson Premium Surround System features exquisitely machined aluminium knobs that feel like they’ve been lifted off a high-end audio system. You also get a heads up display (HUD), multiple driving modes like Eco, Normal, Sport and Sport +, and there is a 360-degree camera as well. Also, to open the boot, all that the driver has to do, as long as the key is in his or her pocket, is touch the Lexus logo at the rear.

Boot space is impressive despite the full size spare wheel eating up space and is raised due to the electric motor beneath. Also, the rear seats fall/rise at the touch of a button to accommodate more luggage. You also get a massive pano-ramic sunroof and 10 airbags.

Significantly, the sci-fi scheme of things are not limited to looks only as the Lexus RX450h comes with plenty of tech. The nice and large 12.3-inch infotainment system sitting on top of the off-set centre console is paired to a Lexus Remote Touch Interface (RTI) controller, which looks like a joystick. As far as safety is concerned, the SUV is equipped with multiple safety features, including ten airbags, cruise control, parking cameras and sensors, multi-terrain ABS and a tyre pressure monitoring system. Still, automatic parking could have been a delightful feature.

This SUV is not of the plug-in variety but this hybrid motor is what puts the ‘h’ in the Lexus RX450h. The SUV comes powered by a 3.5-litre V6 petrol engine, which is helped by two electric motors, one under the hood for charging and one at the back to deliver power to the wheels. This combined hybrid powertrain churns out 308 bhp and 335 Nm of torque which is sent to all four wheels by a CVT gearbox. It recharges through regenerative braking and recouping energy from the engine.

As with the rest of the car, the driving experience is very different too. Push the start button and you will be greeted by an eerie silence. Once you slot the gear-lever in D and lightly tap the pedal, the car starts moving with a near-silent shove using the electric motor. There is a dedicated EV mode if you wish to use, but remember there is no plug-in charging facility. So a true electric feel will be available only when enough charge is built up on the run. Undoubtedly, refinement levels are top-notch even when power is drawn from the petrol engine. The carmaker has indeed provided that smooth shift from electric power.

A twist-dial knob above the EV button helps toggle through multiple driving modes like Eco, Normal, Sport and Sport +. The car feels lazy on the pick-up in Eco mode, but that is mainly to reduce fuel consumption and therefore ideal for city commuting. But switch to Normal mode and the drive gets interesting. The throttle response gets better while still retaining the linear character and yet making things livelier. It is difficult to differentiate between the Sport and Sport+ modes. It appears that the F-Sport’s engine is not tuned for a really sporty demeanour.

The RX450h F-Sport accelerates from 0-100kmph in about 7.7 seconds and the hybrid SUV did exactly that. Nonetheless, you do not feel the surge as the revs climb, even though the initial push due to the electric motors is quite evident. There is not much feel at the brake pedal, but it is good enough to stop the 2.2 tonne vehicle quickly from 100kmph to standstill.

Also, the ride comfort is luxury. This is especially true in Normal mode, which, helped by its adjustable dampers, seems to have the best balance between suppleness and control. Even medium size holes are ridden over with a good amount of comfort and this in some part is due to the 18-inch tyres and high 65 tyre profile. The suspension can be tripped up over more severe intrusions, especially if you stiffen it by using Sport +, and the suspension can get noisy in this mode too, but the overall ride is pretty good.

Should I buy one?

If one is looking for an attractive, hybrid SUV well-built on the inside, comfortable to sit in and light and easy to drive, this is the car for you. Also, the Lexus brand is extremely dependable and gives peace of mind. This model competes in India with the likes of the BMW X6, the Jaguar F-Pace and the Porsche Cayenne, and that is real competition in the market. But what differentiates Lexus RX 450 is that 'h' that follows the nameplate – it is a hybrid and sort of 'green' SUV. If one is looking for a different SUV which stands apart from the crowd and within your budget, it could be your companion on the road.