Car reviews - Lexus - RX - 450hL
Sublime hybrid efficiency and performance, comfortable cabin, plenty of standard equipment – including critical active safety features
Room for improvement
Third row is a token gesture, feels older than it is, slow steering, firm ride
Seven-seat Lexus RX450hL Luxury stretches further than before – but not far enough
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28 May 2018
THERE is no denying SUVs have become the people’s choice. A quick look at the sales charts will tell you so. Hence, the pressure further mounts on car-makers to innovate and deliver products that their customers are eagerly anticipating.
For Lexus, this is a seven-seat version of its long-established five-seat RX large SUV. Enter the appropriately-named RX L. Its formula on paper is quite simple: add extra space to the cabin to accommodate a third row while maintaining the existing wheelbase.
However, is this a good formula? More importantly, has the Japanese company managed to do the impossible and make seven go into five? We tested the RX L in the base hybrid-powered RX450hL Luxury form to find out.
Price and equipment
Priced from $93,440 before on-road costs, the RX450hL Luxury commands a $3300 premium over its five-seat counterpart. Its generous list of standard equipment includes 20-inch alloy wheels wrapped in 235/55 tyres, dusk-sensing bi-LED headlights, LED foglights, LED daytime-running lights, rain-sensing windshield wipers, a hands-free power-operated tailgate, rear privacy glass, auto-dimming and heated side mirrors and roof rails.
Inside, an 8.0-inch infotainment system, satellite navigation, Bluetooth and USB connectivity, digital radio, a 12-speaker sound system, three-zone climate control, 10-way power-adjustable front seats with heating and cooling, driver seat, memory functionality, leather-accented upholstery, keyless entry and start, a power-operated 50/50 split-fold third row, an auto-dimming rearview mirror and wireless smartphone charging feature.
Our test car was finished in Graphite Black premium paintwork, which is a $1500 option, to bring up the price as tested to $94,940.
Let’s get to the point – does the RX450hL Luxury stand up as a full-time seven-seater? Unfortunately, the answer is no. It simply falls short – literally – due to its series of compromises. A quick look at its measurements explains how.
By extending the RX’s rear overhang by 110mm, the RX L is 5000mm long, while its height is up 10mm, to 1700mm. The seven-seater matches its five-seat counterpart’s width and wheelbase, at 1895mm and 2790mm respectively.
Ingress and egress to the 50/50 split third row is about on par with its rivals in the segment. The second row can slide 45mm forwards to aid this, but once you’re in the third row, it is cramped back there.
There is very little legroom back there, proving that the third row is strictly for small children only.
Second row space is also impacted when it is slid forwards as the middle occupants find themselves subject to a lack of legroom.
Alternatively, you could increase cargo capacity from 176L to 432L by stowing the power-operated 50/50 split-fold third row. Rear storage can further grow to 966L if the 60/40 split-fold second row is dropped via the touch of a button.
While leather-accented upholstery adorns all other seats, the third-row pews are trimmed in a hard-wearing synthetic material that is designed to withstand constant folding. This is a nice touch that pairs well with the easy operation of the second and third rows plus their climate controls. Lexus has done a good job of creating a functional space, it’s just a shame the measurements don’t add up.
It might surprise you to know that the RX is only three years old, barely halfway into its expected life-cycle. Why? Because it already feels dated. The centre stack and console are old by 2018 standards. In an era where digital reigns supreme, the RX L feels positively analogue.
Looking for a digital speedo? You won’t find one here. The RX450hL Luxury does try with an 8.0-inch infotainment system but falls short due to its unintuitive control pad and ultra-thick bezels, which are significantly reduced by the flagship Sport Luxury grade’s 12.3-inch unit. The latter also has a head-up display that resolves the digital speedo issue, but it’s hard to justify its $16,802 premium even with extra features.
Engine and transmission
The RX450hL Luxury is motivated by hybrid powertrain, which partners a 3.5-litre Atkinson-cycle V6 petrol engine with a front-mounted electric motor. The former produces 193kW of power at 6000rpm and 335Nm of torque at 4600rpm, while the latter develops 123kW and 335Nm, which equates to a combined power output of 230kW.
Furthermore, a six-step continuously-variable transmission (CVT) teams with the part-time E-Four all-wheel-drive system with variable torque distribution to deliver these outputs to the ground. The latter incorporates a rear-mounted electric motor that makes 50kW and 139Nm to aid delivery.
As a result, the 2275kg RX450hL Luxury can sprint from standstill to 100km/h in 8.0 seconds while on the way to its top speed of 200km/h. In the real world, these marks feel about right as the RX450hL offers effortless performance. Granted it won’t be setting any land speed records, but there’s not much to be upset about here.
A large part of this is to do with the seamlessness of this set-up. If it wasn’t for the instrument cluster and the muted hum of the internal-combustion engine, you’d be hard pressed to pick up the transition from electric to petrol power – it is a wonderfully coordinated experience.
Four driving modes – EV, Eco, Normal and Sport – allow the driver to adjust powertrain and transmission settings on the move. As its name suggest, Sport lays it all on the line, drawing from both power sources simultaneously to deliver maximum performance. However, it is Eco that impresses the most, successfully drawing the driver into some sort of efficiency challenge.
Claimed fuel consumption on the combined cycle test is 6.0 litres per 100 kilometres, while carbon dioxide emissions have been tested at 137 grams per kilometre. During our week with the RX450hL Luxury, we averaged 8.2L/100km, which, while higher than Lexus’ claim, is impressive given what the RX450hL has to work with.
Unlike a traditional powertrain, this hybrid excels in urban environments, delivering excellent fuel consumption as it predominately leans on electric power. However, highway stints will see this figure rise as petrol power kicks in above 70km/h.
Ride and handling
The RX450hL Luxury features an electrically power-assisted rack-and-pinion steering system, while its independent suspension set-up consists of MacPherson struts up front and trailing-arm double wishbones at the rear.
Over smooth road surfaces, the RX450hL happily wafts along, but as soon as unsealed roads, pot holes or speed bumps are introduced into the equation, it loses composure and uncomfortably stumbles. It doesn’t help that wind, road and tyre noise is excessive at highway speeds, either.
As such, the Luxury’s suspension tune feels too firm for Australian’s challenging road conditions.
The RX450hL feels every bit like the large SUV it is during spirited driving. Pronounced bodyroll is present in the twisty stuff, while it handles like a large vehicle around town.
Steering is slow and lacks precision when cornering, requiring plenty of lock to get things moving in the right direction. For these reasons, the RX450hL does not deliver an engaging drive, but considering most, if not all, examples will be sentenced to the school commute, we doubt many owners will be expecting sportscar performance.
Safety and servicing
While the Australasian New Car Assessment Program (ANCAP) is yet to test the seven-seat RX L, it did award the five-seat RX a five-star safety rating in January 2016. It achieved 83.7 per cent and 82.2 per cent in the adult and child occupant protection test categories respectively.
The RX450hL’s impressive suite of standard advanced driver-assist safety technologies extends to forward collision warning, autonomous emergency braking with pedestrian detection, adaptive cruise control with stop and go functionality, lane departure warning, lane-keep assist, steering assist, blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, high-beam assist, a reversing camera, front and rear parking sensors, tyre pressure monitoring and hill-start assist.
Other safety features include 10 airbags (dual front, knee and curtain plus quad side), anti-skid brakes, electronic brake-force distribution, brake assist, and the usual traction and stability control systems.
As with all Lexus models, the RX450hL Luxury comes with a four-year/100,000km factory warranty, including four years of roadside assist. Service intervals are every 12 months or 15,000km, whichever comes first.
Lexus issued the RX450hL Luxury with a very clear brief: deliver seven-seat practicality by slightly stretching the five-seat RX. How well this has been achieved depends on the literal size of your family.
Unfortunately, the RX450hL is tasked with the impossible, because seven simply does not go into five. That being said, its hybrid powertrain remains a phenomenal feat thanks to effortless, smooth performance and impressive efficiency.
However, those hoping for a dynamic, engaging driving experience will feel short-changed by the Luxury’s slow steering and firm ride, but its long list of standard equipment – including critical active safety features – might be enough to convince most buyers. Better luck next time, hey?
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