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First drive: Lexus RX450h offers more for less

Green luxury: The new RX450h is the first Lexus hybrid priced under $90,000.

Lexus renews Australia’s only hybrid SUV, as the RX450h lands from under $90K

15 Jun 2009

LEXUS Australia will offer not just one version of its redesigned RX hybrid SUV but three, when it goes on sale in Australia from July 13.

The three-variant Prestige, Sports and Sports Luxury line-up for the redesigned RX450h brings Australia’s only hybrid SUV into line with the new RX350 petrol range launched here in February, taking the number of new RX grades on offer to six – double the number previously available.

Even more significantly, however, is the hybrid crossover’s aggressive new starting price of $89,900, which is $7645 lower than the $97,545 pricetag of the single RX400h model previously available.

That’s partly due to the fact that the first $75,000 of the RX450h’s price is not subject to luxury car tax because it is the first Lexus to consume less fuel than the federal government’s LCT ‘green’ threshold of 7.0L/100km.

Naturally, Lexus Australia has high sales hopes for the redesigned, expanded RX hybrid line-up which, like the all-auto RX350 range, also comprises mid-range Sports ($96,900) and flagship Sports Luxury ($107,900) model variants.

Indeed, with initial supplies limited due to the virtually simultaneous rollout of Lexus’ fourth hybrid model in Japan, Europe, the US and Australia, Lexus says its first two months’ allocation is sold out.

Overall, the RX has traditionally accounted for up to 40 per cent of Lexus sales in Australia, with the RX400h comprising 23 per cent of that. Although RX sales remain down 7.8 per cent overall to May this year, the new model is expected to drive a significant boost in popularity for the Japanese luxury brand’s original crossover.

Likewise, the hybrid version is forecast to attract about 60 sales per month or about one-third of all RX sales, thanks to three specification grades and a base price that is now just $7000 more than the entry-level RX350 petrol’s $82,900 sticker. Previously, the RX400h demanded a circa-$20,000 premium over the cheapest RX350.

That is not just due to the new hybrid’s sharper price point, which is accompanied by a higher level of standard specification across the board (apart from the deletion of a sunroof at Prestige level), but to the fact the new RX350 is 10 per cent higher than before – up $4000 at base level and up $10,000 for the Sports and Sports Luxury.

RX350 pricing increased again from June 1, by $1000 for the Prestige (now $82,900) and $2000 for the Sports ($89,900) and Sports Luxury ($96,900).

31 center imageThe closest luxury SUV rivals for the RX450h are six-cylinder turbo-diesel Europeans including BMW’s X5 xDrive30d ($88,541), 30d Executive ($98,604) and 35d ($105,490), the Mercedes-Benz ML280 CDI ($81,000) and ML320 CDI ($87,500), Audi’s Q5 3.0 TDI ($88,542) and Volvo’s XC90 D5 ($74,950).

However, none of these come close to the petrol-electric RX’s fuel efficiency, and the RX450h also emits less CO2 than the smaller Volvo XC60 D5 ($57,950), Audi Q5 2.0 TDI ($59,900) and BMW X3 2.0d ($62,200).

The RX hybrid made its Australian public debut at the Melbourne motor show in early March, just days before its official European efficiency figures were announced at the Geneva motor show.

As revealed in March, the RX450h returns official ADR 81/02 average fuel consumption of 6.4L/100km and CO2 emissions of 150g/km, which is 23 per cent better than the RX400h (which returned 8.1L/100km) and leads Lexus to describe it as the world’s most efficient luxury hybrid SUV.

Lexus claims that combined with a new 3.5-litre petrol V6 – similar to that found in the Kluger, RAV4 and Australian-made Aurion sedan – the low-emissions RX is capable of sprinting to 100km/h in 7.8 seconds, while being able to “set fuel economy and efficiency figures closer to that of some small four-cylinder hatchbacks”.

Among its bold efficiency claims, Lexus reckons that in a single (15,000km) year of motoring the RX450h will emit almost 1.6 tonnes less CO2 than the RX350 (10.8L/100km, 254g/km), saving the same amount of carbon emitted from eight return flights from Sydney to Melbourne, a flight between Sydney and Los Angeles or the amount of CO2 absorbed by 111 trees.

Running on recommended 95 RON premium unleaded, the 60-degree Atkinson-cycle DOHC 24-valve 3.456-litre V6 produces 183kW at 6000rpm (up 18 per cent) and 317Nm of torque from 4800rpm (up 10 per cent), making it “the first production Atkinson Cycle V6 hybrid engine and Australia's most powerful and efficient luxury hybrid SUV”. It meets the Euro IV emissions standard.

Combined with a Prius-style full parallel hybrid drive system (in this case dubbed Lexus Hybrid Drive), which comprises higher-performance front and rear electric motors that work in conjunction with an electronically controlled continuously variable transmission (E-CVT – now with manual-shift mode), the drivetrain develops a total of 220kW.

The outgoing RX400h, released here in 2006, offered a total output of 200kW (including 155kW and 288Nm from its 3.3-litre V6) and had a kerb weight of 2040kg.

A more compact new 288-volt nickel-metal hydride (NiMH) battery under the rear seat, whose backrest splits 40/20/40 via a new quick-release system, is claimed to increase performance and cabin utility, while reducing noise. It is 64mm (or seven per cent) narrower at 884mm and weighs 69.1kg (down from 70.6kg).

Based on the slightly larger and heavier third-generation RX (the first iteration was not officially sold in Australia), the second RX hybrid presents fresh styling, a new engine/transmission combination, new rear suspension, improved all-wheel-drive system and new features such as active radar cruise control, a proximity card locking and starting system and sophisticated central system controller.

The new RX continues the five-door monocoque wagon body structure of its forebear but rides on a 25mm-longer (2740mm) wheelbase and measures just 10mm longer overall at 4770mm, 40mm wider at 1885mm and 15mm lower at 1720mm.

The front wheel track has been increased 55mm and the rear track by 65mm, giving it a significantly wider footprint, while the aerodynamic drag co-efficient of its 15 per cent more torsionally rigid bodyshell said to be a “class-leading” 0.33Cd.

Kerb weights range between 2115kg and 2205kg, with most of the weight gain over the RX350 being due to the hybrid’s battery. That’s up 75kg at base level, despite the fact the base RX350 gained 120kg and now weighs 1975kg.

Ground clearance is down 10mm to 180mm and towing capacities remain at 750kg (unbraked) and 1500kg (braked). Lexus says the RX450h is as capable off-road as any of its light-duty luxury SUV rivals, despite mild 28.8-degree approach, 24.8-degree departure and 16.3-degree ramp-over angles.

Despite its slightly longer wheelbase, the RX450h offers the same 11.4-metre turning circle (but a tighter steering ratio, with 2.79 turns lock-to-lock instead of 2.9) and now features electric power assistance for its rack-and-pinion steering system for the first time.

While the US-market’s air spring suspension system will not be available here, the new four-link trailing-arm/double-wishbone rear suspension allows the coil springs and dampers to be positioned under the floor, which is 30mm lower and 150mm wider between wheel arches.

The RX450h’s ventilated front brake disc diameters have increased from 319mm to 328mm and twin-piston front callipers have replaced single-piston callipers, while at the rear 309mm diameter solid discs have replaced 288mm solid discs. The braking system also has a new, lighter, more compact brake actuator.

The 16mm-lower engine mountings and stronger bodyshell are said to lower the centre of gravity and improve dynamics and refinement respectively, while Lexus says an unprecedented 233 actual crash tests is 153 more than conducted for the previous model, costing in excess of $10 million – not including the cost of the vehicles.

Wheels are 18x7.5-inch alloy (Prestige) and 19x7.5-inch (Sports and Sports Luxury), while tyres are 235/60 R18 (Prestige) and 235/55 R19 (Sports and Sports Luxury).

The Prestige continues to offer RX400h features like satellite-navigation, Bluetooth and iPod connectivity, powered front seats, leather trim, a rear-view camera with Lexus Rear Guide assist, 18-inch alloys and high intensity discharge (HID) headlights.

But it now has a total of 10 airbags and adds new technologies like the Lexus Remote Touch Navigation system, intelligent adaptive headlights (i-AFS), a 12-speaker sound system, keyless entry/starting and the new Lexus Vehicle Dynamic Integrated Management (VDIM) stability/traction control system.

The VDIM package combines vehicle stability control with co-operative steering function (VSC+), traction control (TRC), ABS, electronic brake-force distribution (EBD) and Lexus Brake Assist (LBA).

The RX450h Sports adds a moonroof, 19-inch alloys and radar-operated Adaptive Cruise Control (ACC) with Pre-Collision System (PCS), among other features.

To this, the top-shelf Sports Luxury variants adds LED headlights, a Head-Up Display (HUD), wide-view side cameras, heated electro-chromatic exterior mirrors with memory, clearance/reversing sonar, leather and wood-rim steering wheel with controls for voice recognition, climate-controlled seats, semi-aniline leather trim, a 15-speaker premium sound system and bright-chrome 19-inch wheels.

“RX450h really solidifies the importance and relevance of hybrid technology for global motorists – it is the world's most efficient luxury SUV,” said Lexus Australia chief executive John Roca.

“Lexus continues to be at the forefront of hybrid technology, and not only did we deliver the impossible with our first hybrid model, we are now delivering hybrid vehicles that challenge the concept of practicality and efficiency.

“Lexus continues to be the luxury hybrid leader, and while other manufacturers still talk about their forthcoming development models, Lexus continues to introduce real solutions today.

“RX450h is an astounding vehicle that demonstrated what is possible when you put all your efforts into pursuing absolute efficiency.

“With RX450h we have diesel competitors firmly in our sights, and with Lexus' unique blend of power, efficiency, practicality and pricing, we are certain that RX will remain our top-selling model.” The RX450h will be available in eight exterior colours, including one exclusive colour – Quartz – and three new colours: Blue Pearl, Sapphire and Metallic Silver. Other colours include Graphite, Onyx (black), Metallic Beige and Vermilion (Red).

Lexus RX450h pricing:
RX450h Prestige (a) $89,900
RX450h Sports (a) $96,900
RX450h Sports Luxury (a) $107,900

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