Lexus RX overview
Lexus' RX model has been a staple of the line-up since way back in the early 2000s, when it first arrived here as the Lexus RX 300. Back then, it used a non-hybrid V6 and significantly, it was one of the first cars to be made available with a touchscreen infotainment system.
Since then, the RX has become a much more bespoke model, gaining some very luxurious interiors through the years, and crucially getting hybrid power, which has made previous generations a very canny buy. Now, Lexus is taking that canniness and stretching it further with the addition of the plug-in hybrid RX 450h+ model for the fifth generation of the nameplate.
It features a 2.5-litre four-cylinder petrol engine and two electric motors, one driving the front wheels and one driving the rears, giving you always-on four-wheel drive.
The styling has also evolved. There are hints of the previous model's exceptionally sharp nose, but in general this version of the RX looks smoother and better resolved, and that snub-nose effect, where the bonnet seems to wrap around the top of the radiator grille, is less noticeable in person than it is in photos.
Does the new RX deliver on Irish roads?
The Lexus RX model range
Lexus Ireland offers the RX 450h+ plug-in hybrid in two trim levels. Luxury trim - the version we're testing here - has a starting price of €89,070. That makes it considerably more affordable than the equivalent BMW, the X5 xDrive50e plug-in hybrid, although the BMW does have more power than the Lexus. Standard equipment in the RX includes LED headlights with automatic high-beam control, acoustic glass for the windscreen and side glass, rain-sensing wipers, 21-inch alloy wheels, a seven-inch digital driver's instrument panel, a 14-inch infotainment touchscreen, a 12-speaker audio system, all-round parking camera system, leather upholstery, heated and ventilated front seats which are eight-way electrically adjustable, heated steering wheel, multi-colour ambient cabin lighting, panoramic glass sunroof, a 'nanoe' air filtration system and an electric tailgate.
On the safety front, all RX models come with the Lexus Safety System+ which includes drive monitoring, radar cruise control, emergency steering assist, lane-keeping steering, front cross-traffic alert and autonomous emergency braking with pedestrian and cyclist detection. Thanks to all that, the RX 450h+ scores very highly on the Euro NCAP crash test, receiving a full five stars, with a 90 per cent adult occupant protection rating, 87 per cent for child occupants and a very impressive 89 per cent for vulnerable road user protection.
If you want a few more toys, you can upgrade to the Premium version for €97,680. On top of the Luxury model's standard equipment, you get 21-inch alloy wheels in a dark finish, adaptive suspension dampers, the 'Blade Scan' high-beam headlights, a higher-def digital instrument panel as well as a head-up display, a 21-speaker Mark Levinson stereo, customisable touch-sensitive steering wheel pads, semi-aniline leather seats, heated and ventilated rear seats, upgraded front seats, electric folding for the back seats, wood and leather trim for the steering wheel, suede finish for the door trim and rear sunshades.
Being a plug-in hybrid, the RX 450h+ has impressively low CO2 figures - just 28g/km - so you'll pay just €140 a year to tax it.
The Lexus RX 450h+ Luxury interior
As you'd expect from Lexus, the interior of the RX 450h+ is pretty lovely. Normally, at this point, I'd probably use a 'pretty lovely but...' But in this instance, I don't really have any buts. This is a hugely successful cabin, and one that's sufficiently comfortable and ergonomically sensible to make long journeys seem pretty effortless.
We can take quality for a given - this is Lexus, after all. There are one or two cheap looking and feeling plastics around the place, but not very many to be honest, and not enough to spoil the overall effect. In front of the driver is a relatively small seven-inch digital instrument panel using fairly plain graphics that looks a little underwhelming compared to the all-bells-and-whistles instruments of some rivals. That could be a point of complaint until you notice how much less you're being distracted by the instruments, and how much more time you're spending looking out of the windscreen.
The big 14-inch screen in the centre of the dash uses Lexus' latest software, which is such a massive improvement over what used to be found on the screens of various Lexus models. There are still some occasional pauses while you try and work out the logic behind some of the menu layouts (and an owner will soon learn their way around), but aside from that it's a very successful system. There's good Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity too, and no fewer than four USB sockets in the front (one Type A and three Type C) so you're very well looked after in tech terms.
Below the screen there are neat heating and ventilation controls which aren't physical buttons - they're touch-sensitive, aside from the temperature controls which are tactile rotary switches - but they're separate from the screen and agreeably simple to use. Below those is a small storage area, with more space under a sliding lid. On the centre console there's the stubby drive selector alongside which are two cupholders and the buttons for the electronic parking brake and the car's driving functions. Under your elbow is a large armrest that's hinged on both sides, so that either the driver or the front-seat passenger can access whatever's in there. The door bins are a good size too, so this is a very practical interior.
Luxurious, too thanks to the great seats covered in soft leather, with lovely pinstriped wood finishers on the centre console and the dashboard. The door handles need a little mention here, as Lexus has somewhat re-invented them. There are conventional pull-handles, but these are designed for emergency use, if the electrical system should fail - otherwise, and this is another thing that takes a bit of practice - you actually push the handle which electronically pops the lock and allows you to open the door. Lexus' theory is that it turns opening the door into one smooth, consistent movement and it kind of does, even if you have to stop and think what you're doing the first few times you use it.
In the back, this RX 450h+ subjectively feels a little less roomy than the old version, but in general space is good, and you're getting the same levels of quality and comfort in the back. There's only a tiny, flat transmission hump so you can just about squeeze a third person in the centre seat. Rear seat passengers get their own air conditioning controls, USB sockets, and on the Premium version, a 220-volt domestic plug socket. There are also useful seatback pockets and decent door bins.
In the boot, the RX 450h+ holds only 461 litres, though we did find it was enough for a four-up weekend away, and Lexus points out that if you load it to the roof, there's a more useful 621 litres available.
The Lexus RX 450h+ driving experience
You'd assume that, lacking the six-cylinder engine of its predecessor, this Lexus RX would have taken a bit of a nose-dive in terms of refinement. Not so. While it's true that it does the 'traditional' hybrid thing of revving when you put your foot hard down and the CVT gearbox tries to square the impossible circle of acceleration and efficiency, there's sufficient torque from the electric motors, and sufficient energy in the big plug-in battery, that this shouldn't be much of an issue. As long as you're only accelerating to legal main road and motorway speeds, the RX doesn't shout all that much, and what noise there is, is pretty well suppressed anyway.
Even with 309hp, it's not a car we'd describe as particularly fast, but it hums along very pleasantly, with enough performance for most people, and always a quick kick of electric torque in reserve for when you need it.
Plug in and charge up the 18kWh battery pack and Lexus says that you'll get 65km of electric-only motoring. That seems realistic. Figure on getting between 45-50km if you're using motorways and main roads, but potentially well over 70km if you're driving around town. With two motors, the RX has plenty of poke in electric mode, so you won't need to wake up the petrol engine very much at all.
When you do get the petrol engine going on a longer journey, the RX 450h+ can easily achieve 6.5 litres per 100km, so that seems not too bad at all.
In terms of how it drives, the RX 450h+ is really quite surprising. It's hardly a small car, but it feels much smaller and nimbler than the likes of a BMW X5 or Range Rover Sport. It's not exactly light (2.1 tonnes at the kerb) but it feels far lighter on its toes than most of the opposition. That doesn't translate through to an especially sporty driving experience - the steering is too light and too remote for that - but what it does do is make the RX 450h+ feel much more manoeuvrable in tight quarters, and less of a liability on narrow country roads. In town, it's just excellent, breezing along on zero-emissions running with terrific visibility.
Our verdict on the Lexus RX 450h+
This is a masterful update of a popular model. Lexus has taken all that was good about the old RX - its quality, refinement, comfort and hybrid efficiency - and added a useful electric driving range, and styling that is better resolved. A lack of a seven-seat version may hold it back, slightly, but this is a terrific luxury SUV, and one that will cause its European rivals some serious nightmares.
What do the rest of the team think?
The Lexus RX is a hugely satisfying car to drive, and I suspect it will be even more satisfying to own. I thought I'd miss the old V6 engine more than I did, but the combination of a more powerful electric side of the plug-in hybrid equation and isolation of the engine means the new 450h+ is just as refined and utterly relaxing to drive. If you default to one of the German brands for your luxury SUV, you really should check the Lexus out before you choose your next one.
Shane O' Donoghue - Editor