What are you driving?
The new extended version of the fourth-generation Lexus RX, called the RX 450hL. That little 'h' confirms that it's still a hybrid-only model line-up and this larger version shares the same 3.5-litre V6 petrol engine and two electric motors with its five-seat sibling. That's right, the RX L is a seven-seat, four-wheel-drive SUV. The frontal styling is unchanged - and as distinctive as ever - and the wheelbase is also the same. However, there's a 110mm stretch in the bodywork behind the rear wheels to accommodate the extra row of seats. The new tailgate is more upright as well, and the overall height has increased by 15mm. All this adds a considerable 100kg to the weight and blunts performance and efficiency a tad.
Prices start at €82,450, for the RX 450hL Luxury, which represents a €4,400 premium over the equivalent five-seat version (that is offered in a lower-spec grade as well, costing less again). Highlights of this specification include 20-inch alloy wheels, a powered tailgate, adaptive cruise control, satnav, three-zone climate control, heated and electrically adjusted front seats and leather upholstery. The third row of seats fold away electrically, too, as standard.
If you fancy even more whistles and bells, the RX 450hL AWD Premium costs €92,550. It gets upgraded LED headlights, unique 20-inch wheels, an upgraded Mark Levinson sound system, head-up display, heating for the rear seats, upgraded front seats and more luxurious leather.
Name its best bits
The extra versatility of the RX 450hL appeals. Not only does it come with an extra two seats, the middle row can slide fore and aft by 150mm so you can divide up the available space as you see fit. And, if you don't need the back seats, they fold down flat at the touch of a button, creating a huge boot.
Other than that, it's worth reiterating how cultured this car's V6 petrol engine is, meaning it doesn't matter if the CVT gearbox holds it higher revs when accelerating, for example. To be fair, it's super-quiet most of the time and far more refined than most diesel SUV alternatives. It makes a lot of sense for those that don't venture outside city limits, though if you drive prudently, it's almost as economical as a diesel car of this size at a cruise.
Anything that bugs you?
I expected there to be more room inside, to be honest, but those extra rear seats are only of use (even to children) when the middle row is moved forward, meaning that this is not a car for a big family of tall teenagers.
And why have you given it this rating?
While the RX 450hL isn't quite the full-sized MPV in a sharp suit some might expect, it comes with an appealing mix of distinctive style, unimpeachable interior quality and engineering integrity, plus a future-proofed powertrain that is at home in an urban situation and yet perfectly capable of long distance, too. For those that want to move away from diesel power for their large luxury SUV, it makes for a tempting choice.
What do the rest of the team think?
Lexus has done a good job in not altering the look of the RX too much to accommodate the third row of seats. However, they remain too limited in terms of the passenger space they provide to be of any real use. The driving experience, however, is quiet, refined and comfortable and the hybrid system is ideally suited to those sticking to urban commuting.
Dave Humphreys - Road Test Editor
It's hard not to like the Lexus RX 450hL, to be honest. It's big, stylish (well, I like the way it looks anyway) and has a truly gorgeous - and sumptuously comfortable - cabin. The weak link is actually the rear seating - the extra seats are just too tight to be of much real use, and struggle, I feel, to justify the extra cost over the five-seat version.
Neil Briscoe - Editor-at-Large