Lexus's hybrid SUV is effortlessly luxurious

Steve Sharpe drives Lexus's big RX450h

The RX was aimed at those buyers who wanted the flexibility of an SUV but with the comfort of a premium-quality saloon.

This fourth generation of the luxury crossover, which is Lexus’s best-selling model worldwide, is fresh on our roads, and benefits from a re-engineered hybrid powertrain and a new petrol turbo engine.

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As well as ultra-modern hybrid technology under the bonnet, this new version is packed with technology inside the cabin as well and state-of-the-art safety technology to keep everyone in one piece.

The first thing that needs to be mentioned about the RX450h is its size.

It is gargantuan in every dimension – height, length and width. This is a car that has some very serious road presence. At more than 16ft long it’s an SUV that won’t be lost in the car park.

Lexus looked to create a stronger and more athletic body style and improve cabin ergonomics in this new version, while “preserving the RX’s established luxurious character”.

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The external creases and curves capture the design language that’s evident on other recent Lexus models, such as the IS, NX and RC.

It really is a futuristic-looking car, which would look at home in a sci-fi movie.

The small headlights arrow into the enormous gaping grille, with LED lights in L shaped splits below. Look at it head-on and you could be facing Judge Dredd.

The bulk of the body lies below the window line, resulting in a chunky, muscular look, while along the flanks there are dramatic, angular creases blending with curved lines to add to the effect.

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This version sits higher off the tarmac than the previous RX, and black detailing along the side gives the impression that the side windows taper off into a point. It’s a head-turner to be sure – not, perhaps, to everyone’s taste, but it certainly makes an impact.

Lexus is a luxury manufacturer and when you step into the cabin there can be no doubt of that.

Climb into the wide, comfortable driver’s seat, close the door with a cushioned whoomp and you’re cosseted in class.

There’s leather and stitching, soft-touch materials throughout and a modern styling that gives enough of a nod to traditional to please those who want things a little less Star Trek.

There’s plenty going on in on the dash and central console.

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A wide media / satnav screen sits high on the dashboard, shining out a crystal clear readout, while the temperature controls are positioned below the CD player.

There’s a wide central section between the front seats which houses the gear selector and a couple of drinks holders, and a large cubbyhole between the seats for extra storage.

Lexus has stuck with its mouse / joystick controls for the media screen, but it is fiddly and takes some getting used to.

The RX is an extremely bulky vehicle and there’s acres of space in the front.

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Three normal-sized adults will travel happily in the rear and marvel at the room, but the panoramic sunroof fitted in my test car, as always, does eat up a little of the head room.

Room in the boot, however, lags behind some big name German luxury SUV rivals, although the seats do fold for extra storage space.

Surprisingly, for a car of this size, the RX is an out and out five-seater with, unlike many rivals, no seven-seat option available, so it will count out those who need more seats.

The RX comes with a choice of engines, either a two-litre turbocharged petrol or the petrol/electric hybrid version I drove.

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The 450h hybrid combines a 3.5-litre V6 petrol engine with two electric motors.

Toyota and Lexus have blazed the trail with petrol / electric hybrid vehicles and this RX typifies what’s best about the power source.

Switch on the engine via the push-button start and there’s no sound whatsoever as you select reverse or drive.

You pull away in silence, using the electric motors, and only when speed increases does the engine kick in. Gentle acceleration will lead to the electric motors running the RX up to 30mph.

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It doesn’t make a lot of difference, though, because the 3.5litre engine is almost as quiet as the electric motors.

Travelling at low speed means a cabin like a church, and even motorway cruising raises very little noise. It’s only when you accelerate briskly that the engine strains while the CVT gearbox makes an effort.

In normal driving conditions the RX is an effortless car to drive, a real luxury cruiser.

It’s built for luxury more than speed, but it does pack a punch if it has to, with sub-eight second figures for 0-62mph.

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This RX provides a better driving experience than previous versions.

While never going to be a driver’s car, the RX handles well considering its size and emphasis on comfort.

There are good levels of grip and body roll has been controlled well enough to allow for comfortable cornering.

You can also tighten things up by selecting one of two Sport modes as well, which hauls the heavy SUV at a surprising speed.

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But the RX is about cruising in luxury and it’s something it does extremely quietly, comfortably and in an extremely refined manner.

These levels of luxury cost, with the RX ranging from just under £40,000 up to not far of £60,000.

For that kind of layout you expect a lot and Lexus are known for well-equipped cars as standard.

So even with the entry-levels 200 line-up you get dual-zone climate control, rear privacy glass, heated front seats, Lexus Navigation with an eight-inch display screen, a nine-speaker audio system with DAB, reversing camera, LED headlamps, roof rails and dual chrome-tipped exhausts.

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The 450 hybrid adds auto-dimming rear-view and door mirrors, leather upholstery, eight-way power adjustable heated/ventilated front seats and memory settings for the steering wheel, driver’s seat and door mirrors .

Higher spec models add all-wheel drive, leather upholstery, heated and ventilated front seats with memory settings, Premium Navigation with 12.3-inch display screen and DVD player, 20-inch alloy wheels, power tailgate with “no-touch” opening, “triple-L” LED headlights, wireless smartphone charger, and auto-dimming door mirrors with memory setting.

There’s also an incredible amount of safety equipment and driver assistance aids shoehorned in for added peace of mind.

This RX is better in every department than the previous version – and the previous version was a quality car itself.

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It is a remarkably comfortable and luxurious place in which to travel, an effortless drive that just eats up miles.

There are SUVs which offer more driver satisfaction, extra seats and better levels of economy, but if you relish comfort, quietness, effortless driving and stylish road presence, you can’t help but be impressed with this Lexus.

FACT file

Lexus RX450h

Engine: 3.5-litre petrol / hybrid

Transmission: Six-speed CVT auto

0-62mph: 7.7 seconds

Top speed: 124mph

Economy: 51.4mpg combined

Price: £57,995 OTR