Everyone is promoting hybrids these days. But only one company, Toyota, can take the credit for their rising popularity. Not only do they produce the best known hybrid family car, the Prius, but their Lexus brand has the largest lineup of hybrid luxury models, and that stable began with the 2006 RX 400h Hybrid Crossover Utility. Now for 2010, the RX raises the hybrid bar even further.
The bar was indeed set high with the original RX 400h hybrid’s potent mix of luxury, utility, and energy-conscious motoring. So much so, that it made up a full 20 percent of all RX sales. But, there’s always room for improvement, and that’s the story with the new 2010 RX 450h.
As before, the RX 450h is a full hybrid crossover utility, so it can run on either electric or gas-only, as well as any combination. Now, new software smoothes out the transitions between gas and electric, while a new EV mode allows extended electric-only driving.
The updated Lexus Hybrid Drive system now centers on a larger V6, an Atkinson-cycle 3.5-liter. It rates 245 horsepower and 234 pound-feet of torque. Two, lighter electric motors, one a generator and the other for power, bring total front drive output to 295 horses, or 27 more than last year. As before, optional all-wheel drive adds a third motor to power the rear wheels.
The under rear seat 288 volt nickel-metal hydride battery pack is smaller and lighter than before, as is the power control unit that’s also 10 percent more efficient. To further promote efficiency, the powertrain uses a cooled Exhaust Gas Recirculation system that lowers exhaust temperature and eliminates the need for fuel enrichment during high loads.
With all of these advanced energy-saving technologies working in tandem, the RX 450h achieves Government Fuel Economy Ratings of 32 city/28 highway on premium gas, that’s a big 20 percent improvement over the previous RX hybrid.
For improved handling, the reformulated RX chassis boasts a wider track and a new space-saving double wishbone rear suspension, all augmented by integrated electronic stability control, and a new speed-sensitive electric power steering system that has more feel than expected. Brakes are enhanced with two-piston front calipers and larger discs all around. Fully integrated electronic controls include ABS, brake assist, and Hill-start assist. Pedal feel is the only victim to all this wizardry.
Larger in all directions, the new RX’s “arrowhead” shape takes on a slightly more aggressive stance, but even with a more pronounced shoulder line and sharper creases it is still totally evolutionary.
Inside is a refined and instantly recognizable Lexus interior, but it has been extensively reformed for a more intuitive and ergonomic feel. The gauges feature a new ECO light and revised power meter to tell you when you are driving most efficiently, and the new optional head-up display projects all the vitals plus an available Pre-Collision Warning alert.
The newly shaped 10-way power front seats compliment the leather-wrapped three-spoke steering wheel with power tilt and telescope adjustments.
The optional 8-inch Navigation screen is now higher for improved visibility. Both backup and passenger side blind spot cameras are available. There is a new computer mouse-like central controller. It has a more tactile feel than the round controllers on BMW’s iDrive and others. But, we still think it’s fussy. More to our liking is the nine-speaker stereo that can be upgraded to a 15-speaker Mark Levinson surround sound system.
The RX leads its segment with 10 airbags, including two knee airbags up front and two side airbags for rear outboard passengers. Once again the 3-person, 40/20/40 rear seat slides and reclines for excellent flexibility. Leg room is up, and maximum cargo space is down, though 80.3 cubic feet is still voluminous.
Though pricing for the RX 450h is not yet set, we expect a base of about $42,000 for the front drive model, and $44,000 for all-wheel drive. That’s about a $4,000 premium over the RX 350 before options.
With the entire 2010 RX crossover lineup, Lexus chose to once again not mess with success. And, as still the only full-hybrid luxury crossover available, the 2010 RX 450h is sure to make those with a sense of social responsibility and a penchant for luxury, more pleased than ever.
Engine: V6 Atkinson-cycle 3.5-Liter
Torque: 234 Lb Feet
EPA: 32 MPG City/ 28 MPG Highway