Diminutive by design, the original gasoline-electric hybrids strove to maximize aerodynamics, weight, and energy recapture in order to achieve the best fuel economy. When the Lexus RX 450h debuted in 2006, the first luxury crossover hybrid, it flew in the face of hybrid wisdom. Five years and one generation later, the 2011 RX 450h continues to offer consumers a versatile crossover with class leading fuel economy. I recently drove the 2011 model, and in true Lexus fashion, it met expectations.
RX 450h buyers consider this model over its sibling, the gasoline powered RX 350, for one thing—fuel economy.
Powered by the 3.5-liter V6 Atkinson-cycle engine, electric motors, and a small and light power-control unit, the 450h achieves an EPA estimated city/highway fuel economy of 32 miles per gallon in the city and 28 mpg on the highway, for the front-wheel-drive model, which I drove. In comparison, the gasoline-powered model earns an EPA estimated city/highway mpg of 18/25. The available all-wheel-drive 450h earns an estimated city/highway mpg of 30/28.
As a full hybrid, the RX 450h can operate in electric-only or gas-engine-only modes as well as a mode that combines the power of both. Stop and start driving maximizes the technology, hence, the better city rather than highway fuel economy. It also allows the driver to maximize performance with an EV button to use electric power but only for short distances.
The second reason crossover SUVs sell is versatility. The RX 450h seats five with three-part (40/20/40) rear seats that can slide fore and aft, recline, and fold down using the one-touch levers mounted in the luggage compartment. The configuration of the double-wishbone rear suspension yields a larger luggage compartment; the width between the suspension towers is increased by nearly six inches.
The suspension also contributes to what sets a Lexus apart from all the rest, i.e. its ride and comfort. Based on the RX 350, which evolved from the game changing RX 300, the RX 450h maximizes the car-like ride and handling expected of crossovers. The brand’s benchmark interior quietness cocoons owners who’d rather float through the challenges of city driving than “feel the road.”
As a luxury SUV, it comes with the creature comforts that many expect—dual-zone air conditioning, genuine wood trim, and a premium audio system. Heated and cooled seats, however, are optional.
Standard safety features include the usuals—anti-lock brakes, traction control, vehicle stability control and brake assist. The RX 450h leads the segment with ten airbags but I would like to see more modern technology like a blind spot warning system included.
The test model added Bi-Xenon High-Intensity headlamps, navigation, heated and cooled front seats, and the Premium Package with a moonroof among other amenities.
The RX 450h suits a specific need for those who can afford to improve their fuel economy in style. Pricing for the RX 450h starts at $43,235. The as-tested price came to $50,879.