Text: Tito F. Hermoso / Photos: Tito F. Hermoso | posted April 18, 2011 18:50
How about 19.19km/liter in pea soup traffic, lots of long stops and short gos? Also 13.35km/liter on the highway, cruising at 120km/h but with a few rapid bursts to very very high speeds? From a spacious SUV weighing 2110kg, with several electric motors, batteries and close to 300hp of power output? This is the RX450h, the hybrid version of the RX350 premium SUV.
The svelte RX 350, credited in the North American market as having invented the luxury crossover market, is the sports sedan imbued crossover SUV. On steroids. Its all weather capable all wheel drive with sports sedan high performance. It uses car-like monocoque construction and fully independent suspension with SUV ground clearance and volumetric capacity. Incidentally, the crossover-SUV is the fastest growing market segment in the car world with the competitors trying to out-niche each other. Today, everyone wants the crossover to get sportier, a trend set some 7 years ago by BMW. The RX 350 faces tough competition from BMW, Audi, Mercedes Benz and Volvo.
Lexus champions the hybrid
In keeping with Lexus's bid to be the greenest of all luxury brands, it introduced the hybrid RX 450h at the same time as the top of the line limousine LS600h, followed up a few months later with the just released CT200h hatchback. Based on the RX 350, there is minimal detail badging, save for some blue enamel background for the italic "L" badge to distinguish it from the already accomplished and balanced shape RX.
Plenty added on
Like the Prius, the 3.5-liter V6 runs on the Atkinson cycle. An inverter is coupled to it and then an electric motor-generator is installed in the rear, which allows all four wheels to perform regenerative braking while recharging the hybrid's battery. The whole package is an evolution of Lexus's Hybrid Drive which now includes exhaust-heat recovery that reduces engine warm-up time allowing it to perform at full chat earlier, more often, and for longer periods. Also the cooled exhaust-gas recirculation reduces engine pumping losses, which also helps to improve economy.
For speed thrills
Just in case the leadfoots inquire, the electric motors do play a role on the highway too. On full bore acceleration, the full array of electric motors; 68hp rear electric motor, 167hp motor generator and the petrol engine, provide a net top-up equivalent total of 299hp of power at the wheels.
The stats bear out: 0-100 in under 7.8secs, over 200km/h in 6th gear. Which makes it hard to understand how some pundits can call Lexi bland and unexciting. Or lacking in pedigree, just because the steering isn't tuned to react only in race track conditions. At 2110kgs, the RX450h, compared to the RX350, is about 0.4 seconds slower to 100km/h, but all other parameters are equal.
With or without hybrid, part 01
Hybrid or no hybrid, the Lexus experience is still whole. Pleasing details abound, like the angled torso-level shift lever with +/- manual shift override. The high hip-point seating position, a must for the mommy market, is further enhanced with generous glazing. Very useful if you're trying to crawl around boulders or even feline/canine roadkill. The all around visibility is so natural and worry free, relaxing one's concentration while cocooned in one of the car world's most comfortable seats; wrapped in butter soft leather bathed by moonlight through the glass sunroof. Backing up, one welcomes a rear view camera vignette of what lies behind, embedded in the rear view mirror. Lexus makes these complicated systems easy to use so can get on with feeling at home with the car, without being perplexed, thumbing through the owners manual.
With or without hybrid, part 02
Driving the RX, you'd be hard pressed to tell it apart from any Lexus as the silence at all speeds is all inclusive. The boost of electric power of the 450h makes a difference in power delivery off the line and in passing situations, making it keep company with determinedly driven hot hatches. The cluster has a display showing the source of energy, be it the engine to the wheels, the engine charging the battery or the battery driving the car. Its more subtle than the big central screen of a Toyota Prius which has a lot of fun graphic tables suitable for an on-line Physics class. Bearing in mind too, that the acceleration boost you're getting in the RX450h is less petrol and more released electric energy. Its drag coefficient is 0.26, similar to a sports sedan. And like a pedigreed sports sedan, the RX has double wishbone suspension in the rear. Still, the luxury car ride happily soaks bumps, both big and small, keeping body roll to a minimum. Driver irritation and nausea, included. One just has to get used to the absolute silence when in EV mode and since the engine is not running, there is no engine "braking" feel when decelerating.
More beneath the wings
On the surface, sweeping changes may not look like the Toyota/Lexus Way as their success comes from measured, incremental changes, carefully orchestrated with the current customer in mind. But beneath a conservative mask, much of what lies beneath, like - research grade electronics, specialty steel construction, no-stone-unturned developed programs for ride and power assisted ergonomic features - is the even more difficult task of adapting them to impatient users. Luxuriating while saving the environment does come at a price.
Take the subsidy and run?
Unless PGA Porsche brings in the Cayenne hybrid, the RX450h has the premium luxury SUV segment all for its taking. Considering similar performance and looks, is 1M Pesos worth the difference between the 350 and 450h? Think of it this way; 1M gives the 450h owner a Prius' worth of the latest hybrid technology. How much is a Prius nowadays? Its some 2 and half times that pice diff. And here's more. The loaded technology is surely worth more as Lexus itself is subsidizing the take up of hybrid power. For sure, there are many, even in the luxury segment, that believe a clear conscience is worth every penny.