The Lexus RX 450h is an unknown and paradoxical pioneer. The first hybrid SUV, therefore ecologically correct – in other words, an oxymoron running these days – it was a great success in the United States but, on this side of the Atlantic, stood in the shadow of German specialists. For fifteen years, this big car has been trying to cultivate its difference by striving to reduce its carbon footprint using technology that has long been considered marginal. Yesterday, it earned him the sarcasm of the proponents of all-diesel; today, the mockery of those whom the mere mention of the term SUV puts into a trance. You can't say it hurt him.
The RX 450h was able to please an affluent clientele, not annoyed to reverse the mainstream. An enlightened automobile bourgeoisie preferring the atypical, if not discreet, expression of the social success afforded by a Japanese model belonging to a chic brand that was just thirty years old but whose aura began to exceed the circle of European initiates. Convinced that its car fits in the direction of history, the "premium" division of Toyota has therefore only moderately changed its exterior appearance. The headlights and the light signature – a territory highly prized, sometimes for lack of anything better, by designers – have been retouched with the necessary high-tech mannerism and the angles, cut to the point at Lexus, barely planed. The front end with a huge trapezoidal grille still looks spectacular and there is the usual curved roof line as well as the relatively short hood. A particular profile that makes up the signature of this model, which has so far been distributed to 450,000 units worldwide.
The purr of a big cat
To plead its cause of a well-bred SUV, the RX is equipped with two electric motors coupled to the gasoline engine. The whole displays no less than 313 hp, which is not too much when it comes to moving a vehicle exceeding 2 tonnes. Power certainly impressive but who prefers to put himself at the service of a quiet, American-style driving, because the machine does not like to be abrupt. A tropism confirmed by the presence of an atmospheric 3.5-liter V6 developing alone 262 hp, a mechanical that has become extremely rare in Europe. Despite its special characteristics and a high selling price (68,990 euros), the impressive RX 450h (4.89 m in length) is sold each year in France at around 500 copies.
On board, the hum of the V6 is that of a big cat. It basically snorts to ensure the battery charge because hybrid systems have evolved a lot in recent years. Electric motors are no longer simple auxiliaries and provide a major part of the traction effort. Of course, crushing the accelerator pedal to make the RX 450h leap remains an option, but it will trigger a panic in the continuously variable transmission, a phenomenon that the flexibility of the V6 can contain, but only at low and medium revs.
The RX 450h must compete with a squad of large plug-in hybrid vehicles, a technology to which the Toyota group is slowly rallying, preferring to favor its classic sacrosanct hybrids.
Lexus has nevertheless endeavored to Europeanise the dynamic behavior of the RX by recalibrating the torsion bars as well as the shock absorbers to better control body movements. Likewise, management has become more consistent. The interior reflects Lexus' vision of luxury with what may be tasteful and quirky. The quality of execution is impeccable and the materials are beautiful, but the ergonomics still seem questionable. The new 12.3-inch screen has finally become tactile, but its layout, too far from the driver, is questionable, and the multiple commands are, as usual, distributed haphazardly. We note in passing another sign of the dominance of American culture: the serial presence of a CD player, equipment that has become extremely rare in cars sold in Europe. The space on board is generous, including aft where a sliding bench seat is installed, but the boot space (474 liters) is just about average.
983 euros penalty
The RX 450h, of which a seven-seater version is offered for the first time, is no longer the only high-end hybrid SUV on the market. The game has changed and it now has to compete with a squad of large plug-in hybrid vehicles, a technology to which the Toyota group rallies by hurrying slowly, preferring to favor its classic sacrosanct hybrids. Keeping your feet light, the average consumption of the RX 450h is around 8 liters per 100 km, a little more on the highway. It’s not that bad for a vehicle of this size, but it does induce a CO₂ level (132 g per 100 km) which currently earns it a penalty of 983 euros. A comparable rechargeable hybrid will get rid of it and will do much better in terms of consumption (provided that it is regularly recharged …) but for a significantly higher purchase price.
There remains the angry question: in use, wouldn't a diesel be more relevant on a big car? In town and over intermediate distances, we can doubt it but on long journeys, we must answer in the affirmative. Less expensive and more economical in CO₂, the balance sheet of a diesel will on the other hand appear in a less favorable light if we consider its emissions of particles and nitrogen oxides (NOx). Nothing is simple.