We have the Lexus RX 450h SE-L in for a week for review and road test. Is it just a bland Japanese SUV, a sop to climate change – or something else altogether?
There was a time when 4x4s or SUVs or whatever you want to call them were rather utilitarian. Some would argue it took the arrival of the Range Rover in 1970 to combine luxury with the benefits of four wheel drive, although the Americans might take issue with that. As would Jensen, who had the very complicated and very desirable Jenson FF on the road in 1966.
Mind you, so expensive was the Jensen FF to produce they only managed to sell a modest number. But all wheel drive on cars goes back even further to Spyker at the turn of the last century and even Bugatti managed four wheel drive on the Type 53.
But it is the SUV we most associate with four wheel drive. The products from Land Rover paved the way for a veritable profusion of SUVs in the intervening years in what seemed an unstoppable move to have us all driving cars with the ride height of a Transit.
What car makers hadn’t reckoned on was a ‘Global Warming’ movement catching hold and blaming the internal combustion engine for all the woes of the planet. Even if logic told us that man-made global warming was a nonsense, people started to believe. And politicians couldn’t believe their luck that they’d found something to tax – CO2 emissions – that raised approbation from a chunk of the populace rather than the usual disapprobation.
Inevitably, people in hair shirts with beards began to condemn the SUV as wasteful and planet-killing. Drivers of SUVs started to need the constitution of an ox and skin as thick as a rhino to dare drive an SUV. But Lexus had an answer to the prayers of the SUV lover who believed CO2 was harmful not helpful, or just didn’t have the balls to have an opinion – the Lexus RX Hybrid.
This week we have the latest all-singing, all-dancing version of the Lexus RX – the Lexus RX450h SE-L – in for review and road test. And as you would expect from Lexus, the RX450h is very well bolted together and very well equipped. There’s a set of very nice leather chairs that can cool and warm as needed, keyless entry, Bluetooth, Cruise, a very pleasant Mark Levinson sound system and a decent SatNav.
What this latest version the RX450h also has is the new Lexus ‘mouse’ to control the various functions on screen. And it really is a pain in the arse. It seems a good idea; after all, we all use a mouse every day – but not when our desks are moving. Sorry, but the rotary knob or a touchscreen is needed – the in-car mouse is useless.
But actually, most everything else works very well in this Lexus on stilts. The cabin is pleasing – if a little oddly shaped in parts – and creak and groan free. It feels like a quality place to be. The exterior doesn’t make you look away in horror, but nor does it make you drool. It just looks like what it is – a posh Japanese SUV. But it’s not offensive. Just another big-ish SUV. But of course, it’s not just another big-ish SUV. It’s a big-ish hybrid SUV.
Which makes it quite different. Especially as Lexus has put all its RX eggs in the hybrid basket in the UK; the hybrid RX is the only way to go – only trim levels vary. So what is really important to the success of the RX450h is the hybrid drivetrain.
Or is it?
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