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I'm in love with a Lexus

Yes, it's a lot of money -- but this is a lot of SUV

Jeff Rundles //September 15, 2016//

I'm in love with a Lexus

Yes, it's a lot of money -- but this is a lot of SUV

Jeff Rundles //September 15, 2016//

2016 LEXUS RX 450h D-DR SUV

In July, I reviewed the 2016 Lexus RX 350 F Sport and offered up my opinion on the RX – to summarize, it is a spectacular vehicle but suffers from the over-abundance of technology which has taken away from its former interior beauty. Re-reading that now, and after having driven another RX, this hybrid 450h, I may have been a little harsh.

Yes, I think the older versions of the RX were more beautiful on the inside than the newer ones, and this has mostly come about because all of the new technology needs console and dash space that was once beautiful wood grain. But the RX is a magnificent SUV in the mid-size SUV luxury category nevertheless.

The experience itself was rather bittersweet in that Lexus was gracious enough to allow me to take this 450h from Denver to Flagstaff, Ariz., to deliver my son to his freshman year at Northern Arizona University. I am now an empty nester. The 2016 RX 450h, however, helped in softening the blow.

For this trip there were three of us – mom, dad and soon-to-be-freshman – and, of course, a lot of stuff for the college boy’s dorm room. This RX is a mid-sized SUV, yet it held all the requisite “stuff” and us for a longish journey (about 700 miles there) with no issues. In fact, loaded with all that “stuff” didn’t even seem to alter gas mileage.

This 450h hybrid features a 3.5-liter V6 coupled with an electric drive motor with a combined 308 horsepower, and it delivered on its gas mileage rating: The EPA says it achieves 30 miles per gallon in the city and 28 mpg on the highway, and we measured it twice during the trip – a mixture of interstate highways and two-lane national routes – and both times we found our mileage to be an impressive 29.4 mpg.

It is all the more impressive when you consider that it doesn’t feel like a hybrid. Lexus uses the hybrid technology in this vehicle to boost mpg, yes, but also to boost power, and this RX 450h delivered every time. It has a continuously variable automatic transmission that is as smooth as silk, and the vehicle never wavered. It cruised at 80 mph with ease, and it smoothly burst into a higher speed for passing on those two-lane highways without blinking.

Given the overall performance – which was awesome – and the hybrid-boosted gas mileage, I have to say that this powerplant is the best I have ever driven. I can’t recommend it highly enough. Having previously driven the RX 350 with a normally aspirated 3.5-liter V6 with 295 hp, I can safely say that this 450h felt like twice the performance – and the RX 350’s engine was rated at just 19 mpg city/26 mpg highway.

Sure, the hybrid costs more, but not that much (base price for the 450h is $53,125 versus $49,125 for the F Sport RX 350), so when you consider performance and mpg savings, I say go for the hybrid. I should note that the EPA, in making its mpg ratings, has car companies put a gasoline spending estimate on the window sticker.

For the RX 350 it says “You spend $1,250 more in fuel costs over 5 years compared to the average new vehicle.” On the 450h sticker it says “You save $750 in fuel costs over 5 years compared to the average new vehicle.” My math says that’s a two thousand buck difference, which is half the sticker base-price difference. Trust me, go with the hybrid.

I also found the handling extraordinary. As I said, we were loaded down, but the 450h never leaned, I never felt out of control no matter the conditions, and it has about the best brakes on its 20” wheels imaginable. It also had compelling dynamic cruise control that held its distance when behind slower traffic and then speeded up when moving lanes. Very nice.

One thing I found by accident. The 450h does, of course have an automatic rear liftgate, and like most of these you simply push a button and it lowers down. But I went back there to open it once and as I was reaching for the button it lifted automatically. They call it the Touch-Free Power Rear Door, a $200 option, and I call it amazing.

Another cool thing in this vehicle was the rear-seat entertainment system, a $2,095 option. I’ve had many of these systems over the years, and they are wonderful for long trips, especially if you have young ones. However, here the dual screens mounted on the back of the front buckets, were quite large and they tilted so the viewer can get just the right angle or tip out of the sun.

My only complaint about this system was that we tried and tried to find its operating instructions in the many manuals provided – is it under “Rear Seat,” or “Dual Screen” or “entertainment System?” We never did find it, but by trial and error we discovered how to have it operate with the wireless headphones so those of us up front could listen to the excellent radio. Owner’s manuals these days are huge, but they aren’t easy to use.

I’m not going to go through all of the safety and technological equipment; suffice to say that this is a Lexus and everything you’d ever want and more is in there. The navigation is wonderful, the cross-traffic and blind spot alerts work very well, and the Mark Levinson 15-speaker Premium Audio Package, with the navigation (a $1,510 option), is amazing and quite intuitive to use. It does so many things, this car, that it’s a wonder it doesn’t make lattes.

As I said in the review this summer of the RX 350, essentially the same vehicle, all of the technology in here takes up room that Lexus used to use to make the interior more beautiful, which is too bad. But this 450h, nevertheless, is one magnificent vehicle.

It’s not an inexpensive one, though. I noted earlier the base price on this vehicle is $53,635, and they added the options I mentioned plus a few other things – a great panoramic sunroof ($500), the Luxury package ($3,125) with leather seats, lumbar support sunshades, etc., power folding rear seats ($840), color heads-up display ($600), and the Lexus Safety System Plus with triple beam LED headlamps ($2,250) – and the bottom line came to $64,610 (including $940 dealer handling fee).

That is a lot of money, but this is a lot of car. Bottom line: in every Lexus you get all the luxury and it is done in a high-quality way that will last and last and last. Those things are givens. What sets this particular model apart from its badge mates is this gas/hybrid powerplant. Simply the best.