Lexus RX 450h

The Kaizen-matured Lexus RX450h has stood the test of time. Now it’s ready to deliver

To start our review of the latest Lexus RX450h with all the new spec you read about on Monday, we need to digress a bit. About twelve years to be precise.

Hands up those of you who were avid Cars in Action readers way back when? Ai, those were the days! It seems like yesterday that we shot the cover feature for our October 2008 Green Edition in that forest that night. The point was to see how the brand new Lexus RX400h fitted in to the accepted luxury SUV norm.

We lined that pioneering 200 kW 500 Nm V6 and triple-electric motor hybrid up against BMW’s 210 kW 580Nm top diesel X5 3.0 sd and Audi’s V8 petrol Q7 4.2 TFSI. We were impressed — the RX won the shootout.


“Driving the Performance Hybrid is another experience altogether,” I explained. “The diesel car clatters along and the V8’s beautiful rumble s ever-present. But the Performance Hybrid is a ghost in electric mode. All you hear are the twigs cracking and the gravel crunching under the tyres. Eerie!”

“The V8 SUV is all but dead. Buy one of these in ten years time and you will be branded a villain, the carmaker criminal. And this one already takes a hiding from both its rivals. That leaves the hybrid and the diesel, which is a delight to drive. But the hybrid is faster in every respect, just as frugal and even cleaner. So the Lexus takes it.”

Roll on gross months and the atmo V8 is indeed dead. Although cleaner biturbo versions are very happily still around. Now the diesel is under immense pressure, in spite of its great progress since. Who’d have thunk it?

And that hybrid? Well this has happened. Now in its fourth generation, the great-grandson of that venerable original appears set to be the forefather of the next twelve years of SUV motoring.


Not much has changed. It’s rather just kept on improving through Lexus’s mantra in its ongoing pursuit of perfection that they call Kaizen. Now known as RX450h, it’s propelled by a 216 kW 358 Nm 3.5-litre VVT petrol V6 driving the front wheels through a continuously variable transmission , aided and abetted by a trio of starter-generator electric motors.

One is collar mounted and also controls the e-CVT transmission. There’s another 125 kW motor on the front axle and another 50 kW device that drives the rear wheels and endows RX450h with all-wheel drive ability. The system uses a bit of each component to deliver a maximum system output of 230 kW. The electronically controlled CVT chooses the optimal blend of gas and electric power. Depending on the heft of your right foot. Got it?

The RX450h also has Adaptive Variable Suspension nicked from the sporty Lexus LC. It features new friction control dynamic dampers. So the driver can opt for either improved ride comfort about town, or improved control in more frisky driving through RX 450h’s adaptable damper settings. Talking frisky driving, the RX450h electric power steering is tuned to beter obey the driver’s commands and deliver a more linear feel.


Our time with RX450h included a weekend away, which commenced with a blast across Franschhoek pass. Now no matter what they tell you, there’s always a compromise between comfort and performance. And it’s clear that Lexus put its stick in the former sand. Not that it’s bad, but pushed hard on my personal answer to the Nurburgring, the RX450h felt a bit at sea. Searching for mud, for want of a better phrase.

Beyond the Pass and across less demanding but sill twisty roads, the sublime nature of this Lexus came to the fore. Man, this is a quiet and comfortable car. The straighter the road, the better it gets. A little later we took to some gentler Cape gravel roads, which became tracks as we approached our hideaway cabin. Throughout all of that, ride, comfort and best of all, RX450h’s silence was exemplary.

Being the perfect hideaway, we had no signal and while that’s marvellous, there comes a time where you must find some. The photos on this page were shot while I was out on a secret mission midway through our stay to find a bit of 3G. See those images next to the dam? Well, getting out of there proved interesting!

The predominately front wheel drive RX450 is also quite low. So when the front end broke traction manoeuvring through and up a rutted little track, I was initially concerned that I’d have to walk back for help. But there’s a trick — that 50kW rear axle electric power takes a second or two to engage. I just kept it pinned ’til the electric back axle fired up and pushed the car back onto terra firma.

It’s not exactly the most sophisticated 4×4 system — if you can even call it that, but it works. One has to also ask how many owners will ever come close to challenging RX450h’s limited ride height and oddball electric AWD? If any?


Moving on to the rest of this splendid device, our chocolate brown RX450h sampler split opinion when it came to looks. Both in the office and up in the hills. Not everyone used the same adjectives I do to describe the colour and some compared the overall silhouette to a slipper. The majority of observers however sided with me. I like it — there are other SUVs out there that far better fit those comments!

RX450h certainly looks the part — yes, its sizeable silhouette is bulbous, like any SUV in this class. But Lexus has done a splendid job with those angles and jewellery to break it and deliver a coherent and quite aggressive form and harmonious form. Those brilliant adaptive world-first adaptive AHS BladeScan LED high-beam headlamps are part of the look.

They truly are brilliant too — both bright and intelligent. They comprise LED chips that reflect off a blade mirror spinning at 12,000 rpm. And they are significantly more effective than to rival static full-time fill-beam systems. They provide superb illumination while also identifying approaching cars by their headlights and shading that area of the beam.

RX450h’s driver-centric cockpit is a cool place to ride. Splendid leather trim and yacht-like veneer mingles with bold aluminium accents and ambient lighting by night. Exclusive race-inspired instrumentation includes functions stolen from the Lexus LFA to report everything from real-time G-force metrics and power distribution metrics. And that’s all complemented by a clear and adaptable heads-up display too.

There’s also a vastly improved new 12.3-inch touchscreen that now sits further forward atop the dash. That brings a wider viewing angle and keeps it all within easy reach of the driver and front passenger. Multimedia functions can be run via the screen, a revised trackpad, by voice control or through the multifunction steering wheel, rather than just the old buttons.


Voice activation spreads to the Siri enabled Apple CarPlay and Google Assisted Android Auto interfaces complemented Bluetooth and no less than four four USB ports. There’s wireless charging for your devices too and an on-board WiFi hotspot. It comes with a complimentary 15GB before you even need to buy data. A dedicated app connects you to all the My Lexus services.

Possibly the coolest bit of kit in there is RX450h’s brilliant 15-speaker Mark Levinson sound system. All that said, the closer all these newfangled gadgets get to what Starship Enterprise promised when we were young, the more daunting it becomes to old codgers like me. We were born and bred on FM/AM with a bit of SW and a couple of knobs. Keep your kids close in cars like this. It certainly helps!
Now safety is not something we like to test, but it’s very much a Lexus thing and RX450h masters in that compartment. The RX450h spec sheet reminds us that the flagship RX has ten airbags. And vehicle stability control now gains Active Cornering Assist to automatically suppress understeer, should the driver step on the throttle in mid-corner.

Add a standard pre-collision safety system and autonomous emergency braking, which adds night-time pedestrian and daytime cyclist detection. Thanks to those clever headlamps. RX450h also packs in all-speed active cruise control with lane-trace assist, a blindspot monitor with a rear cross traffic alert. And parking support braking that uses both sonar and sensors to avoid parking lot bumps.


All in all, we came away just as impressed with the Lexus RX450h as we were with its great grandfather four generations ago. Sure, it may be a touch challenged at the extremes of off-road or around the Nürburgring. But people who buys these cars will never be so inclined.

In the end, what Lexus started all those years ago is coming home to roost about now. And this more the world pushes its green pandemic, the more relevant cars like this will become. Whether we like it or not.

Engine: 230 kW 335+e Nm 3.5-litre petrol V6
Drive: CVT-hybrid AWD
0-60km/h:        3.47 sec
0-100km/h:       7.25 sec
0-160km/h:       16.46 sec
400m:            15.2 sec @ 153 km/h
80-120km/h:      4.58 sec
120-160km/h:     6.55 sec
VMax:             200 km/h
Fuel:             5.7 l/100 km
CO2:              131 g/km
Warranty/Service: 7y 105K/7y unl
LIST PRICE:       R1.369M
RATED:            8
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