Parkers overall rating: 4 out of 5 4.0
  • Hybrid system efficient and refined
  • Handling is tidy and controlled
  • RX is built for comfort, not speed

There’s just one powertrain on offer here in the UK, and unusually for a car in this class, it’s not a diesel. Instead, it’s a hybrid, using a combination of powerful V6 petrol engine and a pair of electric motors to power all four wheels.

>> We rate the best hybrid SUVs for 2020

Lexus RX 450h Hybrid

Lexus is persistent in its rollout of efficient hybrid engines, and as such it’s the only engine available under the bonnet of the RX.

It uses a combination of 3.5-litre V6 petrol engine with 263hp and electric motors producing the equivalent of 69hp for a combined total system output of 313hp and 335Nm of torque.

Electrical energy is stored in a nickel metal-hydride battery of the same size and weight as the previous RX's, but with a more advanced system to control how it meters out its power.

By no means does it feel like a particularly slow car when you press on. The engine does get vocal if you ask a lot from it, but that’s due more to the Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT) gearbox which keeps the engine at high revs when accelerating hard – the good news is you get the smooth roar of a V6 petrol, rather than the droney four-pot of a Toyota Prius.

2019 Lexus RX front front white

There’s a surge of acceleration available if you do need to overtake, and setting off from a standstill will mean a 0-62mph time of 7.7 seconds with a top speed of 124mph. – the electric motors helping to provide almost instant torque for when you need faster responses.

But it’s when driving slowly and sedately that the 450h makes most sense. It’s a joy to potter around in, trying your best to use the two miles of full-electric range to your advantage – the changes between running in pure EV mode and hybrid are fairly subtle, too.

There’s a choice of drive modes to select as well, no matter which model of RX you go for. Each mode alters the throttle response and engine output for varied driving – with Normal, Eco and Sport modes available, with tweaks to the suspension made on models further up the range. Higher-spec cars also get the option of Sport S and Sport S+.

There’s also an EV switch located next to the dial for the driving modes, to run the car in pure EV mode if there’s enough charge in the battery.

Engines no longer available

When the RX was launched, Lexus introduced a turbocharged petrol engine to the line-up, dubbed the 200t. It was combined with a six-speed automatic gearbox that was slow to react and didn’t show off the engine in its best light.

It pulls strongly in gear, but if you demand too much from its 238hp/350Nm output, you’ll have to wait for the gearbox to catch up with what you’re asking of it.

It doesn’t sound as good as the hybrid when you put your foot down either, which is a shame. It also doesn’t have the low running costs to match the 450h, despite its lower list price at the time.

Finally, with a 0-62mph time of 9.2 seconds, it’s not as nippy as the hybrid and is hard to recommend unless you want a cheaper entry point to RX ownership. The petrol models don’t hold their value as well as the hybrids.

Handling

  • Several chassis options are available
  • Handles well for such a big car
  • Not as sharp as a BMW X5, though

If cornering performance is something that matters to you, you’re probably looking at the wrong type of car. A high-riding SUV is always going to be flawed in this sense when compared with a saloon or estate, and it’s no different with the RX – although improvements were made for the 202 model year.

Still, that isn’t to say it’s a bad thing to drive through a corner. The weight over the rear of the car thanks to the hybrid system means it displays quite a confidence-inspiring and settled feel in the bends, but there’s only so much Lexus can do to disguise the weight of the RX.

The electronically assisted steering feels accurate enough, if lacking in any sort of feedback. It feels fairly light and uninvolving, though its weighting can be ramped up if you switch the Drive Mode Select control to Sport.

2019 Lexus RX rear white driving

But still, there’s very little communication with what’s going on where the tyres meet the road, making the RX very much a car to waft around in rather than thrash through a series of twisty roads.

Two suspension set-ups are available – standard and Adaptive Variable Suspension (AVS). The latter comes as standard on range-topping models.

It adapts to the road conditions automatically using a valve system in the dampers, or can be controlled into a sportier set-up by selecting one of the various drive modes through the Drive Mode Select system. Again, this is only on higher-spec cars.

Improvements to handling made in 2020

For the mid-life update Lexus targeted better handling stability, with improved ride comfort to give the driver a better connection with the driving process.

This mainly revolves around increasing body rigidity thanks to laser screw welding, additional spot welds and high-strength adhesive at key points around the chassis.

Chassis tweaks include a new, stiffer rear anti-roll bar, plus something called a Friction Control Device in the shock absorbers to help neutralise small imperfections in the road.

A new version of the Adaptive Variable Suspension taken from the LC coupe is included, plus the vehicle’s stability control has been upgraded with Active Cornering Assist, a system that helps the car follow its line in faster cornering.

Does it work? Well the Lexus RX is still not a patch on something like a Porsche Cayenne, but it certainly feels planted and grippy, reacting predictably to driver inputs on the steering wheel and brakes.