Lexus RX450h makes a case for hybrids in SA
As the luxury arm of Toyota, it has always baffled the team here at AutoAdvisor that Lexus registers low sales volumes locally when Toyota products jostle for the top spot on the sales charts monthly. With Lexus committing to increasing its hybrid vehicle line-up in South Africa shortly, our recent experience with the RX450H gave some insight into what these fuel savers offer in the way of luxury.
The exterior design of the RX is striking, to say the least, with a mixture of sharp angles, prominent angles and of course, the signature spindle grille which make this one of the most recognisable shapes in the segment. Being the updated model, the refreshed RX features repositioned fog lamps and slimmer headlights up front while at the rear there’s a redesigned lower bumper as well as reshaped rear lights complete with the L-motif. The press car was finished in one of two new colours available within the range; Nori Green Pearl is the name of the hue, while the other is called Moonbeam Beige Metallic.
Inside the RX450h
Being the range flagship, the RX450h is a rather nice place in which to spend your time, with our test car’s caramel-coloured leather adding a touch of class to the scene. Dominating the interior aesthetic is a 12.3-inch central display juxtaposed by an analogue clock housed below, creating a mixed bag of modernity with the sort of retro charm. The aforementioned infotainment system also features Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, which is handy because making use of the regular system with the touchpad behind the gear lever proves irksome, to say the least. Other niceties on board the test unit was a 15-speaker Mark Levinson sound system, a head-up display, a surround-view camera system for parking scenarios, adaptive cruise control, a lane-keeping aid, blind spot assist, climate control and 10 airbags to name a few.
With Europe, the United States of America and China all leading the push towards electric cars, we feel that from a South African context, hybrid vehicles may be the right step towards getting local motorists on board with electric vehicles. With our electricity supply issues, getting consumer faith in electric cars is key while simultaneously setting-up charging infrastructure in the process. The hybrid vehicle introduces an electric element into a person’s car, better equipping them for a potential transition in the future.
A hybrid, as its name suggests, makes use of two power sources, which in the case of the Lexus RX 450h is an electric motor and a naturally aspirated V6 that combine to produce 230kW and 335 N.m+ e which is slightly superior to the non-hybrid RX 350 F-Sport which produces 221 kW and 370 N.m. The big difference comes in the fuel consumption and CO2 emissions between the two cars, where the hybrid uses a claimed 5.7 L/100km while emitting 131 g/km of CO2 versus the petrol model’s 9.6 L/100km and 223 g/km of CO2.
Why is this important in vehicles that cost between R1.1 and R1.4-million you ask? Although those with the means to afford the car won’t care much for fuel consumption, the fact that one can derive better performance while lowering inner-city emissions without sacrificing luxury in the process means that hybrids provide a good alternative, especially because emissions regulations are only getting more stringent by the year.
Quoting the claimed figures from Lexus is one thing, but it’s the real-world consumption that counts. It’s also important to ascertain whether the vehicle transfers its hybrid technology into improving the RX not only from a performance and efficiency perspective but importantly from a luxury perspective. In terms of efficiency, if you’re not going after it every time you drive, a consumption figure between 7.2 and 7.8 L/100km is achievable, which is respectable for a V6 SUV. On a side note, Lexus claims that it sticks with the atmospheric V6 in the RX because it provides a smooth driving experience.
This is a solid segue in our next point, which is how the V6 engine combines with the electric motor and the CVT gearbox to enhance the RX’s ease of use. At low speed, the RX whispers along in EV mode, only firing-up the V6 when needed, which is well-balanced enough to not intrude upon your experience. Where the ‘regular’ RX models make use of an effective 8-speed automatic gearbox, the CVT in the 450h suits its hybrid powertrain and overall demeanour better. The refined powertrain combined with the impeccable sound deadening and solid build quality makes the RX a beautiful automotive isolation tank in which to cover many, many kilometres. The easiest proof of the RX's exceptional build quality is to make use of the electric windows, which operate so smoothly, it evoked a sense of wonder among all that experienced it.
At R1 368 900, The RX 450h finds itself going against segment-leaders such as the BMW X5 ,Mercedes-Benz GLE. Audi’s Q7 and Volkswagen’s Touareg. In many ways the Lexus finds itself between the proverbial rock and a hard place, however, those who take the plunge will have a refined, beautifully built and endlessly reliable luxury SUV.