Hitting the Marks: Comfort, Technology and Fuel Economy
Clean Fleet Report drives a wide variety of cars, trucks, vans and SUVs. Occasionally we get comments when one of them has an especially unique design feature. Welcome to the 2016 Lexus RX 450h. As part of its all-new design, the 450h has a front end that, at the minimum, is a head turner. More on the new front end design later. There is a lot more to this SUV than its look-at-me looks.
The front-wheel drive (AWD is an option) 2016 Lexus RX 450h is powered by Lexus Hybrid Synergy Drive, a parallel hybrid system that includes a 3.5L, 24-valve double overhead cam (DOHC)
gasoline-powered, V6 engine and a 123-kW electric motor, both driving the front wheels. The 3.5L puts out 259 hp and 247 lb-ft of torque while the electric motor adds 165 hp; Lexus rated the combined system output at 308 hp. The rest of the powertrain is a Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT) that helps deliver great fuel economy. The RX 450h is rated at 31 city/30 highway/30 combined mpg. Running on 91 octane unleaded, I drove 546 miles and averaged 30.2 mpg, which for a SUV of this size and weight (4,608 lbs.) was a very pleasant experience.
The Lexus Hybrid Drive system automatically switches between the electric drive mode, combined electric/gasoline engine, and gasoline-only engine power. The transitions are seamless and smooth and can be monitored by viewing the dash gauges. When driving a hybrid I like the option to select the electric-only mode, especially when cruising around town in stop and go traffic. The RX 450h has this option, but for the most part it is unnecessary to manually select the electric-only mode as the computer gets the RX 450h into EV mode at the correct times.
The hybrid system’s nickel-metal hydride (Ni-MH) battery is charged by the engine and through the regenerative braking system, which converts kinetic energy into electric energy and stores it in the battery when applying the brakes or coasting. This process can also be viewed on a dash gauge where you can watch the power flow into and out of the battery and engine.
Drive Mode Select on the RX 450h allows the driver to choose between ECO, Normal, Sport, Sport S and Sport S+, and the before mentioned EV. With all these settings I spent most of my time in ECO, which optimized throttle response for the best fuel economy. Even when opting for the Sport modes, I would never consider the RX 450h to be fast off the line, so cruising long, comfortable distances is where the RX 450h shines.
Driving Experience: On the Road
The 2016 Lexus RX 450h FWD is very comfortable to drive and oh-so quiet, but at times it would begin to float when the road undulations and rhythm were just right. A brief lifting of the
accelerator remedied this sensation and all was good again. The front MacPherson struts with coil springs, and a double wishbone rear suspension, were mated to the rack and pinion electronic power assist steering. At times the steering was too light and easily could be stiffer, which would not compromise any of the ride attributes.
Our Lexus RX 450h, with the Luxury Package, came with 20-inch, five-spoke chrome alloy wheels with machined finish and 235/55R20 all season tires. Hard or spirited cornering revealed understeer and body lean, which really isn’t unexpected from a vehicle that is meant for family transportation and highway cruising.
Stopping comes from an Electronically Controlled Brake System (ECB) that incorporates regenerative control and power-assisted, four-wheel disc brakes with ABS and Electronic Brake force Distribution (EBD). The stops were straight and consistent, with the brakes being a bit grabby when the RX 450h was cold, but worked as expected once driven for just a few miles. If not used to it, when coming to a stop the combination of the regenerative braking and the hybrid motor made a noticeable, but not unpleasant, whine.
Driving Experience: Exterior
Now, back to that new front-end design that features the largest grill this side of a Freightliner truck. The Lexus RX 450h, redesigned for 2016, is a five-passenger midsize SUV that will remind you of driving a tall car. The sleek flowing design that Lexus calls “elegant and modern, with expressive, athletic lines…and a hint of seductiveness” is dominated by the “spindle” grill that has attractive chrome border strips and is framed by L-shaped LED headlamps. Personally, I like the new front-end design, but then I also like the Nissan Juke, so go take a look for yourself and see if the RX 450h grill is too bold for your taste.
Otherwise, the new RX 450h has been lengthened overall by 4.7-inches and the wheelbase by two inches, which provides increased cabin space and legroom resulting in a less boxy look with softer lines and edges. The roofline has been lowered and the C pillars blacked-out, resulting in a more aerodynamic look and feel. Lexus has thankfully stayed away from an overabundance of chrome bits and pieces while adding three new colors—Caviar, Autumn Shimmer and Nightfall Mica. Our test car was in Eminent White Pearl, one of 10 color choices for 2016. I am guessing coming up with color names is one of the best jobs on the design team!
Driving Experience: Interior
Clean Fleet Report’s RX 450h had the optional Luxury Package, equipping our car with everything that is expected of a luxury SUV. Among the first thing new car buyers consider are the comfort level and view from the seats:
- Are the controls convenient and easy to reach and use?
- Are the gauges easy to see and read?
Lexus has done an excellent job of designing an interior with high craftsmanship and attention to detail. It begins with the leather-trimmed, power 10-way adjustable, heated and ventilated driver and passenger seats. They also feature the Lexus Easy Exit feature that automatically moves the driver’s seat back when exiting and entering the car, the multi-function wood and leather heated steering wheel (with a power tilt and telescoping column) that has controls for the audio, telephone and voice controls. It made it easy for the driver to find a comfortable seating position.
The rear cabin has a 40/20/40 folding and reclining heated seat that is power-operated, with integrated rear door sunshades, climate controls and folding armrests and cup holders. An option not on our RX 450h is a rear seat entertainment system with two, 11.6-inch LCD displays, RCA jacks, Bluetooth, 120V AC outlet, remote control and wireless headphones, so there is no issue with a single screen having to be shared by rear seat passengers.
The RX 450h infotainment (entertainment and information) system sports the Lexus 12-speaker Premium Audio System that features a 12.3-inch color touchscreen display, whose size is
surpassed only by the 17-inch display found in a Tesla S. It took a bit of driver attention to operate the Remote Touch Controller, but overall it worked well for the navigation, Siri Eyes Free, SiriusXM/FM/CD/HDAM radio with iPod/MP3 playback capability. The FM/AMHD is a cache radio that offers the ability to pause and playback ten minutes of programming. The SiriusXM service is included for 90 days. There is an auxiliary audio jack, USB port, music streaming via Bluetooth wireless technology and hands-free phone capability. The auto-dimming rearview mirror was Homelink equipped and the voice activation for the telephone and navigation worked well.
The cockpit design is driver friendly featuring a dual-zone automatic climate system and a center console huge enough to swallow-up pretty much anything you want to store away, to be out of sight for security reasons. The interior also has a power tilt and sliding moonroof, touch-free power lift gate, power windows, door locks and mirrors, electronic parking brake, Smart Access with push button stop/start, 12V power outlets, folding heated power side mirrors, cruise control and multiple cup holders.
The RX 450h is well-equipped with active and passive safety features including 10 air bags, tire pressure monitoring system, rain-sensing wipers, intuitive parking assist, hill start control, anti-theft alarm and engine immobilizer, rear-view camera, blind spot monitor with rear cross-traffic alert and the previously mentioned four-wheel disc brakes with ABS.
The 2016 Lexus RX 450h has earned the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) Top Safety Pick, while the U.S. Government’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has not rated the 2016 RX 450h.
Pricing & Warranties
The 2016 Lexus RX 450h FWD has a base MSRP of $52,235. With options, our test car was priced at $59,880. All prices do not include the $940 delivery, processing and handling Fee.
The 2016 Lexus RX 450h comes with these warranties:
- Powertrain – Five years/60,000 miles
- Hybrid-related Component Coverage – Eight years/100,000 miles
- Comprehensive – Three years/36,000 miles
- Corrosion Perforation – Five years/Unlimited miles
- Roadside Assistance – Five years/60,000 miles
Observations: 2016 Lexus RX 450h FWD
The Lexus RX 450h FWD was completely redesigned for 2016—resulting in a very contemporary design that stands out among the fierce competition in the midsize luxury SUV market. The hybrid power provides impressive fuel economy that is greatly appreciated for a vehicle of this size and weight.
The interior is elegant, comfortable, and spacious and built for long trips and outings. The carrying capacity makes hauling luggage on those long trips easy; the entertainment choices will keep the rear seat passengers occupied for miles and miles and hours and hours on the road.
If your family has grown to the point where a vehicle of this size and cost fits your needs, then by all means visit your Lexus dealership. Have them walk you through all the features, technology and options. Especially take time to have them explain the hybrid technology in detail. There are times in life when treating yourself to a bit of luxury makes a whole lot of sense. Maybe the 2016 Lexus RX 450h FWD does just that for you.
Whatever you end up buying, Happy Driving!
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Clean Fleet Report is loaned free test vehicles from automakers to evaluate, typically for a week at a time. Our road tests are based on this one-week drive of a new vehicle. Because of this we don’t address issues such as long-term reliability or total cost of ownership. In addition we are often invited to manufacturer events highlighting new vehicles or technology. As part of these events we may be offered free transportation, lodging or meals. We do our best to present our unvarnished evaluations of vehicles and news irrespective of these inducements.
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