2016 Lexus RX 450 Hybrid: Is it Worth the Higher Price Tag?

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Micah Wright/Autos Cheat Sheet

Micah Wright/Autos Cheat Sheet

Back when I got the chance to gallivant around the back roads of Raleigh, North Carolina in the 2016 Lexus RX 350 F Sport, I was offered the chance to take the 450H Hybrid version of the vehicle for a spin shortly after. While the notion of a performance-oriented hybridized SUV is sort of a non sequitur, believe me when I say that my ass was genuinely enthusiastic about driving this car: And there are two very good reasons why.

First of all, it has been nearly five years since the last generation of the RX first rolled out. While that refresh is certainly appreciated, this is the first time a full-blown F Sport model is being paired with a hybrid powerplant. Secondly, the new 450H is supposedly no slouch, so getting the chance to drive a hybrid that is more powerful than its gasoline-huffing brethren certainly inspired me to say “yes” to a set of car keys that autumn afternoon.

Micah Wright/Autos Cheat Sheet

Micah Wright/Autos Cheat Sheet

As cliche as it sounds, automakers really are beginning to focus on the Millennial male demographic with both their marketing dollars and the cars they create. Redesigned to offer what Lexus calls a “driver oriented” experience, the 450H in F Sport trim looks strikingly like its RX 350 sibling in almost every way, sitting atop a buffer stance, with wildly angled lines everywhere.

But while the exterior may look super similar to what we’ve already covered, it’s the drive that really sets the 450H apart from the pack. It offers more power, tech, and attitude than all the other RX models out there. Double-wishbone rear suspension and thicker sway bars remain, as do lightweight aluminum hoods and rear hatches, so the 450H is every bit the contender for the welterweight belt. Just like the new RX 350, this version has on-demand all-wheel drive, eight gears that automatically deny shift points for swifter corner exit speeds when in Sport Mode, and self-dampening suspension for a crisper ride, with all that being driven by more power. Did I mention that this thing was a hybrid?

Tired of people poking fun claiming they make soft, safe, overly feminine automobiles, Lexus has finally extended two stiff middle fingers to the notion of old and has gone from blending in to standing out in no time flat. While some critics and consumers may abhor the new styling, there is no way anyone can say it’s boring or not unique. The luxury Japanese automaker has morphed its vehicles into far more aggressive beasts, and many of them have the teeth to prove it. Top all of that with Toyota-grade reliability, mountains of tech and safety, more creature comforts than the Queen’s boudoir, and numerous performance tweaks, and you have one hell of a luxury SUV on your hands.

Micah Wright/Autos Cheat Sheet

Micah Wright/Autos Cheat Sheet

Exterior

Much like the RX 350, the 450H F Sport has more lines on its face than Tony Montana. Love it or hate it, all of those aggressive angles aren’t likely to disappear anytime soon, and with Lexus/Toyota’s new-found love affair with the floating roofline showing up on the next-gen Prius, haters are going to see an onslaught of offensive vehicles on our roads mid-next spring. Personally, I dig how the rocker panels blend fluidly up into the fully functional rear spoiler and how the brushed metallic plastic trim is well-placed and proportioned.

Micah Wright/Autos Cheat Sheet

Micah Wright/Autos Cheat Sheet

Exterior pros and cons

+ Just like all other modern F Sport models, the 450H has an aggressive, angular front fascia, LED lights front and rear, and brushed metallic plastic trim pieces in just the right places.

+ That floating roofline looks fantastic on the RX, and once accompanied by the car’s broader stance it really redefines the badge.

+ In the back, the rear spoiler has been redesigned to reduce drag and look good while doing so, while “crackled glass” LED-tubed taillights beneath it add extra flare.

– Some people really dislike Lexus’ new-found scowling front fascias, so the redesigned body may turn a lot of people off.

– Being a hybrid, Lexus thought it was wise to hide the exhaust on this car entirely, a move that makes the rear end look rather empty, and not very F-Sportsmanlike.

– Lexus’s choice to utilize interchangeable wheel inserts is interesting to say the least, but many of their rim choices leave something to the imagination, so don’t be surprised if buyers end up opting for quality aftermarket alloy rollers down the line.

Micah Wright/Autos Cheat Sheet

Micah Wright/Autos Cheat Sheet

Powertrain

With 308 horsepower at the ready, the RX 450H has 18 more ponies than its petrol-powered baby brother, and with the hybrid’s hidden electric battery sending power to all four wheels almost instantaneously, it’s pretty obvious as to the validity of this statement. Getting a 30 mile per gallon average in all-wheel drive trim isn’t half bad either, and once you add Sport+ mode to the configuration for burning through all eight available gears, you probably won’t feel like you’re in a hybrid SUV anymore. Combine all that with a high-pressure fuel system that is both port and direct injected for increased fuel savings and tire slaying, a computer that holds gears for faster cornering, and a dynamic torque control system that can distribute power completely to one side, and you have our undivided attention.

Micah Wright/Autos Cheat Sheet

Micah Wright/Autos Cheat Sheet

Powertrain pros and cons

+ The 450H’s hybridized V6 gives us 308 horsepower and uses a combination of port and direct injection so that drivers can use regular unleaded.

+ Controlled and completely predictable, the eight-speed automatic transmission shifts the way a Lexus should, but put it in Sport+ mode and get ahold of those paddle shifters and you will discover exactly how much fun this SUV can be.

+ Just like the redesigned RX 350 F Sport, the 450H showcases space-age features like an on-demand all-wheel drive system, and a “G-AI” control system that gives Sport+ fanatics the ability to hold gears through a turn in order to keep revs up for swifter exit speeds.

– While more power and better fuel economy can be had from the hybrid version, its battery is still quite heavy  likely negating the added oomph you see on paper.

– While utilizing the SUV’s variable cruise control, there’s a lack of acceleration smoothness where the computer and the powertrain seem to overreact to fluctuations in speed, causing the ride to be slightly less Lexus-like than expected.

– The hybrid model is super pricey compared to its gasoline counterpart  so much so that you might not see the price disparity close during your tenure with it.

Micah Wright/Autos Cheat Sheet

Micah Wright/Autos Cheat Sheet

Interior

After driving the dated-looking outgoing model, and then piling into the fourth generation RX, it’s the quality of the cabin that is probably the most drastically improved. I am dead serious when I say that the RX has to have one of the nicest stock interiors I’ve seen in person all year, and while all that red leather on this particular model may not be to everyone’s liking, it certainly casts a striking light on what a hybrid SUV can offer.

Long gone are the perforated leather seats, the gear selector is back where it belongs, every ounce of interior trim feels top notch, legroom and headroom are amply available, controls are appropriately placed and solid-feeling, and let’s not forget those heated/vented F Sport seats. Lexus reportedly came up with its own form of injection molding for its F Sport seats, and once stitched together with the help of a $60,000 sewing machine, your ass will agree that they are some of the greatest creations since the dawn of the easy-chair. Oh, and let’s not forget that Lexus has brought back the sunglasses holder for this generation, something I personally bitch about in every car that does not come equipped with one.

Micah Wright/Autos Cheat Sheet

Micah Wright/Autos Cheat Sheet

Interior pros and cons

+ LED ambient lighting, acoustic glass, hand-stitched dash trim pieces, Supele wood from Africa overlapped with aluminum, and a tablet storage nook on the passenger’s side of the center stack all showcase an attention to detail and design.

+ The front cup-holders are depth-adjustable in order to hold massive, American-sized beverages, and they are retractable as well. Groovy.

+ Between the panoramic sunroof, those aluminum sport pedals, the uniquely customizable F Sport digital gauges, and all of the cabin’s soft touch materials  this interior rules.

– The center console storage and glovebox are both a bit on the snug side, so making them both larger would be helpful.

– Those snorkels that feed into the inner front parts of the doors are a huge eyesore every time the door opens. Lexus needs to either reshape them or add a grille cover of some kind so they aren’t nearly as eye-scathingly ugly.

– Just like the new RX 350, the rear seats in this car refuse to fold down flat and are not heated. This may not be a deal breaker for some, but when winter hits, and that leather is colder than snowman snot, you’ll be wishing they were heated.

Micah Wright/Autos Cheat Sheet

Micah Wright/Autos Cheat Sheet

Tech and safety

Like all other modern Toyotas, the redesigned Lexus RX line is a technological monolith. From cutting-edge safety equipment and accident mitigation to next-level tech no one would expect, this heavy-hitting laptop on wheels has plenty of options to keep even the nerdiest of computer geeks enthralled on a road trip.

Drivers can track where their power is going via the full-color energy monitor on the car’s massive 12.3-inch center stack display, and instead of utilizing a tachometer, the hybrid model has a “power meter,” which can be swapped-out at the push of a button for one of many other MID options. Out back, a $200 upgrade will give buyers the ability to open the rear hatch by placing either their hand or elbow in front of the Lexus emblem instead of standing on one foot and waving it around and doing the hokey-pokey in the parking lot. A “sway warning” lives in the gauge cluster and reads driving habits and will warn drowsy drivers that they are drifting off with a warning light and an alarm, and once coupled with 360-degree camera views, LED cornering lamps, and a heads-up display that is completely customizable, drivers will have it all at their fingertips.

Micah Wright/Autos Cheat Sheet

Micah Wright/Autos Cheat Sheet

Tech pros and cons

+ Safety-wise, the RX 450H has everything from lane keep assist/correction and variable cruise control, to automatic braking with pedestrian detection and 360° camera views. Dynamic cruise control, blind spot monitoring, and cross-traffic detection also make an appearance on this model.

+ Having a 12.3-inch display that is tablet-sized and can be split in two is fantastic. But having a heads-up display that is 362% bigger than the old one and is completely customizable, well, that’s just sublime.

+ The version of the 450H I drove came equipped with a fifteen speaker Mark Levinson sound system that pushed 835 watts, and rocked both Clari-Fi and GreenEdge technologies for deeper lows and crisper mids across the mixing board. Add the optional dual 11.6-inch rear entertainment screens with auxiliary plugs and adjustable angles, and you’ve got the ultimate road trip automobile on your hands.

– No Apple CarPlay or Android Auto … yet.

– Pedestrian avoidance systems only detect humans that are over three feet tall. So dodging Oompa Loompas still has to be done the old fashioned way.

– For as fantastic as that tablet-sized display is, Lexus did not make it touch sensitive. The ability to pinch and zoom is a huge selling point for some car buyers.

Micah Wright/Autos Cheat Sheet

Micah Wright/Autos Cheat Sheet

The drive

So what if the Lexus RX 450H is a hybrid? The chassis is now a stiffer, more agile, double-wishboned animal, and in Sport+ mode the dampers and steering firm up just like the IS200t did on the track a while back. Who cares if the torque curve isn’t Ferrari-grade, that the spring rates are softer, or that power barely crests the 300 horsepower mark? When compared to the outgoing model, this version is the new high-water mark.

Featuring a clever eight-speed transmission, a slew of electronic control systems, solid all-around visibility, and a sport-inspired steering wheel from the insane LFA, the fourth generation RX may be one of the most balanced SUVs I have ever driven. So slap it into Eco Mode and enjoy a jump in fuel efficiency the moment that rear differential disengages, allowing the RX to run exclusively on its front axles while variable cruise control allows you to follow someone else at a pre-selected distance. Much like the RX 350 F Sport, it’s a joy to drive if you aren’t obsessed with big brake packages, high horsepower forced-induction engines, or extreme off-road prowess. From a simple drivability standpoint, the hybrid 450H F Sport is also an extremely approachable option for the majority of well-off individuals, and since it runs on regular unleaded, they can now cheat the pump all the more.

Micah Wright/Autos Cheat Sheet

Micah Wright/Autos Cheat Sheet

 Wrap up and review

After three hours of thrashing the RX 350 F Sport in the foothills of North Carolina, how did the 450H variant fair in comparison? Both vehicles feature superb driving dynamics, more power than ever before, a re-crafted interior that borderlines on being astronomically good, and enough tech and safety to keep even the most discerning luxury snob satisfied. It’s a car that has been redesigned from the ground up, and by opting for the F Sport model you’ll get adaptive dampers that have been inspired by race cars, adjustable electronic power steering that firms up at the twist of a knob, and all of those one-off seats, sport pedals, and specialty gauges for reaffirming your suspicion that this was the appropriate purchase.

The only serious downside I can see with this version is that with a starting price of $57,045 for a basic F Sport model, it’s well over $13,000 more than the 350 F Sport. Sure, you will get better fuel gains, but in order to get thirteen grand in gas savings you will have to drive the ever-loving piss out of this thing. So would I suggest the RX 450H in F Sport trim over an equally well-equipped 350 version? Only if you don’t mind the steep price tag, which shouldn’t be an issue for many members of the freshly-minted Millennial demographic Lexus is appealing to.

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