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Monday, January 20, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Autos

2019 Lexus RX 450hL: Three-row hybrid wraps Lexus virtues in bold new design

Last year, Lexus debuted a long-wheelbase, three-row version of its RX midsize crossover. 

These new “L” models give Lexus an efficient alternative to the company’s two truck-based, three-row SUVs, the midsize GX and full-size LX.

They expand the RX’s lineup to five models: the RX350 ($43,670), the RX 350L ($47,870) and the short-wheel-base-only F Sport ($51,595). A pair of all-wheel-drive hybrids — the RX 450h ($46,095) and RX 450hL ($50,620) — complete the roster.
 
Last year, this formidable five-some outsold all other luxury crossovers in the U.S. 

Lexus buyers are good with change

The popularity of the RX signals that Lexus buyers are down with change. Or that Lexus has found the key to enticing younger buyers. For, after years of hewing to a cautious design strategy, Lexus has struck out for bolder territory. 

With its mix of sharp creases and curves, the RX strikes a particularly dramatic pose. Front and center is Lexus’s signature — and polarizing — spindle grille. It’s rimmed in chrome and set into a jigsaw riot of sharply drawn headlights and fog-lamp enclosures.

The RX’s sloping roofline terminates in a steeply canted rear window. 

Inside, the cabin is finished in soft, stitched simulated leather and either textured metallic or wood trim. Materials quality and fit and finish are beyond reproach.

A playful vibe

An infotainment display screen perches atop a tiered dash whose raffish lines bring a playful vibe.

The driver sits lower in the RX than in most crossovers, easing ingress and egress and enhancing the driver’s sense of connectedness with the road and with the vehicle. Seats are large, supportive and comfortable. 

Full-size folks will find lots to like in the first and second rows, though the sloping roofline may make things tight for taller second-row passengers. The third row qualifies only as kid-friendly territory, and a snug one at that.

Standard RX features include keyless ignition and entry;  dual-zone automatic climate control; automatic LED headlights, with automatic high beams; rear privacy glass, a power liftgate, power-adjustable front seats, a power-adjustable steering wheel; a retractable cargo cover and 18-inch wheels,

Ergonomic lapses disappoint

Safety gear includes adaptive cruise control, lane departure warning and intervention and forward collision warning and mitigation with automatic emergency braking. 

An 8-inch display screen is standard. Ordering in-dash navigation fetches a 12.3-inch screen, a 12-speaker audio system (up from nine), a DVD/CD player and assorted web-based audio services.

A very good Mark Levinson premium 15-speaker audio system is optional.

A handful of ergonomics lapses haunt the RX. The mouse-like Remote Touch input device is difficult to use in any circumstance and darn near impossible when humming down the road at 70 mph. 

The Remote Touch controller and the shift lever jostle for space on the center console, leaving scant room for casual storage.

F Sport is performance outlier

A 295-horsepower 3.5-liter V-6 powers RX 350 models, which are available in FWD and AWD configurations. 

In the RX 450h, the V-6 is mated with three electric motor generators, one for each front wheel and another that controls the rear wheels. The system produces 308 horsepower and delivers it to the wheels via a continuously variable transmission.

It wants premium gas but earns EPA ratings of 29 combined/29 city/28 highway. An AWD 350 comes in at 22/19/26.

The RX family looks speedy, but isn’t. An AWD RX 350 cracks the 0-60 sprint in the low-7-second range; the 450h needs another click or two.

There is a  performance-oriented outlier in the RX stable. The F Sport trim ($51,745) gets a sport-tuned suspension (but no power bump) that runs adaptive dampers and reduces ride height. F Sport models handle more sharply than their brethren, but at the expense of ride quality. 

We tested a 2019 RX 450hL Luxury ($54,655). In addition to standard AWD, 450hL strengths include its well-furnished cabin, creamy ride and well-controlled body motions. Its CVT is so well-integrated into the hybrid flow that it only rarely lapses into the familiar CVT drone.

In both forms — RX 350 and RX 450 — the RX clings to traditional Toyota virtues, but wraps them in a dynamic new design language. 

Questions or comments? Contact Don at don@dadair.com.

2019 Lexus RX 450hL AWD Luxury
Vehicle base price: $43,670
Trim level base price: $54,655
As tested: $63,765 (includes destination and handling)
Options included blind-spot monitor; panoramic-view monitor; windshield wiper deicer; headlamp cleaner; triple-beam LED auto-leveling headlights; 12.3-inch navigation screen; Mark Levinson premium audio system.
Tow rating: 3500 lb., RX 350 only; RX 450 is not rated.
EPA rating: 29 combined/29 city/28 highway
Premium gasoline specified
 



Don Adair
Don Adair is a Spokane-based freelance writer.