Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicles (PHEVs) have gained newfound notoriety as we slowly introduce electrification into the automotive ecosystem. PHEV technology has evolved, and more manufacturers are realizing that the bridge of PHEVs could prove to be more viable than quickly going all-in on electric vehicles (EVs).
Lexus and Toyota are well intuned to the notion of PHEV and their attractiveness in giving consumers a real taste of EVs but retaining what is loved about the gas engine in avoiding range anxiety. The all-new Lexus RX 450h+ happens to be a PHEV crossover that’s poised to help build that bridge to EVs but without compromising for those who don’t want to fully let go of all that a gas-powered vehicle offers. This week, I had the chance to dive into that pleasure with the new RX PHEV, which happens to be the most expensive RX, but for good reasons.
During my time with the new Lexus RX 450h+ Luxury PHEV, I could not help but to compare it to the new Toyota Prius Prime PHEV, as the vehicles utilize a very similar powertrain setup. However, the RX has quite a bit more power, as it should in being an SUV. What we are working with here is a naturally aspirated 2.5-liter 4-cylinder engine and three electric motors, virtually the same setup as you find in the new Lexus NX 450h+ and Toyota RAV4 Prime. Together, using an 18.1-kWh battery pack, the system outputs a total of 304 horsepower. Unfortunately, Lexus doesn’t publish the torque figures, but I am impressed by how the powertrain gets things moving with urgency, making me guess that the torque figure is probably nearly 400 lb-ft.
On the open road, the Lexus RX 450h+ Luxury feels like the most refined hybrid around, even when the 4-cylinder engine buzzes to life upon heavy acceleration, somewhat hanging onto the higher RPMs thanks to its CVT (continuously variable transmission). In such a setup, where an electric motor helps the front axle and one in the rear provides propulsion for the rear wheels, the RX 450h+ handles itself pretty well without any drama. Acceleration is strong and never lacking as the hybrid system sorts things out as fast as any other hybrid and does it nearly seamlessly without hiccups or instances where you have to wait on the gas engine to fire up. Toyota and Lexus have nearly perfected the hybrid drive system, and the more robust PHEV setup in the RX 450h+ is one of the best I’ve experienced.
Just like the new Toyota Prius PRIME with much less power and the similar powertrain in the Lexus NX 450h+, things are zippy, and you can hit 60 mph consistently in 6 seconds flat, or better if the system already has the gas engine running from a stop. In fact, the RX 450h+ is surprisingly strong, nearly matching the 0-60 mph time of its RX 500h F Sport Performance sibling. Where things differ is the RX 450h+ has much stronger electric motors as it can be driven as a full EV at times.
Speaking of driving as a full EV, just like the new Prius Prime, the RX 450h+ can be driven in full electric mode without worrying of the gas engine firing up. Such a drive mode is the default when the battery has a sufficient charge, and you’re left with a vehicle that’s slightly down on power but provides just enough to keep up with highway traffic yet not use a drop of fuel. The other drive modes, such as the Hybrid Vehicle mode, will actually save the EV battery’s charge and utilize temporary storage for powering its normal hybrid drive. In such a mode, the engine fires up with moderate acceleration, while an Auto EV mode will make the electric power a priority but allows the engine to fire up under heavy throttle. There’s even a charge mode that uses the gas engine to charge up the big battery pack but at the cost of using additional fuel. It’s all a very interesting system that works well. The system works so well that the estimated EV range of 37 miles is attainable in the real world.
Just like my previous reviews of the new Lexus RX in a couple of different trims, there’s a lot to like in how it behaves on the road. With the RX 450h+ Luxury trim, there’s a welcomed elevation of Luxury in how the RX rides, which doesn’t depart far from what I experienced and loved in the new RX platform before. Fundamentally, the RX 450h+ Luxury isn’t overly soft and feels at home for being compliant yet luxurious.
Toyota and Lexus’ long-proven path of hybrid technology pays off well for the Lexus RX 450h+ Luxury. The drivetrain, much like the Toyota Prius Prime’s way of managing energy, gives the driver many options for how they want the system to operate. With that, charging up the battery pack of the Lexus using a Level 2 240-volt charger and the onboard 6.6-kW charger takes about two and a half hours. With a full battery and an electric-only range of 37 miles, you’ll yield 83 MPGe overall when you factor in the hybrid system taking over after the battery has been exhausted. That gives you a pretty decent overall range of nearly 540 miles with the 14.5-gallon fuel tank full of recommended premium unleaded, considering the hybrid drive has a combined economy rating of 35 mpg.
Inside the Lexus RX 450h+ Luxury is a cabin that’s inviting with several soft-touch dashboard surfaces and a nice play on premium perforated leather upholstery, accenting stitching, and additional power adjustments for the front seats such as a power thigh extender. The interior is supple, and having the RX 450h+ Luxury trim, the only way the RX PHEV comes, you get every available luxury amenity offered in the RX lineup along with the option of 21-inch wheels, as found on my loaded-up test vehicle.
As mentioned in my previous reviews of the new Lexus RX, there’s a nice integration of the new 14-inch infotainment touchscreen, but it could benefit from Lexus adding a split screen feature as there is a lot of screen real estate to work with. Still, the system is very straightforward, with a short learning curve and quick response to most functions. The color head-up display becomes an important part of the new RX as the steering wheel function buttons are touch capacitive for relaying on the head-up display which button you are about to press.
The seating area in the rear benefit from the outboard seats getting heating and ventilation, as well as a manual sunshade. To top it all off, the door trim in the RX 450h+ Luxury features suede trim to fit the slightly elevated Luxury theme.
In the expected fashion, the RX 450h+ Luxury bundles up the expected active safety features as part of the vast Lexus Safety System+ 3.0 setup, which includes the highlights of automatic high-beam LED headlights, adaptive cruise control, forward collision warning/mitigation, lane departure warning/mitigation, lane keeping system, rear cross-traffic warning, blind-spot warning, and a clever 360-degree camera system that can display overlayed imagery of what is underneath the vehicle. The unique aspects of the safety system also include traffic jam assist system, a safe-exit system that can prevent a passenger from opening a door into traffic, and a proactive driving assist (PDA) system that uses the front radar to detect vehicles that you are approaching and add gentle braking, or regenerative braking in the case of the RX 450h+ PHEV, to help control the distance between you and the vehicle ahead or slightly reduce speed on approaching curves.
The Lexus RX has certainly grown up and the pricing reflects its maturity, which remains appealing when you consider the collective of what you get in an advanced PHEV SUV. As such, pricing for the new RX 450h+ Luxury starts at $70,580 before any fees or additional options, which are very limited, where my test vehicle lands at $75,930, including the destination charge.