Lexus redesigned its RX 450h for 2010, but you wouldn't know it at first glance, as it maintains its familiar shape. Once I'd spent some time with the RX 450h, I realized there's a multitude of minor changes and upgrades that make a huge difference in this hybrid crossover.
With 295 horsepower, the RX 450h (the "h" is for hybrid, naturally) is more powerful than its traditional gas-powered sibling, the RX 350 (275 hp). The RX 450h has a V-6 engine like the RX 350, but the hybrid's engine is assisted by electric motor generators. The front-wheel-drive RX 450h gets an EPA-estimated 32/28 mpg city/highway; the rear-wheel-drive version gets 30/28 mpg. The RX 450h's price wasn't available as of publication; it'll hit dealerships in midsummer.
I could have easily gotten into trouble driving this fun hybrid. The crossover handles like a sport sedan, with absolutely no roly-poly feeling, even on twisty mountain roads. It's super quiet and an absolute joy to drive.
It also has a super-cool infotainment system that responds to voice commands and actual whining. I'm serious here, folks. Press a button to engage the microphone and let your kid whine, "I'm cold!" and the RX will bump the climate control up by two degrees. I tried it, and it works. You can also tell it "I want Japanese food," and the navigation system will search for local restaurants. It's like your own little butler. What's not to love? Well, I didn't love the RX 450h's Remote Touch system, which uses a joystick-like controller for the navigation system.
I loved the RX 450h's comfort, features and how well it fit my kids and all our stuff, but when it was time to return my test car, it was the drive that I really hated to let go of.
After spending some time with the RX 450h, I started to see the differences between the 2008 RX 400h and the 2010 RX 450h (Lexus didn't release an RX 400h for 2009). The RX 450h is less rounded and bubbly than its predecessor. It's also a bit wider and seems to sit lower on the road, but that's just because of its headlight placement and hood sculpting.
From the front, the RX 450h looks bolder and stronger, but still elegant. That's really what's lovely about the RX 450h: It doesn't look like an SUV or a family-hauler. It's a beautiful car, especially in the gorgeous Truffle Mica paint of my test crossover.
The RX 450h's profile is similar to the RX 400h's. The roof-mounted spoiler is a bit stronger and hides the rear wiper, and Lexus has added a small "shark-fin" antenna. The door handles are now body-colored, but there's new chrome trim around the windows and along the door bottoms. There's also a discreet hybrid badge that sits near the lower chrome strip.
The headlights not only turn on and off automatically, but the high beams automatically switch to low beams when another vehicle is sensed by a camera mounted to the rearview mirror. The side mirrors have LED turn-signal indicators, and the brake lights and taillights are LEDs, too.
The SmartAccess keyless entry system was one of my favorite new features because it freed up my hands. The key stays in your pocket or purse, and the doors unlock by themselves when you reach for them. There's a button on the keyfob to open the power rear liftgate, and a button in the cargo area to close it. I love magic buttons that do all my dirty work. If only I had one to fold my laundry, too. Maybe Lexus is working on that.
SENSE AND STYLE
Family Friendly (Not Really, Fair, Great, Excellent): Excellent
Fun-Factor (None, Some, Good Times, Groove-On): Groove On
The RX 450h's power-adjustable leather seats are now wider, and the information screen is better lit. The dash and center stack are sleek-looking, with a sci-fi feel to them. Thankfully, there's a lovely walnut trim to keep things grounded.
Instead of a touch-screen, the RX 450h has the Remote Touch system. This uses a joystick-like controller on the center console to control the navigation system. You maneuver the joystick, which moves an arrow over different icons, to do everything from play music and enter navigation information to set personal door-lock preferences. The joystick has a tactile feedback function, kind of like a Wii remote. It gives different resistance levels depending on where the arrow is on the screen, so you know whether you're on an icon or not. It's pretty cool, but I'm not in love with it. Remote Touch doesn't control everything, so you still have to reach up to the control stack or use voice commands. If you want to set the climate control, you can change the airflow using Remote Touch, but you need to use the buttons on the center stack to set the temperature. Or you can use voice commands to set the temperature, but you'll have to jump through some menu hoops to get there.
The backseat is less confusing. The wide, flat seat fits three booster seats easily, and the seat reclines and slides backward. There's also flat step-in areas that make it easy for kiddos to climb in and out. The seat belt receptacles sit nice and high, and my kids commented on how easy it was to get buckled in. The rear armrest houses two covered cupholders, and there's another covered bin that's great for storing books and crayons or for keeping snacks from rolling around. There are vents in the backseat to keep everybody comfy, and the optional dual-screen DVD entertainment system allows two different inputs to play at the same time. One kid can watch a DVD while the other one plays Xbox, and in the front seat you can listen to music from your iPod. Wow - I may never have to speak to my kids again with that kind of setup.
The rear seats are split 40/20/40, and they fold down easily. Lexus relocated the rear seats' release latch closer to the car's rear, so you don't have to climb inside the cargo area to fold the seats. Aside from the armrest storage area, there are bottleholders, door pockets and a seatback pocket to keep all the kids' stuff close and off the floor. I need the RX 450h's cubbies in their rooms.
IT'S THE LITTLE THINGS THAT COUNT
Storage Compartments (Puny, Fair, Ample, Galore): Ample
Cargo/Trunk Space (Puny, Fair, Ample, Galore): Galore
The RX 450h is chock-full of safety systems. The standard Vehicle Dynamics Integrated Management system controls the hybrid's handling systems, including antilock brakes, brake assist, stability control and traction control. With this system, the brakes, throttle and suspension all "talk" to each other to keep the car going in the right direction.
There's also a Pre-Collision System that preps the seat belts and brakes in the case of an impending collision. This system works with the Dynamic Radar Cruise Control to maintain a safe distance between your car and the car ahead of you.
The Latch connectors were a little buried in the seats, but not completely inaccessible. There's plenty of room in the backseat for rear-facing infant-safety seats, and I didn't have any trouble fitting our booster seat back there.
There are 10 airbags in the RX 450h, including front and side airbags, side curtain airbags for both rows, and knee airbags for the driver and front passenger. A sensor in the front passenger seat turns off the airbag if someone weighing less than 68 pounds is sitting there. The front airbags are dual-stage and twin-chambered, which gives more effective protection. Active front head restraints help protect against whiplash.
In Diapers: A smooth, quiet ride means happy naps for the little ones.
In School: A flat step-in surface and easy-to-use seat belts make independence easy.
Teens: The backseat slides and reclines, and multiple entertainment options let kids of all ages do their own thing.
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