I didn’t expect much from Lexus’ latest hybrid SUV, the 2014 Lexus RX450h. After being disappointed with its sporty sedan brother a few weeks ago, I fully expected to walk away from the RX shaking my head at all the people who ponied up their hard-earned money to make this the best-selling luxury SUV in America. Turns out, those thousands of buyers knew something that, until recently, I didn’t know: the Lexus RX450h is a fantastic vehicle.
There is, quite simply, a lot that Lexus got wrong with the GS450h. Weirdly, almost all of the GS’ shortcomings, as if by magic, are made right in the RX. Let me try to explain …
Lexus RX450h – the Right Look
Where the GS went largely un-noticed, despite its bigmouth bass grille and excessively flash wheels, the Lexus RX450h immediately got the attention of my gear head neighbors. “They’re giving you Lexus’ now?” asked one. “I need to have your job!”
The immediate “nice car” reaction most people had to the RX had nothing to do with a hyper-aggressive grille opening (the RX doesn’t have one) or giant, sporty rims (the RX doesn’t have those, either). It might have something to do with the fact that every generation of Lexus RX looks an awful lot like all the rest of them, however. See, people have spent years being conditioned to equate the RX’ basic design to “Lexus”, and “Lexus” to “nice car”.
Or, maybe, it was the paint. My 2014 Lexus RX450h was painted in Satin Cashmere Metallic, and it looked fantastic. Not quite silver, not quite beige, not quite green, and not quite “champagne”, it was a terrific color that whispered “hybrid” just enough to make me wonder if it was a hybrid-only color (it’s not).
Lexus RX450h – the Right Feel
Inside, the 2014 Lexus RX450h does away with the massive center console of the RWD GS450h, giving it a much more open vibe than the dogfighter/cockpit-like GS. The wood in the RX also seemed to be a bit nicer, and the ridiculous, “me-too” analog clock mounted in the center of the GS’ dash was nowhere to be found.
Every surface of the Lexus RX450h that I touched, from the steering wheel to the center console to the door’s armrest, was soft, and felt like it was built of quality stuff. The Lexus Enform infotainment system, also, was significantly less painful to operate in the RX than in the GS. So much so, in fact, that I’m now totally convinced that there was something seriously wrong with the unit mounted in the GS. Still, it was a long, long way from perfect.
For starters, using the center console-mounted mouse thing in the Lexus RX450h requires you to take your eyes off the road and focus on the infotainment screen. That’s because there’s no real haptic difference between the feeling of, say, changing the station, changing the volume, or switching over to the navi screen … which, it should be noted, you can do on the move. At any speed. Lexus is totally cool with someone barreling down the road with one hand on the wheel and both eyes focused on the infotainment screen that’s deep-set into the dash. It’s a terrible, terrible design decision, and single-handedly explains why almost everyone I know rates Lexus RX drivers as the worst on the road.
I learned to rely on the “yes, an actually real human person” Destination Assistant (a generic level 1 version of GM’s OnStar operators) to set the Lexus RX450h’s nav while I was on the move. It was a much safer option, and works well enough.
Other than complaints about the infotainment system, driving the 2014 Lexus RX450h was a pleasant enough experience that I hardly noticed the lack of heated seats in the thing. It was a weird omission, considering the Lexus’ $55K sticker price (especially considering that the sub $15K Chevy Spark I tested a few weeks back did have heated seats). Lexus’ website insists, however, that I can have heated/air-conditioned seats in my RX450h for just $825.
Here in Chicago, that’d be money well spent!
Lexus RX450h – Final Thoughts
The Lexus RX450h is exactly what it says on the tin: a nice, well-appointed SUV that’s not overkill (like a Range Rover) and that’s not trying overly hard to compensate for its drivers’ crotchular shortcomings (like a Porsche Cayenne or “Rollin’ Coal” pickup). Instead, it’s a practical, family-friendly SUV that gives a commanding view of the road ahead, adequately impresses the neighbors, and – at some $30K less than the mechanically similar GS450h – won’t break the entry-luxe-level bank while doing so.
Sadly, my time with the 2014 Lexus RX450h was cut unexpectedly short when it was needed elsewhere, so I can’t get too far into real-world MPG or how it felt on the drive between Chicago, IL and Madison, WI. All the same, the RX left me with a newfound respect for Lexus’ products, and a little more humility than I had, before. I guess all those thousands of Lexus RX SUV buyers aren’t wrong after all.
Original content from Gas 2.