Base price: $48,355
Like many folks who eat things they know aren’t good for them, lovers of SUVs didn’t care at first that the bloated behemoths they bought en masse in 1999 got 11 miles to the gallon or took up half a city block. When gas prices topped 4 bucks a gallon and it cost as much to drive to the mall as it did to buy a jacket there, they thought twice and demanded a luxury Sport Ute hybrid with decent mileage.
Lexus was listening and created the RX 450h crossover for just such enthusiasts – and the vehicle is now their top seller. Unlike some hybrids whose rule is “mileage first, looks last,” the RX 450h is a hot, stylish luxury experience which, while not decreasing the amount of carbon in the sky, isn’t blackening it quite so quickly. Even significant jumps in pricing and the odd lack of third-row seats haven’t slowed sales. You can’t argue with 32 highway miles per gallon for a crossover, accomplished via a 3.5-liter Atkinson-cycle gasoline V-6 and the two-motor Toyota Hybrid Synergy Drive system for propulsion in front-wheel drive applications.
It is not a mighty beast acceleration-wise, and it can’t be – yet. The drive is sober and conservative though surprisingly strong when passing or simply needing a burst of power. Where the RX 450h sells is where every Lexus sells; the comfy ride, the upscale cabin flavor and the options. It’s easy to find where every control is despite the plethora of electronics, although one gripe involved the position of the gearshift level set in the bottom middle of the dashboard, though we got used to it after a few days. There’s also a mouse mounted to part of the center console. Some love the mouse, others do not, however easy they make it to use, and I can do without it. The vehicle comes with a standard 7-inch display screen and backup monitor. The 40 cubic feet of flat cargo space in the rear is plentiful, as one would hope in this class.
Doubtless as the second half of the 21st century teens roll on, we’ll see ever-more inventive ways the auto industry adapts to the economy, the environment and consumer demand. For now, though, Lexus has come close to sweet perfection with the RX 450h.