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Driven: 2014 Lexus RX450h smooth as silk, but falling behind in features

This week the Lexus RX450h came to us for a test, one of the first luxury hybrid SUV's ever when it was introduced in 2006. Eight years and a generation later, the 2014 RX450h has many peers from Japan like the Infiniti QX60 and Germany such as the Audi Q5 Hybrid. It's time to see if the 2014 RX 450h still has that something special to compete.

Lexus RX450h is smooth as silk, but falling behind in features
Lexus RX450h is smooth as silk, but falling behind in features
Sam Haymart
RX450h is smooth as silk, but falling behind in features
Sam Haymart

With it's last design update it has sharper lines, the latest spindle grille styling of the Lexus brand and some rather elegant looking LED headlamps. The latter came with the $6055 Luxury Package optioned on our tester.This package for the exterior gave us larger 19” wheels, roof rails and heated power folding side mirrors. A power moon-roof was included as were a host of interior features not found on the base RX450h which starts at $47,810.

Inside the package upgraded the cabin with semi-Analine leather and rather striking bamboo wood trim accents. While the RX is available with countless interior color and wood combinations, I find this one fitting to its hybrid theme. This interior well defines what the Lexus brand is and means.

The center stack has a large display screen controlled exclusively with an intuitive console mounted control puck. When you move the mouse-like controller it features tactile clicks that match the buttons on the screen making it easy to use when driving. I still find it one of the best in the business.

Menus are simple enough and quick to navigate. You may choose to control all media, audio, navigation, and HVAC there but the center stack and steering wheel also have redundant knobs and buttons for most common tasks.

Our RX450h was optioned with the Mark Levinson audio system which at $995 seems like a relative bargain considering its strong uptick in sound quality over the base system. In the RX it’s lucky to be a stand alone option.

There were heated and ventilated front seats which are exquisitely comfortable. I did notice in our 100+ degree heat this week the ventilation feature on the seating wasn’t that robust and was hardly noticeable.

The rear cargo area is generous enough and is unhindered due to the additional battery pack in the hybrid model. Even better news still is the fact it retains a spare tire, something some hybrids give up when they gain that extra battery.

The rear passengers will enjoy adjustable seats and plenty of room. Missing are a few creature comforts like individual video inputs for the optional dual screen entertainment system. Your second row passengers also do not get individual controls for HVAC.

Striking is level of consistency Lexus has achieved with the material quality throughout the cabin. As you move your hands around from spot to spot, nothing seems to be out of place in terms of fit, feel and style. It’s not at quality all manufacturer’s have achieved.

As the RX450h is based on a chassis which has been around for a while, it hasn’t seemed to age in terms of handling and overall driving dynamics. It’s still a front-wheel drive biased crossover in overall feel, not so much an off-roader in its pursuits.

Smooth and buttery are the words that best describe the driving experience of the RX450h. Everything from the steering feel, the ride and the hushed quiet cabin exude a creamy smooth persona that really well defines this crossover.

Under the hood is a 3.5 liter V6 engine similar to that in other Lexus models and the hybrid drive system which in our all-wheel drive model is rated at 30 mpg city, 28 mpg highway and 29 mpg combined. In our testing we achieved 27 mpg combined, slightly less than the EPA estimate, but keep in mind our AC was on 100% of the time.

Because ours is an all-wheel drive model, it has an additional electric motor mounted at the rear axle. There is no drive-shaft connecting the front and rear wheels, the entire drive system is controlled by the computer which only sends power to the rear system when needed.

The drive-train offers up a smooth delivery of power. The constantly variable transmission (CVT) seems a good fit here, allowing for seamless power regardless of whether it comes from the gas engine or electric motors.

The entire collection of electric motors and the gas engine offers up a total system 295 horsepower, the most powerful RX model you can buy. Lexus says it will accelerate from 0-60 mph in 7.4 seconds. Even though the power figure is the same as the front-wheel drive model, Lexus publishes a slower 7.8 second 0-60 time for it.

At $62,015 as tested with a raft of optional packages there were still a number of features missing which many competitors now offer. These are mostly techie things like blind spot and lane keeping assistance, dual inputs for rear entertainment, and a panoramic roof for example.

Overall we find the 2014 Lexus RX450h remains competitive in terms of driving character, room, styling as well as performance metrics like acceleration and fuel economy. The only area were we think it’s beginning to age is in the value argument.

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