When you think of hybrid vehicles most still think of punishments on wheels that look like a wedge of cheese. As the technology has evolved, it has become an upgrade to some mainstream luxury models such as the Lexus RX 450h crossover.
If you have have a large comfortable SUV and get better fuel mileage at the same time, why not? This week we took the keys to the redesigned 2013 RX 450h hybrid all-wheel drive model, fully decked with every major option.
Entry price for the RX 450h is $46,310 for the FWD model and $47,710 for the AWD, about a $6,350 bump for the hybrid version. With the RX, the hybrid model is both the most powerful version available and the most efficient. The RX 450h offers 295 system horsepower while the standard gasoline RX 350 has 270 horsepower.
Fuel efficiency is where the value of the RX 450h really comes into play. It is rated at 30 mpg city, 28 mpg highway, and 29 mpg combined. We achieved a week long average of 28.5 mpg which is right up there with estimates. The standard gasoline model is rated at 18 mpg city – a stunning 12 mpg less. The gasoline model also rates 24 mpg highway, some 4 mpg less than the RX 450h.
Driving the RX 450h is an experience as close to a traditionally powered vehicle as hybrids come. The constantly variable transmission (CVT) offers smooth power delivery whether gasoline, electric or a combination of both are propelling you forward. Because the 3.5 liter V6 engine is smoother than a four-cylinder, you don't get some of the harshness that comes with many small hybrid vehicles.
Power comes on strong when you sink the accelerator. Both the gasoline and multiple electric motors front and rear power it from 0-60 in 7.4 seconds. With the all-wheel drive model, the rear wheels are driven by their own electric motor driver unit, offering a front to rear torque split managed entirely by the computer.
Drive-train refinement are everything you would expect from Lexus, which is smooth and quiet. In electric (EV) mode and when the gasoline engine is running you rarely notice a sound from under hood and road noise is hushed to almost near non existence.
On the highway the suspension is supple yet firm. The electric power steering is weighted with a nod toward heavy feel which gives a sense of tight and precise control. Bump isolation and roll control is firm and sporting while never being harsh.
The interior of our tester was rich with saddle tan semi-Aniline leather and espresso birds eye maple trims. The seating was coddling like a high end spa, with power adjustments for every spot of your back. The polished wood on the steering wheel, dash and consoles was so warm and beautiful.
For 2013 the interior got a number of minor trim and technology upgrades which gave us Lexus Enform suite with the touch screen infotainment system. Pumping rich crisp sound was the Mark Levinson sound system, and the navigation apps were there to guide us. All of which are controlled through a console mounted puck which is one of the best in the business with its tactile feel.
The exterior of the RX received an upgrade in style for 2013 which included an all new front fascia, grille and LED headlamps that bring it into the same design language as the rest of the Lexus line. The look is more aggressive and sporting, more crisp and sharp than before.
Being fully loaded, our RX-450 had the top Luxury Package and all options which added $16,320 to the base price of $47,710. This brought the total price including destination to near $65,000. While that sounds like a lot of dough for a front-wheel drive based crossover, it's hard to point to many direct competitors without going to Germany.
As to the step up in price attributed to the hybrid model over the gasoline model, the $6,350 premium doesn't pay itself back as fast as most buyers will own it. Based on EPA estimates of 29 mpg for the hybrid, and 20 mpg for the gasoline model, you will use about 1,000 less gallons of gas over 60,000 miles.
That is about $4,000 at $4 a gallon so you still pay a bit more for the hybrid than you save. You would have to keep this vehicle into the 100,000 miles life span before you get your hybrid premium back. For many Lexus buyers that is not a tall order, and time has proven the Lexus hybrid drive-trains to be near bulletproof in longevity.
The bottom line when it comes to the 2013 Lexus RX 450h is that most buyers will be brand loyalists that look at the big picture, not just the pure dollars and cents of the matter. You get 25 more horsepower and that hybrid logo on your rear flank, which to some is worth the price of admission alone.