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The 2014 Lexus 450h Hybrid: Still pursuing perfection

The 2014 Lexus 450h
The 2014 Lexus 450h

We’ve said it before and we shall say it again: no matter what Lexus makes, it will sell. If they made and sold toy wagons for example, there is little doubt they would soon be snapped up by parents eager to pull their kids up and down suburban streets in a Lexus badged little red wagon. There are a couple of reasons for this of course: There is a fanatical group that loves all things Lexus; also owning something with the Lexus badge is somewhat of a status symbol, a sign that some consider almost snobbish. The biggest reason however is that since the beginning Lexus has always made a damn fine automobile. The quality is second to none, the fit and finish are excellent and Lexus customer service is the finest on the market.

The 2014 Lexus 450h

It’s no wonder then that we looked forward to our recent week with the Lexus 450h Hybrid. After all our last go round with a Lexus hybrid, a 300 ES last year, was a great week spent with an excellent hybrid. That’s why we were a little disappointed with the 450h. In the end, it came up a little short. Maybe our expectations were lacking, after all this is a crossover SUV not a speed demon; however, even lowering our standards on the road a bit the 450h still seems to struggle.

The 2014 Lexus RX Hybrid has room for five and is offered with front-wheel drive, although an all-wheel drive is available. Power comes from 3.5-liter V6 engine rated at 275 horses and two electric motors (three in all-wheel drive models) paired with a continuously variable transmission (CVT). As with all Lexus vehicles the interior is above reproach. There is the 10-way power front seats, ebony or espresso bird's eye maple and dual-zone automatic climate control. A nine-speaker Lexus Premium Audio System gives you a wealth of music source choices, including an in-dash CD player, Bluetooth® audio streaming, USB/iPod® control and SiriusXM® Satellite Radio.

The Display Audio/Rear Backup Camera Package upgrades the audio system to 12 speakers with the Mark Levinson audio system. There is also an optional 15-speaker Mark Levinson Surround Sound system that delivers 330 total watts of power. Finally, there’s a rear seat entertainment system with dual seven-inch LCD screens.

All of the interior features are great, as in every Lexus, and that almost makes up for the on the road performance which in our experience at least, is where the 450h seems a bit dull.

Last year Lexus added a Sport mode (in addition to the existing Normal, Eco, and Snow modes), which Toyota says firms up steering effort, hastens “shifts,” and quickens the throttle progression a small amount. These changes are barely noticeable, beyond what we supposed is a menacing looking red glow of the instrument panel.

The issue on the road isn’t then power, that seems adequate for everyday use; it’s getting that power to the road. The CVT seems to always be playing catch-up and the gas electric combination engine can sometimes be heard moaning when your right foot becomes aggressive. The brakes too seem to have a mind of their own at times and the lack of consistent braking can be a bit challenging.

Even though this is far being a sporty type machine, the power should at least give the driver the confidence in traffic. That confidence is subjective of course, but for us it was lacking. And that’s just a shame. Because we have liked every Lexus we have come in contact with. While the 450h did give us much to like at $56,445 for the model we tested, there is a still a great deal to like, even if we were left wanting just a bit more on the road.

The slogan for Lexus is “The pursuit of perfection.” With the 450h we feel they have yet to reach that perfection. Sure, everything Lexus makes sells and will no doubt continue to do so. However not everyone likes a little red wagon, or would rush out to buy one just because it’s a Lexus.

The 2014 Lexus 450h Hybrid

MSRP: $46,140
MSRP (As tested $56,445)
Engine: 3.5-liter V6/Two electric motors. 295 total system horsepower
Transmission: Electronically controlled Continuously Variable Transmission with intelligence (ECVT-i) with Sequential Shift, Sport and Snow modes
Torque: 234 lb.-ft. @ 4,800 rpm (not including hybrid drive)
MPG (EPA estimates): 32 city/28 highway/30 combined
MPG (As tested mixed conditions): 28 mpg

Exterior dimensions
Wheelbase 107.9 in.
Overall Length 187.8 in.
Overall Width 74.2 in.
Overall Height (unloaded) 66.3 in. (without roof rack)

Interior dimensions
Headroom - Front (with moonroof) 39.1 in.
- Rear 37.7 in.
Legroom - Front 43.1 in.
- Rear 36.8 in.
Shoulder Room - Front 58.0 in.
- Rear 57.6 in.
Hip Room - Front 55.6 in.
- Rear 54.5 in.
Total Interior Volume 139.7 cu. ft.
Cargo Volume - Rear seats up and rearmost 40.0 cu. ft.
- Rear seats folded down 80.3 cu. ft.
Curb Weight 4,652 lbs. – AWD; 4,520 lbs. – FWD

48 months or 50,000 miles, whichever occurs first. Wheel alignment and balancing are covered for 12 months or 20,000 miles, whichever occurs first. The Powertrain Warranty is for 72 months or 70,000 miles and the hybrid components are covered for eight years or 100,000 miles.

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