2013 Lexus RX 450h Expert Review:New Car Test Drive
New Car Test Drive
Fresh styling for smooth-riding luxury SUV.
The Lexus RX lineup of sport utility vehicles gets facelift for the 2013 model year and a sporty new RX F Sport joins the lineup. The new 2013 RX 350 F Sport features an 8-speed transmission with paddle shifters and a sport-tuned suspension for quicker handling response.
The 2013 Lexus RX models look boldly different than the 2012 models, thanks mainly to the new spindle grille that has become the Lexus marque's new styling signature. Light clusters, wheels, option packages, and interior details have been updated for the 2013 model year as well.
Lexus RX seats five.
The 2013 Lexus RX comes in RX 350, RX 350 AWD, RX 350 F Sport, RX 450h, and RX 450h AWD versions. The RX is a crossover SUV, with front-wheel drive standard.
All-wheel drive comes on the RX 350 F Sport, RX 350 AWD and RX 450h AWD, helping them cope with winter weather. The RX 350 uses a light-weight all-wheel-drive system that operates through an electronic coupling on the rear differential, eliminating the need for a center differential. The comes standard with all-wheel drive. The RX 450h AWD uses an electric motor to drive the rear wheels so no mechanical connection between the axles is needed.
RX 350 models come with a 3.5-liter V6 and 6-speed automatic multi-mode transmission. The RX 350 beats the fuel economy ratings of the Acura MDX, Mercedes ML 350, and BMW X5 xDrive3.5i. The 2013 RX 350 is EPA-rated at 18/25 mpg City/Highway; the 2013 RX 350 AWD is rated 18/24 mpg; RX 350 F Sport is rated 18/26 mpg. Lexus says the RX 350 can accelerate from 0-60 mph in 7.7 seconds with front-wheel drive, 7.8 seconds with all-wheel drive, so there's little loss in performance with all-wheel drive.
The RX 450h hybrid gets better mileage yet, especially around town and in stop-and-go traffic. The RX Hybrid is very clean, achieving a Super Ultra Low Emissions Vehicle (SULEV II) certification in California, and a Tier 2-Bin 3 emissions rating in all other states; that's good, by the way. The 2013 RX 450h is EPA-rated at 32/28 mpg City/Highway; RX 450h AWD is rated 30/28 mpg. The 2013 RX 450h includes a new Sport mode that changes the steering effort, throttle mapping and transmission shifting. Acceleration performance is comparable to that of the gasoline-only versions. With its electric motor, the 2013 RX 450h AWD comes off the line more quickly than the RX 350 models do. Lexus claims 0-60 performance of 7.4 seconds for the 2013 RX Hybrid with all-wheel drive (7.8 seconds with front-wheel drive).
Overall, the Lexus RX models are comfortable and practical, easy to operate and ride more softly than other SUVs. Buyers who find the ride too soft may consider the RX F Sport model. The RX models are more fuel-efficient than many of their competitors. Drivers who need off-road capability would be better with a Lexus GX.
The 2013 Lexus RX 350 comes with front-wheel drive ($39,310) or all-wheel drive ($40,710). The RX 450h offers front-wheel drive ($45,910) or all-wheel drive ($47,310) and comes with a bit more standard equipment. Both come with fabric upholstery, automatic dual-zone climate control, AM/FM/6CD with nine speakers and a luxury level of standard equipment. 2013 RX models come standard with a power rear liftgate.
The optional Premium Package for the 2013 RX 350 ($2,260) consists of leather seats; three-position memory for the driver's seat, steering wheel, and mirrors; power glass sunroof; power-folding electrochromic outside mirrors; rear armrest storage with lid; and roof rails. The Luxury Package ($5,020) includes all the content of the Premium Package, plus power front seat cushion extenders, heated wood-and-leather-trimmed steering wheel, illuminated scuff plates, smog-sensing automatic interior air recirculation, headlamp washers, and 19-inch wheels with Superchrome finish. The Comfort Plus Package ($1,340) adds heated and ventilated front seats and rain-sensing wipers. The expanded Generation 7 HDD Navigation system ($2,775) includes a rearview camera, Bluetooth hands-free phone and automatic phonebook download capabilities, Lexus Enform 2.0 with Safety Connect including Automatic Collision Notification, Stolen Vehicle Location, Emergency Assist Button, Enhanced Roadside Assistance, Destination Assist, eDestination and Enform App Suite; Lexus Insider; Remote Touch Navigation controller; HD Radio with iTunes tagging; advanced voice command casual-language voice recognition system; and SiriusXM radio with NavTraffic, NavWeather, Sports, Stocks and Fuel Prices. A 15-speaker Mark Levinson Audio system ($995) is available. Another package ($4,920) bundles navigation and rear-seat DVD entertainment.
Similar packages are available for the RX 450h.
The RX 350 F Sport AWD ($47,000) features a sport-tuned suspension, 8-speed paddle-shift transmission, 19-inch Dark Graphite wheels fitted with 235/55R19 tires, and special exterior trim. Black leather seats are highlighted with white contrast stitching, pedals are perforated aluminum, and all features from the Comfort Plus and Premium packages come standard.
Other RX options include a Heads-Up Display ($1,200), Heated/Ventilated Front Seats ($640), 19-inch Aluminum Alloy Wheels with All-Season Tires ($770), Bi-Xenon High Intensity Discharge Headlamps ($515), Blind Spot Monitor ($500), and Intuitive Park Assist ($500).
Safety equipment includes front airbags; front-seat mounted side airbags; roll-sensing front and rear side-curtain air bags; driver and front passenger knee airbags and side airbags; active headrests for front seats; force-limiting seatbelt pre-tensioners for driver and front passenger seats; three-point seatbelts with pre-tensioners for all rear seating positions (3); direct-type tire pressure monitoring system; four-sensor, four-channel anti-lock brake system (ABS) with Brake Assist; enhanced VSC (Vehicle Stability Control). Optional safety features include Pre-collision System, a Blind Spot Monitor, and Dynamic Radar Cruise Control. Vehicle Dynamics Integrated Management (VDIM) is now exclusive to the hybrid and the F Sport model. Like all Lexus vehicles, the 2013 Lexus RX comes with Smart Stop Technology, which automatically reduces engine power when the brake and accelerator pedals are applied simultaneously under certain driving conditions.
The Lexus RX gets fresh styling for the 2013 model year. We expect some will like it, others not so much.
The RX was completely redesigned for 2010, and the 2010-12 models had evolved an almost appliance-like smoothness of design, affirmed more than accented by the fastidiousness of its electric-shaver grille. For 2013, however, Lexus appears to have taken a cue from Audi and visually united the upper and lower air openings, intentionally breaking the horizontal continuity of the bumper. Only instead of Audi's fashionable goatee, Lexus uses a wide-hourglass form, appearing like the cross-section of a pulley or spindle. As before, the headlight clusters taper inboard to a point; but now the point is pointedly aimed at the pinch-point of the grille, and emphasized by a partial outline of LED running lights. Fog lights appear about where they were before, but are now more dramatically recessed and accented by a horizontal slash in the fascia.
On the basic RX 350, the grille texture has been simplified to just five bright horizontal lines above the still body-color bumper, and a dark slot below that ends just short of where it would have needed a sixth horizontal line for visual balance.
On the F Sport, however, the lower part of the grille spindle extends almost to the ground. Upper and lower openings are filled with matching mesh; and cut lines around the fog lights are deeper and more dramatic.
The RX 450h, on the other hand, has lost most of its visual distinction. A blue, enamel-like background has been added to the Lexus circled-L badge in the center of hybrid's grille.
Around back, the taillights have been subtly elongated, and the chrome bar between them is bolder. All models have LED brake lights and LED turn signals integrated into the side mirrors. In the side view, however, nothing has changed except the wheels. Gone are last year's fussy, triple-ribbed 5-spokers; for 2013, the standard 18-inch rims sport an attractive update of the classic muscle-car era five-spoke, and look just as cool now as they did back then. The 19-inch option is stunning, with five split, undulating spokes that seem to float free of the center hub.
As before, a 64-inch front tread-width lends the 2013 RX a wide stance. The wheel openings are round and unadorned. The whole shape of the vehicle is ovoid, yet highlighted by crisp, defining lines. Blacked-out roof pillars combine with rear privacy glass to merge the three side windows into a single visual unit.
Auto-dimming outside mirrors, optional on the RX 350, are standard on the hybrid.
Lexus has revised the interior of the 2013 RX, but here the changes are more subtle. Both the steering wheel and center console have been re-contoured for improved comfort and convenience, and the same matte aluminum trim that highlights the center stack now outlines the steering wheel hub and oddly slashes across the top of the glovebox door. Some new wood and leather combinations are now available as well. But anyone trading in their 2012 model for a 2013 will instantly feel at home.
It's still strangely exciting to sit in the cockpit of the Lexus RX 350 and RX 450h. There is a sensation of having so much to do, just like configuring a new computer. There are seating adjustments to lock in, preferences for the Remote Touch controller, operating modes to select and dashboard combinations to try out. We have a feeling an RX owner would be surprised to discover new features after months of ownership.
The RX comes to life with the push of a button. The instruments are bright and engaging, and shaded from outside light. The seats have side bolsters that are high enough to provide support during cornering, but they're still easy to get into. They feel firm at first, but medium-soft once you settle in, and are easily adjusted to a variety of positions. Mood lighting in the footwells and cabin supports a sense of quality and well-being.
The cockpit conveys a sense of sophistication, due in part to a gifted design scheme that (for the most part) avoids straight lines or sharp corners. Every element of the interior is curved, arched or rounded in some way, so lines blend with subtle grace and harmony. New Ebony or Espresso Birds-eye Maple wood trim accents complement light gray fabric; or black, light gray, parchment, or new saddle leather.
The cockpit is divided into two separate zones. The first is for information functions, located higher up where they are easy to see. The second is for control functions, located lower and within easy reach of both front seat occupants. This division is made possible by Remote Touch.
The Remote Touch system is essentially a computer mouse. It's located exactly where your hand would fall if your elbow were resting on the center console. This mouse will be immediately familiar to anyone who has used a computer. It replaces the need to reach out and touch the screen to use the Navigation system, or adjust audio or climate settings. We found it was simple to use while driving. It allowed us to avoid focusing on the navi screen to tune the climate control or turn down the volume. Plus, no more fingerprints on the screen.
The center console is bridge-like with built-in storage. The shifter is immediately above the Remote Touch mouse.
There are a number of redundant hard buttons on the steering wheel, and at various points on the dash, 52 in all, but the Remote Touch mouse really does reduce the need to use them. Like a computer mouse, Remote Touch can be adjusted for sensitivity to your preference.
The navigation system includes casual-speech voice recognition capability for hands-free operation of audio, climate, and Bluetooth. The system runs from a hard disc, not a DVD, so it's faster and allegedly smarter than a DVD system. New features for 2013 include HD radio with iTunes tagging, and Lexus Enform 2.0 with Safety Connect, which includes Automatic Collision Notification, Stolen Vehicle Location, Emergency Assist Button (SOS), Enhanced Roadside Assistance, Destination Assist, eDestination and Enform App Suite. In addition to SiriusXM NavTraffic, NavWeather, Sports, and Stocks, a service that reports fuel prices has been added to the package for 2013.
The standard audio system has 9 speakers, a 6-disc CD changer and can play MP3 and WMA files from your iPod. XM satellite capability is built in, and the first three months are free when you buy the RX. A digital power amplifier has been added for 2013. A 12-speaker system comes packaged with a backup monitor; and a 15-speaker Mark Levinson Surround Sound system is available (but only with Navigation) for those who require an audio system consistent with the very best home systems.
The front seats are fitted with active headrests as standard equipment. The headrests are designed to adjust upward in the event of a rear-end collision, reducing whiplash. Because of the active headrests, rear-seat entertainment screens are independently mounted in pods behind the headrests. The two seven-inch LCD screens can operate separately so one passenger can play a game while another passenger watches a DVD. The seats are covered in fabric in standard trim, with leather and semi-aniline leather offered as available options.
We found the available semi-aniline leather flawless, and we were hard pressed to find a misplaced stitch or shadow of stain anywhere. In fact, the leather is so supple and uniformly perfect we first thought it must be synthetic material. Regardless of the covering, both front seats are 10-way adjustable, with memory, and heated/air conditioned seats are available.
The Lexus RX seats five.
The rear seat can accommodate three and has a 40/20/40 fold-down split. One or both seatbacks can be released from behind, while loading cargo, eliminating the need to walk around to the side of the vehicle. The rear seats also have a fold-down center console with a covered wood grain cupholder and separate covered storage compartment. The rear seats are shorter, with less reclinability than the front seats, but with good legroom for average-size adults like ourselves, much better than a seat on a 757 these days. There are four grab handles, one for each door. There are two rear air conditioning vents to cool the rear compartment.
Cargo room behind the rear seats is 40 cubic feet, enough for four average golf bags.
The hybrid RX 450h has essentially the same cabin as the RX 350, except that the 450h has an Eco driving indicator that displays fuel economy using a bar graph. A hybrid system indicator replaces the tachometer to provide driving feedback.
We've driven RX 350 models with front-wheel drive and all-wheel drive as well as an RX 450h hybrid.
The RX 350 responds well to throttle out on the road. Part of that is the big 3.5-liter V6, part of it is the 6-speed transmission. The 6-speed automatic has a lower first-gear ratio than the typical 5-speed, so it gets the RX quickly up to velocity for merging or highway entry. Lexus told us to expect 0-60 acceleration times in the neighborhood of 7.7 seconds, and a quarter mile time of 15.7, and that's about the way it felt. We didn't go there but top speed is electronically limited to 112 mph.
The transmission quickly selects gears based on throttle input, so you can ask for a gentle downshift just by giving it a little more gas. If you floor the accelerator, it kicks down two gears and moves out. It's also possible to select your own gears in multi-mode shifting, but the automatic's logic seemed so intuitive that we would probably drive in Auto 95 percent of the time, using the manual mode for downhill control on the highway or a long uphill when heavily loaded. There is no V8 option for the RX, but if there were, we'd wager that performance would not be much improved, and mileage would suffer.
We did not feel much torque steer in the front-wheel-drive models, particularly not in the Hybrid.
The RX 350 is not built for road racing, but more for passenger comfort. The double-wishbone independent rear suspension has a lot to do with that. Still, it has a nice, clean turn-in and good lateral grip for an SUV. Here's where its genuinely wide track (a little over 64 inches in front, a little under in the rear) contributes noticeably to agility.
We expect Lexus vehicles to be exceptionally quiet, and the RX is no exception. That said, the optional 19-inch wheels do allow for more road input, and a little more noise and vibration seep through. Our preference is for the 18-inch wheels.
Regardless of tire choice, we found it easy to maintain a conversation using a low tone of voice at normal speeds. Lexus pioneered the science of quietness in a car, with the result that almost all cars are significantly quieter than they were several years ago. Tricks such as optimized wheelwell damping coatings and fender liners have been incorporated into the RX. The underbody of the car has also received attention against wind noise. And the sixth gear in the transmission allows for ultra-quiet cruising, with less engine noise, on the highway.
All those things also hold true for the RX 450h, but because it is a hybrid, it regularly operates with the engine off altogether. During those times, noise reduction is even greater, bordering on eerie.
The brakes feel strong and progressive, with just a little squish at the top of the pedal before stronger grip kicks in. The hybrid brakes, which are regenerative, are much more smoothly modulated than earlier hybrid brakes. The transition between light braking, when the generator reclaims power, and the serious stopping power that comes on when more pedal is applied, can still be felt, but you have to look for it.
Steering effort is light, and proportioned electronically, with power-assist logic based on vehicle speed. The slower you go, the less effort required, so it can be just as appropriate in the parking lot as in the fast lane on the way to Las Vegas. Lexus uses the electric steering system on a number of its vehicles, because it reduces drag on the motor and thus, improves fuel economy. It's also more compact, so there are packaging advantages, and once you have a computer controlling steering, you can add VDIM.
Now exclusive to the hybrid and the F Sport, VDIM is not a system easily tested in normal driving, because it requires driving out of control, and then recovering. At which point, nothing will have happened, except maybe a brief flash of an icon on the dash. But it's a system that looks at steering, braking, throttle and motion sensors in the cabin to predict what will actually happen, compared to what the driver is asking for. If there is any difference between the two, the system intervenes and selectively brakes individual wheels to correct the path of the car. It happens so fast you might not notice. We've tested VDIM on race tracks and lonely dirt roads. It works without slowing down the car much, unlike VSC, which is the standard traction/stability control system. It's an expensive system, but it works very well.
Visibility for the driver is excellent by SUV standards. It's easy to keep track of the area around the vehicle when backing up or parking. Driver visibility is enhanced by small windows in the A-pillar, and by small TV cameras that track the rear and passenger-side of the RX. Images from the video cameras is displayed on the navigation screen. One camera is located in the right side mirror, the other in the rear bumper. We found we could toggle between the two views, front and side, to see how close we were to the curb or pedestrians.
We found the RX to be a relaxed and comfortable ride, so we spent time trying out some of its electronics systems.
We actuated the heads up display and found it makes it easy to stick to speed limits in unfamiliar ground. Bright white, high-contrast figures were easy to read, even heading into sunlight. It's the best we've seen so far. It's possible to project the display anywhere on the windshield; we liked it best low and to the left.
Voice recognition, something we've never really trusted, still takes a little getting used to, but the system in the RX is much closer to something we might use every day. We began by asking it to switch to channel 143 on XM, which it had no problem doing. It also seemed to quickly be able to supply the nearest gas stations, and turn down the air conditioning. However, when we asked it to play Grateful Dead, it did not find the channel on its own, so evidently there are limits to Hal's intelligence.
The RX 450h is offered in front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive, but the all-wheel-drive system is different; it incorporates a separate rear electric motor to power the rear wheels. Because it is a hybrid, the transmission is a continuously variable automatic and the brakes are different due to the need to regenerate electricity. And there are a few packaging and styling differences to consider when making a decision between the two. Because of the addition of electric motors, the RX 450h has 25 more horsepower than the RX 350, which compensate for a weight penalty of about 160 pounds.
Using the EPA Combined city/highway ratings, both FWD and AWD versions of the hybrid get 9 mpg better fuel economy than their non-hybrid counterparts. Even with the hybrid's smaller fuel tank, it can travel 115 miles farther on a fill-up. However, at $4 per gallon, you'd have to drive close to 100,000 miles before you recouped the $6000 premium Lexus charges for the hybrid.
In short, dollar savings would be modest even if prices rise. For that reason, most current Hybrid buyers chose the vehicle because they want to drive the most fuel-efficient, cleanest SUV possible, one that reduces dependency on imported oil and reduces emissions. The RX 450h we drove averaged 23.4 mpg over 120 miles of mostly around-town driving. It meets California's SULEV certification and the Tier 2-Bin 3 regulations in other states, so its emissions are considered super low.
The hybrid brake system uses the same ventilated four-wheel discs as the RX 350, but has an electronically controlled regenerative brake feature that charges the batteries when the brakes are applied gently. The hybrid system includes ABS, Electronic Brake-force Distribution (EBD), Brake Assist and more important, Vehicle Dynamics Integrated Management system (VDIM) as standard equipment. We've experienced VDIM in controlled settings and consider it a remarkable safety system.
The driver can switch from the Normal driving mode to Eco for best mileage, or to the EV Mode which allows the vehicle to operate on battery only. Lexus tech sources estimate the EV-only mode operating distance at about a mile. The EV feature is aimed at allowing the RX to be used as an electric car in closed urban areas where internal combustion engines are banned altogether, such as in parts of some European cities. New for 2013 is a Sport mode with revised steering effort, throttle mapping and transmission-shifting priorities. Background lighting inside the instrument binnacle switches from blue to red with the Sport mode is engaged.
We haven't driven an RX F Sport. According to Lexus, the F Sport delivers a more engaging driving experience via its 8-speed paddle-shift transmission, 19-inch wheels with V-rated tires, firmer springs and shocks, and some structural reinforcement at the rear. The chassis formula sounds similar to the 2012 Sport Package, which did not impress us. Bigger wheels, thinner tires and tighter damping tend to compromise Lexus ride quality and noise control, without delivering all that much gain in handling. And Lexus doesn't promise any faster acceleration with the 8-speed transmission, although EPA-estimated fuel use is improved slightly, to 18/26 mpg City/Highway vs. 18/24 mpg with the standard 6-speed automatic. Choosing the F Sport is now the only way to get the terrific VDIM system on the non-hybrid model.
The Lexus RX is exceptionally quiet and sumptuously comfortable. It boasts a long list of safety features, and its electronic accessories are at once entertaining, sophisticated and user-friendly. The RX 350 is a good choice for people who don't tow or need to move more than five people at a time. The RX 450h offers all that, plus the greater fuel efficiency and environmental friendliness of a hybrid.
NewCarTestDrive.com correspondent John Stewart reported from Southern California. John F. Katz reported on the styling from south-central Pennsylvania.
Lexus RX 350 FWD ($39,310); RX 350 AWD ($40,710); RX 350 F Sport AWD ($47,000); RX 450h FWD ($45,910); RX 450h AWD ($47,310).
Kyushu, Japan; Ontario, Canada.
Options As Tested
Luxury Package ($5,020); Comfort Plus Package ($1,340); Mark Levinson Audio ($995); Navigation System ($2,775); Towing Prep Package ($245).
Lexus RX 350 AWD ($40,710).
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