This luxury crossover is green

by Peter Bleakney . Nov 18 2016
Peter Bleakney / Postmedia Network Inc.The Lexus RX 450h hybrid has no trouble moving its mass thanks to a 3.5-litre Atkinson-cycle V6, in concert with a pair of electric motors, mustering a total of 308 horsepower and 247 pound-feet of torque.

Peter Bleakney / Postmedia Network Inc.

The Lexus RX 450h hybrid has no trouble moving its mass thanks to a 3.5-litre Atkinson-cycle V6, in concert with a pair of electric motors, mustering a total of 308 horsepower and 247 pound-feet of torque.

While we can safely credit Land Rover for setting the Luxury-4x4-That-Can-Conquer-Borneo template with the 1970 Range Rover, Lexus took the game in a new direction with its 1999 RX 300. This tall, unibody, leather-lined luxo four-wheeler had absolutely zero off-road pretensions.

It was all about getting the imaginary Yolanda Yorkville to her yoga class, speed bumps and a dusting of snow be damned. Yolanda liked the RX, and thus dawned the age of the luxury crossover.

Fittingly, I’m heading to a yoga class in a hybrid version of the fourth-generation Lexus RX. This 2017 RX 450h F Sport, with an as-tested price of $76,950, glides effortlessly through suburbia as all Lexi are wont to do. The F Sport leather seats (both heated and ventilated) are coddling and supportive, and the elevated seating position, along with the RX’s low-profile dash, affords a commanding view of the road ahead.

The cabin, rendered in premium-quality materials, is a sybaritic respite from the outside world.

A glance at the trip computer display tells me my few days of mixed driving have netted 8.9 L/100 km, which for a 2,200-kilogram five-seat crossover is heartwarming.

This parsimonious fuel sippage will surely keep eco-aware Yolanda happy, she of organic farm-to-table fare and militant recycling.

Her accountant, however, might not be so thrilled.

The green-tinged RX 450h hybrid’s base $70,250 sticker is $14,450 more dear than the non-hybrid RX 350 and, while this hybrid’s combined fuel consumption rating of 7.9 L/100 km handily beats the RX 350’s 10.8 L/100 km, it is important to note the hybrid drinks premium fuel. The gas-only RX is happy with regular.

As such, Natural Resources Canada estimates Yolanda will save $287 a year in fuel costs. Which means the hybrid will pay for itself in, oh… 50 years, give or take. That’s a lot of trips to the yoga studio.

Of course, anyone spending close to 80 large on a premium crossover is not worried about saving money on fuel. “Hybrid” is another piece of the luxury equation.

And this hybrid is no eco-weenie. The 3.5-litre Atkinson-cycle V-6, in concert with a pair of electric motors (165 hp front axle, 67 hp rear axle), musters a total of 308 horsepower and 247 pound-feet of torque and drives all four wheels through a continuously variable transmission.

The RX 450h has no problem moving its considerable mass, although don’t be looking for any extended periods of electric-only motoring. You might get to cruise around the mall parking lot in EV silence, but that’s about it. Any brush on the throttle lights up the V-6.

It’s a pretty transparent hybrid system; shuffling power sources and combinations thereof goes largely unnoticed. The regenerative braking is impressively linear as well.

The 2017 Lexus RX, be it hybrid or gas only, comes comprehensively equipped with heated wood-rimmed steering wheel, dual zone climate control, 12-speaker audio, blind-spot monitor, rear cross-traffic alert, adaptive cruise control, lane-departure warning, pre-collision system, 18-inch alloys and more.

Juicing up my tester is the $6,700 F Sport Series 3 Package; while not exactly turning this portly crossover into an athlete, there’s an extra helping of visual zing along with some meaningful mechanical and interior upgrades. Outside, we see 20-inch alloys and a blacked-out grille.

The interior benefits from nicer leather, terrific F Sport front buckets, three-spoke steering wheel, power-folding/reclining rear seats, a kickin’ 15-speaker Mark Levinson surround-sound system, wireless charging, panoramic sunroof, sport pedals, head-up display, front and side monitoring system, and touch-free powered liftgate.

The “Sport” part includes Adaptive Variable Suspension (AVS), shift paddles and a drive-mode selector (Sport and Sport+). Either of the Sport modes firms up the suspension and steering and calls up a more aggressive shift program.

But I doubt Yolanda will give two hoots about this. If anything, she will find the extra jostling and clumping from those stylin’ 20-inch alloys to be not in keeping with the RX ethos.

Lexus may have stood for understated elegance in the past, but its new design language is far from it. The 2017 RX’s humongous “spindle” grille looks healthy enough to hoover up a Corolla and the body panels appear to have been styled by an angry swarm of sword-swinging Samurais; subtle, it is not.

Similarly, the interior, while lovely in execution, borders on the busy. This dash is a dream gig for a paid-by-the-hour detailer.

Luckily, there are some hard buttons for HVAC and audio controls, so you don’t have to drive yourself into the ditch messing with Lexus’ odd joystick controller that sends an icon flying about the massive 12.3-inch screen. To be fair, this approach to the whole man/machine interface works OK once you get used to it, and I’ll say it’s better than poking away at a touch screen. But not by much.

These few ergonomic niggles aside, the 2017 Lexus RX 450h delivers on all counts. It’s a supremely coddling and well-appointed crossover that also turns in some impressive fuel economy numbers, with its biggest advantage to be found in city driving.

Is the financial hit for the hybrid badge worth it? Depends on how badly you want to wave the green flag.

— Postmedia Network Inc. 2016