By Steve & Tami Laser
Lexus took the sport utility vehicle to an entirely new destination when it introduced the RX 300 in 1998. Instead of punishing passengers with a rock-hard ride, the RX was like signing up for a Shiatsu massage at a world-class five-star resort.
The first RX sported futuristic styling surrounding passenger car components. It drove like a car because it was a car, with a smooth V6 engine, independent suspension and luxurious interior.
Each new generation RX has become more advanced without losing sight of the original. Lexus has avoided adding a third row of seats. That would require a stretched body, spoiling the pleasant looks and nimble size.
Three models are available for 2014. The RX 350 is equipped with a 270-horsepower 3.5-liter V6 engine, 6-speed automatic transmission and front- or all-wheel drive. The F Sport adds an 8-speed automatic with paddle shifters, standard AWD and a sport-tuned suspension. We selected the RX 450h as our test vehicle because it’s the most technologically advanced.
Lexus Hybrid Drive combines a 3.5-liter V6 with a front-mounted electric motor and continuously variable transmission. A separate electric motor drives the rear wheels. The battery pack is hidden underneath so cargo space remains the same 80.3 cubic feet as the other RX models.
Four driver-selectable modes are available including EV that lets the RX move under electric power only for short distances at low speeds. Eco mode is designed to provide the best fuel economy while Sport mode increases the fun-to-drive character. We tried all the choices and discovered that Normal mode works best for everyday driving.
Of course, the reason for selecting the hybrid is fuel economy, with mpg ratings of 30 city, 28 highway and 29 combined. That compares to 18/24/20 for the non-hybrid AWD. We drove our tester about 140 miles on city streets, country roads, some freeways and hilly highways averaging 23 mpg.
The hybrid is easy to drive and you don’t have to plug it in to recharge. The gas engine shuts off automatically at a stop light and then restarts when the driver presses the gas pedal.
RX has a remarkably smooth ride. The cabin remains quiet and isolated from the world outside as passengers are coddled in supremely comfortable and supportive leather seats.
The lengthy list of standard features includes dual-zone climate control with rear outlets, power tilt-and-telescopic steering wheel, power tailgate, 10-way power front seats, Lexus Premium Audio and Safety Connect telematics.
Auto makers often provide scribes like us with fully loaded test vehicles so we can report on some of the most tempting options. For example, our tester was fitted with a package that included a rear seat entertainment system with dual seven-inch screens neatly integrated into the backs of the front seats. It allows left and right rear seat passengers to watch separate programs, includes a pair of wireless headphones and can be used as a DVD player, audio player or even a video game console.
Other high-tech options included navigation with backup camera, Lexus Enform with destination assist and App Suite, SiriusXM Nav Traffic, Nav Weather, Stocks, Sports and Fuel prices. Mark Levinson Premium Surround Sound made us feel like we were in a concert hall with 15 high-quality speakers and 330 watts of power.
In addition to 10 standard airbags, Safety Connect with automatic collision notification and emergency assist button, another option package added a blind spot monitor that alerts the driver if a vehicle is in the adjacent lanes.
RX 450h has a base price of $47,810. With options on our test vehicle the bottom line came to $59,235. Those who seek a more affordable alternative will be happy to discover that the base RX 350 non-hybrid front-drive model starts out at $40,795.
[2014 Lexus RX 450h press fleet vehicle provided by Lexus]
Story ©2014 CarNichiWa