ANOTHER luxury 4x4? That’s just what the motoring world needs now on top of Range Rover, Audi Q7, BMW X5, Volvo XC90 and Infiniti QX70, not to mention contenders from Mitsubishi, Mercedes-Benz, Porsche and others.
But wait. Before you dismiss the Lexus as just another ‘yummy mummy’ chariot, think again.
Is it the best SUV for the money? Quite possibly.Steve Teale
The Lexus RX450h is actually a very advanced piece of machinery. It is a hybrid SUV powered by a 3.5 litre petrol engine and an electric motor, a rare combination.
It means it can offer the performance of a hot-hatch and the economy of a supermini for the size of a Range Rover. Intriguing.#
And this is a performance variant, the F Sport, which means it feels more like a sports car than an SUV.
It’s not everyone’s cup of tea, though. While Range Rover and Porsche offer elegance and sexiness respectively, the Lexus is very much a Marmite car: You either love it or hate it.
I’m in the former camp but I can see why some think it’s too outrageous. It’s certainly distinctive with its bold space-age lines which is unusual at a time when cars of this ilk can be dull.
So, can a £50,000 car really be a bargain buy? It’s all relative of course and next to a Range Rover (£75,000) or Porsche Cayenne hybrid (£64,000) it is a bargain, not that anyone ever pays up front for these cars. They are invariably company cars or personal contract plan (PCP) purchases, but the Lexus is still a cost-conscious option.
So, how does it compare? It is an incredibly easy car to drive. It feels more like a coupe or sports saloon, thanks to the seating position and it pulls away quickly and smoothly.
For such a well-appointed car, it’s easy to get to grips with. The huge ‘infotainment’ screen is fantastic, doubling as a satellite navigation system and reversing camera. It is smooth and fun to drive.
Ride and handling is good, too. It doesn’t quite corner like a car, though, but it is impressive.
Lexus, of course, might be a ‘new’ brand but it is old masters at this size of car, having first launched RX in 1998. And it was the first to offer hybrid power in this market in 2005.
It comes dashingly well equipped: leather upholstery, aluminium pedals, satellite navigation, wireless smartphone charger, keyless entry and ignition, Bluetooth, rain-sensing wipers and memory settings for driver’s seat, steering wheel and door mirror settings.
It has some fabulous hi-tech features, especially safety devices such as sway warning alert, anti-lock brakes, stability control, traction control, lane departure alert, adaptive cruise control and variable suspension.
The illuminated door handles and automated tailgate - ‘must have’ features for cars in this class - are impressive.
The F Sport grade targets new customers who want sportier looks and sharper handling. It is expected to account for up to 30 per cent of future RX sales. The exterior has an even stronger look and it benefits from a sporting suspension set up. It also gains a steering wheel-mounted paddle shift control for the six-speed automatic transmission, which lets the driver move to the system’s fixed gear range without having to move the gear selector from D to S range.
Is it the best SUV for the money? Quite possibly. It is a polished product and fabulously equipped for the money and it is one of the most distinctive cars on the road.
Lexus RX450h F Sport
ENGINE: A 3.5 litre V6 petrol engine and a 335bhp electric motor with power delivered via electric CVT (continuously variable transmission)
PERFORMANCE: Top speed 124mph and 0 to 60mph in 7.7 seconds
COSTS: Town, country and combined routes: 51.4mpg
INSURANCE: Group 41E
WARRANTY: Three years, 60,000 miles
Range Rover: At £75,000 for a standard Range Rover, the Lexus is a cheap option. Hard to believe at over £50,000. Range Rover is more stately but otherwise similarly equipped.
Porsche Cayenne: The Cayenne hybrid version is £12,000 more than the Lexus and offers similar style and performance. The Lexus makes more sense financially and is technically better.
Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV: This plug-in hybrid starts at £34,000 and is a fabulous proposition. If you want eco-friendly style, choose the Outlander. Lexus is in a different league in other respects.