Refinements strengthen the case for the hybrid Lexus RX 350h SUV
3.5 out of 5
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In what will likely be more affordable 350h self-charging hybrid form, the RX isn’t as refined or efficient as the 450h+ plug-in, but it gives access to the car’s easy-going attitude and more advanced tech. It might still be a more left-field choice compared with rivals such as the BMW X5, but the Lexus RX is easier to justify than ever. It’s another step in the right direction for the Japanese manufacturer.
While the big news when Lexus launched its latest RX large SUV was the addition of a plug-in hybrid powertrain for the first time, in 450h+ form, it’ll still be offered with the more familiar 350h ‘self-charging’ hybrid set-up that we’re testing.
Continued refinements to the tech mean the basic recipe hasn’t changed even if the results have, so the RX is powered by a 2.5-litre four-cylinder Atkinson cycle engine that drives the wheels through a CVT automatic gearbox in conjunction with a pair of electric motors that are supplied by a small battery.
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Many of the components are new, with the car’s hybrid transaxle motor/transmission set-up now more compact and lighter. There’s also a new Power Control Unit.
On the move, however, it feels similar to previous 350h powertrains in Lexus’s SUVs.There’s a small boost of torque from the e-motors, but ask for anything other than gentle acceleration and the petrol engine will kick in with an audible drone.
Power output stands at 247bhp, which isn’t a huge amount, but the 7.9-second 0-62mph time is respectable, even if it’s a noisy process extracting that performance.
Car group tests
Used car tests
You’re better off driving to the RX 350h’s strengths, with a light right foot to maximise usage of electrical power rather than petrol. Do so and the engine settles down, meaning the RX’s personality comes across as more refined. In addition, the CVT gearbox comes into its own if you take a more leisurely approach; cruising around urban areas and on the freeway during our American test drive, the RX felt relaxed and easy-going.
However, while this is also true in a certain set of circumstances when it comes to the chassis, on bumpier countryside canyon roads the chassis revealed some harsher, more brittle reactions to bumps.
The latest fifth-generation RX is based on Lexus’s GA-K platform that’s more rigid than ever, which has definitely helped improve handling despite the car’s numb steering.
But the suspension does sometimes react harshly to bumps, thumping through to the car’s interior, even if most of the time the softer set-up is fine.
It’s a good job that the cabin is screwed together beautifully, then. Lexus is known for the quality of its interiors, and while there are some blander plastics and materials, they are of relatively high quality and build is brilliant. The infotainment, previously a Lexus flaw, is a big step on.
Like with the brand’s smaller NX, the previous-generation model’s infuriating touchpad has been replaced by a large 14-inch touchscreen that boasts Apple CarPlay and Android Auto capability. The native system is also better than ever, but you might still prefer to use a smartphone hook-up, which works well.
Other elements of the interior are sound for a large SUV. There is lots of legroom in the rear seats, and despite
the RX’s tapered roof (partly a styling trick), there’s plenty of headroom.
The car’s design has changed massively, with Lexus’s Spindle grille signature now becoming what the brand calls ‘Spindle body’ – basically, the grille is now so big and so heavily integrated that it has pretty much become the whole front end of the car.
Sharp creases give a bit more visual tension, while a full-width light cluster at the rear completes the look.
Kit levels are great. While pricing still hasn’t been revealed, even the entry-level car (expected to start from around £60,000 in 350h guise) gets loads of advanced safety technology, three-zone climate control, full keyless go, wireless phone charging, all-round parking sensors, heated seats and steering wheel, and 19-inch alloy wheels.
|Model:||Lexus RX 350h|
|Engine:||2.5-litre 4cyl petrol + 2x e-motors|
|Transmission:||CVT automatic, four-wheel drive|
|On sale:||Autumn 2023|
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