Big, green, sexy Lexus
The Lexus RX450h hybrid is a beauty, writesMARKHINCHLIFFE
BIGGER, sexier, greener, more drivable, more potent, yet even cheaper. The second-generation Lexus RX450h hybrid SUV has a bigger footprint on the road and has more muscular bulges that give it a masculine look, but it is the advances in driving dynamics in tandem with improved environmental credentials that mark the new hybrid SUV.
And all this comes at a more affordable price. Rather than one specification level, it now arrives in three trim levels that mirror the three variants of the petrol-engined RX350.
The Prestige starts at $89,900, which is almost $8000 less than the previous hybrid model. But it has more specification, such as smart start, a 12-speaker Mark Levinson sound system and a remote-touch computer system.
Half of that saving comes in the form of exemption from the luxury car tax from the threshold up to $75,000 of its price, because its combined fuel use is less than seven litres for 100km.
It is the first hybrid to qualify for exemption from the luxury car tax.
Lexus Australia boss John Roca says the other part of the price reduction is due to a more efficient process of producing hybrid technology.
Prices for the other trim levels are $96,900 for the Sports and $107,900 for the Sports Luxury.
Roca says dealers have taken about two months of orders, or 120 vehicles, even though they assumed the price would be $10,000 above the previous model, which cost $97,545.
‘‘In normal circumstances that would not be ground-breaking, but in these (economic) conditions, it is very promising and clearly shows consumer interest in hybrids is continuing to grow,’’ he says.
Roca is projecting 60 sales a month, which is a 70 per cent increase on the RX400h and represents 30 per cent of all RX sales.
The new RX hybrid is 10 per cent more powerful than the RX400h with a combined power output of 220kW, and 23 per cent more efficient with economy of 6.4 litres/100km and CO2 emissions of 150g/km — less than a Toyota Corolla.
The power gains are largely through the use of an efficient Atkinson cycle V6 engine that has a higher compression ratio (12.5:1) than a conventional Otto cycle engine.
It is combined with direct ignition, quadcam multi-valves, variable valve timing to optimise efficiency, and two electric motors.
Surprisingly for a hybrid, the Lexus is more efficient on the highway cycle (6.1 litres/ 100km) than around town (6.6 litres/100km).
This is due to strategies such as better aerodynamics, low-friction bearings and oil, and ECU management.
Over its lifetime, Lexus estimates the RX450h will generate 32 per cent less CO2 than the RX 350, despite its larger size, power and 120kg of mass.
Roca says the previous model had a 65 per cent skew toward women but the new model will appeal more to males. ‘‘It will be more like 50-50,’’ he says. ‘‘All RX400h models are now sold. Our target was to clear stock by August but we cleared them by the end of May with aggressive pricing.’’
The RX450h will be available from July 13. LEXUS chose Eastern Creek race circuit in Sydney’s west to launch the vehicle this week.
It seemed a strange choice for an SUV, but the skidpan drive and cornering exercises prove the new chassis and suspension design tested at Germany’s Nurburgring give this a more car-like drive than its predecessor.
It turns into a corner sharper and faster, manoeuvres with less steering input, has less body roll and pitch and can corner faster and flatter, even in the wet.
Yet out on the road, it still straddles potholes quietly and gracefully. The cabin is almost eerily quiet at times, except under hard acceleration.
Roca says customers complained the previous model didn’t make enough noise when pushed hard. The RX450h now provides a subtle but noticeable engine roar that dies to a gentle purr when cruising on the highway or around town, with or without electric motor assistance.
The roomy and airy cabin feels even more open, especially in the back.
The mouse-controlled computer screen for the infotainment display is better than that in some of the competitors’ models, but is not a patch on the ease of the touch-screen predecessor.
On the plus side, the screen is now farther away and recessed to avoid sun glare.