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First Drive: Lexus RX 450h

Lexus is 30 and to celebrate, it’s added more driver appeal to the RX 450 SUV. Martyn Collins reckons it’s worth a look.

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SECTOR Large SUV   PRICE From £52,705   FUEL 34.4-35.7mpg (WLTP)   CO2 134-138g/km (NEDC Correlated)

The facelifted RX 450h is big news for Lexus, with sales of three million worldwide and 266,000 in Europe alone. In the UK, SUV rivals such as the BMW X5 and Volvo’s recently updated XC90 have more presence in the market, but that could change with this facelift.

Outside, you’ll have to look closely to spot the differences between this and the outgoing models, which date back to 2015. However, there are the usual tweaks, including new front and rear bumpers, lights and a more neatly integrated version of the distinctive Lexus family grille.

The headlights are particularly interesting as they feature a new ‘Bladescan’ adaptive high-beam system, which works via a rotating blade-shaped mirror that focuses light from the LED headlights. Lexus’s LED matrix alternative, it’s claimed to make it easier to avoid blinding oncoming drivers and spot pedestrians.

Inside, the updates mostly centre on the technology, with a new touchscreen display fitted as standard. Also, the ‘remote touch interface’ has changed from a controller to a trackpad-type device. Elsewhere, smartphone connectivity is improved with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto access. Plus, there’s a new phone holder and additional USB port.

Go for the RX L long-wheelbase version, and the third row of seats now have two different seating positions, giving up to 95mm of legroom.

The more significant changes have gone on underneath the familiar SUV bodywork, focusing on driving pleasure. These include changes to the suspension, which results in stiffer anti-roll bars, plus laser screw welding, spot welding and increased use of high-strength adhesives for the bodyshell, all equalling improved steering response.

Are these changes noticeable on the road? Well, Fleet World had the chance to drive the expected best-seller in the UK, the £55,205 F Sport, along with the range-topping £61,705 Takumi version. In our opinion, the steering feels more responsive than before – especially with the F Sport’s sharper settings. The ride remains impressively comfortable and refined, even with this model’s slightly harder edge, on standard 20-inch alloy wheels.

Standard equipment gives you all that you’re ever likely to need – even if the F-Sport is only one up from the entry-level. However, there are further safety tech and luxury packs, if you want to spend more. Inside the luxurious interior, the seats are supportive – especially the F Sport’s. Space in the rear is pretty decent, although the 453-litre boot is smaller than rivals. Refinement is high too, with the sporty-sounding, 3.3-litre V6 only audible when extended. It is a shame then that the RX 450 CVT transmission sometimes feels like it is strangling the V6 petrol.

Despite all these changes, the BMW and Volvo are the more dynamic options, in our opinion. Although there’s no doubting the Lexus’s comfort and savings thanks to its hybrid drivetrain, making it worth a look.

The Lowdown
Key Fleet Model: RX F Sport
Strengths: Sharp looks, comfort, refinement, equipment
Weaknesses: Performance strangled by CVT gearbox, rivals are more dynamic to drive

The Verdict
Improved driving dynamics don’t come at the expense of comfort and refinement on the latest RX. Impressive economy compared to rivals.

FW Star Rating
4/5

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Martyn Collins

Martyn has 18 years experience as a motoring journalist, working across a wide selection of B2B and consumer titles. A car enthusiast since his early years, Martyn has a particular interest in the latest models and technology and in his spare time enjoys driving his own Minis.