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2010 Lexus RX 450h (David Dewhurst)
2010 Lexus RX 450h (David Dewhurst)

Lexus RX 450h

Gliding along in a stealth hybrid Add to ...

Sure, $58,900 is a fairly steep price tag, but for that you get a 2010 Lexus RX 450h with a suspension that tames some of the very worst pavement, not to mention a library-quiet cabin and a gasoline-electric hybrid powertrain that produces low emissions and excellent fuel economy numbers.

This hybrid is powerful enough to leave traffic in the rearview mirror, too.

On top of all that, the Lexus brand has a well-earned reputation for quality, durability and reliability. Safe? The RX is a Top Safety Pick from the U.S. Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. The Automobile Journalists Association of Canada has named RX 450h the Best New SUV/CUV over $60,000 for 2010.

Also, Canadian Black Book says Lexus light trucks have the second-best resale value in the business - retaining on average 43.5 per cent of their original sticker after four years.

Lexus, of course, knows a thing or two about crossovers - and hybrids for that matter, too. The RX is the best-selling Lexus model, so the 2010 redesign was done with great care.

Being a hybrid, well, the story begins with the powertrain. Here, the 450h's hybrid layout spins up a combined power rating of 295 horsepower - some 27 hp stronger than the RX 400h. The secret is not really so secret at all: a more powerful 245-hp, 3.5-litre gasoline V-6. The hybrid part, the integration of the gas and electric drive trains, is quite good. There is almost no noticeable jolt when the gas and electric parts start, stop or get to working together.

Even with its fortified engine, the RX is not a racecar by any means. The issue is weight. The RX 450h tips the scales at a hefty 2,110 kg. Look for 0-100 km/h times of under eight seconds, which is competitive for the class, but not mind-blowing.

On the other hand, fuel economy is. The city rating is 6.6 litres/100 km, while on the highway the number comes in at 7.2 L/100 km. Outstanding.

Meanwhile, Lexus had the good sense simply to refine the ride and, yes, this RX goes down the road smoother than ever. It just glides happily and quietly along - particularly on the inside, but also outside, too. Call it the stealth hybrid.

To enhance comfort, the RX engineers added a new double-wishbone rear suspension and tuned the whole shebang for a level of suppleness that should impress anyone familiar with the old RX 400h.

As for the rest of the chassis, the regenerative brakes have a predictable bite and are more than capable of bringing this big rig to a quick halt. The electric steering is good, but still feels just a little bit artificial, even slightly disconnected from the road.

The cabin is a step up, though. The start of the thing is Remote Touch, the Lexus take on a multimedia interface for the navigation and audio controls.

Now, don't think Lexus has gone the same route as the German upscale brands. No - instead the Lexus Remote Touch system employs what is essentially an inverted computer mouse located on the centre console.

Here's how it works: Move the flat nub around to navigate a cursor on a large, well-lit screen set back in the upper portion of the dashboard. The nub is programmed to provide texture to its action, so you "feel" the movements. Better still, the software engineers managed to program the system to prevent bumpy pavement from sending the cursor bouncing across the screen.

I like this take on multimedia controllers. It's fairly intuitive - so much so that it's manageable with just a little study and practice. Lexus also allows drivers to customize the system to their liking. Ergonomically, the controller's placement is ideal; your right hand just falls right down on top of it.

The rest of the cabin is good, though not perfect. The rear cargo area is huge, but the spaciousness of the rear seating area could be more generous. The look and feel of the cabin pieces do not all scream luxury, either. Some were apparently lifted from Toyota's parts bin.

Lexus set about updating its RX hybrid with an eye to improving everything. For the most part, that's what we have here.

The new RX 450h has a friendly but reserved personality that uses very little fuel - at least compared with any of the gasoline rigs in this segment. This SUV is handsome but not startling so. It's very safe, too. And it drives well.

In all, Lexus has done a fine job of polishing up its best-selling hybrid SUV. You expected something else?

2010 Lexus RX 450h

Type: Luxury hybrid crossover

Base Price: $58,900

Engine: 3.5-litre V-6, DOHC, with electric motors

Battery pack: 288-volt nickel metal hydride

Horsepower/Torque:

  • Gas engine: 245 hp/234 lb-ft
  • Electric motor 1: 167 hp/247 lb-ft
  • Electric motor 2: 68 hp/96 lb-ft Combined net power: 295 hp

Transmission: Six-speed CVT

Drive: All-wheel-drive

Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 6.6 city/7.2 highway; premium gas

Alternatives: GMC Yukon hybrid, Chevrolet Tahoe hybrid, Audi Q7 TDI, Mercedes-Benz ML350 BlueTec, BMW X5 xDrive 35d

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