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Lexus is also generous with the standard equipment. In middling SE-I spec sampled here, satnav, eight-way powered driver's seat, Bluetooth, rear-parking monitor and 10 airbags are all standard.
The interior is as comfortable and luxurious as you'd expect from a Lexus, although there is a concern over the firm's new Remote Touch system for controlling the satnav, ventilation, stereo and vehicle settings. Instead of a BMW i-drive-style knob, it works like a computer mouse. The trouble with it working like a mouse, though, is that the driver needs to take their eye off the road for longer to check where the curser is, and then watch how far they've moved it to click directly on the right place.
At least with the systems used by the German prestige brands, the driver knows without needing a prolonged look at the screen how to retune the radio or cancel the navigation, for example. For the British market, it also requires left-handed use of the mouse control, which takes a little getting used to.
On the road, the RX is fairly similar to its predecessor. It's smooth and very refined on motorways, but the competence falls away in urban environments where bumps and potholes crash through the cabin.
However, around town, there's a satisfying smugness to be gleaned from running on electric power, and on our mixed test route we managed 42.8mpg through (very) gentle driving, although that did drop to 34.9 when driven normally. The RX can be driven in eco or normal modes, with the former dulling the throttle response and toning down the aircon to help improve economy. It's a barely noticeable difference from the normal setting so should be applied in most situations.
There's plenty of space in the front, rear and boot, with the luggage area enhanced by changes to the rear suspension that cut the amount it eats into the load bay. The rear seats will comfortably hold two adults, and adding a third isn't as tricky as rival models thanks to the flat floor created by the lack of a transmission tunnel. The engine drives only the front wheels while the rear-mounted electric motor adds the 4WD capability by powering the rear ones.
On paper, the RX450h is a phenomenal achievement, while in the metal it's a luxurious, refined and spacious large 4x4 that will satisfy the family. At low speed the hybrid system provides very real benefit, but it's the maths that will make it very difficult for the better-driving German brands.
Lexus RX450h SE-I
Model price range
BIK 20/40% per month
Boot space (min/max)
1 July 2009
Sits alone as an off-roader worthy of consideration by fleets