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Lexus offers a different take on its hybrid formula, in pursuit of excitement over economy.
We try the most powerful version of Lexus's large SUV.
Standard equipment on F Sport:
21in alloy wheels, LED headlights with automatic high beam, black brake callipers, rear privacy glass, adaptive variable suspension, leather upholstery, 64-colour ambient lighting, heated and ventilated front seats, leather steering wheel trim, active sound control, triple-zone air conditioning, 14in touchscreen, head-up display, five USB ports, wireless smartphone charger, power tailgate with kick sensor, panoramic view monitor, blind spot monitor, automatic and remote parking, driver monitor, e-latch door release with safe exit assist, lane change assist, front and rear cross traffic alert.
The big fleet news with the latest generation of Lexus's RX large SUV was the addition of a plug-in hybrid powertrain option, with a resulting big cut in CO2 emissions and company car BIK tax liability. However, conventional hybrid versions also remain available, including what Lexus is calling its first-ever performance hybrid, the 500h. This features a 2.4-litre petrol engine, paired with two electric motors to deliver 371hp - enough to get this 2.1-tonne SUV from 0-62mph in a hot hatch-troubling 6.2 seconds.
On paper, the idea of a performance hybrid SUV might sound like a good one for the company car driver with a family who likes to get a shift on. However, there is a rather large fly in this ointment - an official CO2 emissions figure of 182g/km, meaning that despite the hybrid system, the 500h still sits in the top 37% BIK tax band. A 35.3mpg combined fuel economy figure means fleet managers aren't exactly going to be impressed by low fuel bills either (although this is at least a better figure than that offered by equivalent petrol rivals such as the Audi Q7 and Mercedes-Benz GLE).
With that tax disappointment out of the way, how does the 500h stack up on the road? Well, the stated performance figures certainly translate - planting the throttle delivers a satisfying surge of acceleration, and despite the hybrid powertrain this is accompanied by quite a satisfying deep rumbling engine note. Unlike other RXs, the 500h features a proper six-speed automatic gearbox, which works well, and feels like a better option for a sports SUV than the usual Lexus CVT 'box.
The 500h offers more to keen drivers than just straight-line speed. It generally changes direction well, with the chassis keeping things planted and level in corners, and there's plenty of grip. Features of the 500h that help in this area include dynamic rear steering, designed to aid manoeuvrability at low speeds and stability when moving faster, and Direct4 all-wheel drive, which adjusts the amount of power sent to the front and rear axles depending on where the car is in a corner. Only numb steering lets the side down dynamically. Compared with other RXs, the 500h also features upgraded brakes with larger front discs, and these provide impressive stopping power. Despite the dynamic enhancements, ride quality also remains good, with adaptive suspension allowing the dampers to be stiffened or softened as required.
The 500h is only available with the F Sport equipment grade, which as well as sporty styling also features elements designed with improved aerodynamics in mind, with the lower edge of the front bumper shaped to generate higher downforce and additional wheel arch mouldings helping to regulate air flow.
Our test car's interior featured an attractive dark red colour scheme that also lived up to the sporting aspirations. As with the plug-in hybrid RX we've tested previously, the cabin is trimmed to a high standard, and the 14in infotainment touchscreen remains impressive.
It should be noted that the relatively strong (for a quick large SUV) fuel economy figure we discussed earlier makes the RX 500h cheaper on a cost-per-mile basis than its rivals. However, the fact that its CO2 figure remains so high means that from a fleet point of view, this version of the RX will remain only of interest to executives who see enough subjective appeal to take on the hefty BiK payments - the plug-in hybrid RX 450h+ will attract the vast majority of company car demand.