2021 Lexus RX 450h review: Comfortable if not classyFebruary 17, 2021
The 2021RX 450h F Sport hybrid crossover is sinuous, frugal and impressively quiet — exactly what I want in a luxury vehicle. There is, however, one aspect of this Lexus that’s unforgivable, a mortal sin that drags down an otherwise pleasant vehicle: the infotainment system.
- Stellar Mark Levinson sound system
- Spacious and comfortable backseat
- Exemplary refinement
- Loathsome infotainment system
- Too-aggressive exterior styling
- Meh real-world fuel economy
Hybrid versions of the RX come standard with all-wheel drive, but this example is also fitted with the F Sport package, which includes dress-up items like a unique grille, aluminum pedal covers, 20-inch wheels and even performance dampers. For extra sportiness, a $970 handling package is also offered, bringing an adaptive suspension system, retuned power steering and more goodies to the table. Beyond those F Sport upgrades, my tester features the Black Line Special Edition package. The good news is this upgrade costs just $685 and includes special body-side graphics, a black grille surround and a Halliburton Edge lightweight two-piece luggage set. The bad news is the Black Line Special Edition package is limited to just 750 gas-powered RXs and 250 hybrid models.
The Lexus RX’s styling is certainly aggressive, with its comically large grille, angular headlamps and chiseled surfacing, but its interior is much more restrained and pleasant. The cabin’s quality is stellar and its materials are generally very good. The headliner and roof pillars are wrapped in a flannel-like fabric, soft plastics are used liberally throughout and nearly all the switches and knobs feel slickly lubricated. Sure, you’ll find a smattering of Toyota-sourced buttons here and there; stuff you get in, say, a Camry, but these carryover controls are well hidden and hardly objectionable.
Just behind this Lexus’ unusually deep dashboard, the front bucket chairs are all-day comfortable and attractive, rendered in black and white with contrasting blue stitching, a combo that’s also part of the Black Line Special Edition package. Storage space up front is good, consisting of a decently sized bin under the center armrest, a few other small cubbies on the console and generously proportioned front door pockets that pop outward when you pull on them. Moving rearward, the RX’s backseat is nearly sprawl-out spacious, with plenty of legroom and a decent amount of noggin space. Comfortable cushions provide great support, with the lower one being a nice distance above the floor for a chair-like seating position. Providing easy access, this Lexus’ rear doors open nice and wide.
But now for some bad news. If there’s a worse infotainment system than what’s offered in this Lexus, I’m not aware of it. With a bewildering user interface as well as a clunky and difficult-to-use control pad on the console, this multimedia system is half laptop, half low-end Android tablet and all kinds of terrible. Not only is the menu structure confusing, the track pad you use to navigate through it is kludgy, making even simple tasks a distracting chore. Rubbing salt in the wound, this RX 450h is also fitted with the top-shelf 12.3-inch screen (an 8-incher is standard), which is bundled in a $3,365 options package, so you’re paying thousands more for an awful experience. At least that outlay also gets you embedded navigation and a superb Mark Levinson sound system that makes even highly compressed MP3s and muddy satellite radio come alive. While a bit of a reach, the RX’s infotainment screen is touch-enabled, so you can skip the trackpad, but only if your arms are lanky enough. Thankfully, this system also supportsand (as well as Amazon Alexa), so you don’t have to use the infotainment system any longer than it takes to plug your phone in. The vehicle’s six USB ports ensure everyone’s mobile devices are fully juiced; a wireless charging pad is also available.
The Lexus RX was updated in 2020, gaining a stiffened structure and revised suspension for better handling. This year, the vehicle gains some new technology, including blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert, both of which are now standard across the range. Auto-dimming, power-folding mirrors are included at no extra charge, too, as is Lexus Safety System Plus 2.0, a suite of driver aids that includes daytime cyclist detection, low-light pedestrian detection, road sign recognition and lane-keeping assist. Thankfully, I have not had an opportunity to test the pedestrian-detecting systems, but the lane-keeping aid is gentle yet quite effective.
Underway, the RX 450h is one smooth operator. Whether you’re traversing frost-heaved highways, tiptoeing along a cratered dirt road or just cruising around your subdivision, this Lexus’ ride is always sinuous. Even rolling on 20-inch wheels, small expansion joints barely register and larger impacts are easily deflected, all with no harshness or gritty vibration percolating through to the passenger compartment. Despite its smooth ride, the RX 450h’s body is decently controlled. Sure, it could feel a bit tighter in corners and it might be nice if the steering were quicker and heftier, but the whole chassis feels so well balanced that these changes aren’t necessary, plus they might ruin the fluffy ride, which would be a shame.
Matching its over-the-road refinement, the RX’s cabin remains incredibly silent, quieter than naptime in a nursing home, with almost no wind, tire or engine noise being heard. The RX 450h’s hybrid powertrain is built around a 3.5-liter V6, one augmented by two electric motor-generators up front that form a continuously variable transmission, and a separate motor at the rear, which provides all-wheel drive. Whispering while it works, this arrangement provides a net 308 horsepower, though a torque figure is not listed because the math with hybrids is weird. On its own, however, the V6 engine whips up 247 pound-feet of twist. The RX 450h’s easy handling and all-wheel drive add immensely to my confidence one day as the weather goes from drab to dangerous, with a winter storm dumping sleet on the roadways.
Stand on the accelerator and this Lexus scoots. Performance, while not awe-inspiring, is still very good, the engine sounding like it’s operating far off in the distance rather than a few inches ahead of your toes. The hybrid parts of this drivetrain are similarly polished, barely drawing any attention to themselves. The brake pedal is also friendly, with a seamless transition between regenerative and friction braking. For added versatility, the RX 450h offers an EV mode, which allows you to run it solely on electrons. The onboard battery pack has enough juice for you to sneak down a cul-du-sac or into the garage without running the engine, but as soon as you go too fast or prod the throttle too aggressively the engine fires up. Remember, this is not a plug-in hybrid, so electric-only range is not the primary focus.
Cutting fuel consumption, however, is one of this Lexus’ main objectives. Expect 31 miles per gallon in the city and 28 mpg on highway drives. In mixed use, the RX 450h should return 30 mpg, however, in the real world I only average around 25.1, a disappointing score. It’s typically a breeze to meet or even exceed advertised fuel-economy scores in Toyota hybrids, which makes this performance (or lack thereof) a bit of a surprise.
With its upscale interior, refined manners and, yes, unfortunate infotainment tech, a base 2021 Lexus RX 450h starts at just shy of $49,000, including $1,025 in destination fees. That’s about $2,650 more than an entry-level, front-wheel-drive, non-hybrid RX 350. As it sits, this F Sport example checks out for $59,380, a figure goosed by a few add-ons like a $200 wireless charger, $640 heated and ventilated front seats, $1,365 for parking assist and a 360-degree camera system, plus a few additional goodies. Still, that outlay gets you a family-friendly vehicle that’s more docile and refined than the sportierand, thanks to its aggressive styling (which you may or may not love), more visually interesting than a or .
There’s an abundance of luxury crossovers available today, great examples from German, American and Asian automakers. Plenty of them offer upscale interiors and loads of fancy features, but few are as refined, fuel efficient — and in one particular way — frustrating as this mostly likable Lexus.