Fine, but aging fast
THE GOOD
  • Unique styling
  • Reasonably comfortable
  • Lots of safety stuff
THE BAD
  • Dated interior controls
  • Awkward infotainment operation
  • Transmission

The Lexus RX holds something of a significant place in the brand’s history.

It was the first Lexus to be built outside of Japan when production started back in 2003 in Cambridge, Ont., and it’s still one of only two models made beyond that country’s borders (the stately ES sedan is the other). Two successful generations later the brand added a hybrid version to the assembly line about an hour west of Toronto, also making this midsize sport utility the first gas-electric Lexus built outside of Japan.

Flash forward to today, and the 2022 Lexus RX 450h remains an efficient and reasonably roomy premium SUV. Despite being just two years removed from a refresh, however, this best-seller is showing significant signs of age in the technology department.

User Friendliness: 5/10

There was a time in the not-too-distant past when an auto writer like me might have deemed the dated interface inside the RX to be acceptable, but it’s one that’s come and gone. To be clear, the RX was on the receiving end of some much-needed upgrades just two short years ago, including the addition of touchscreen infotainment. While an eight-inch display is standard, the 12.3-inch unit in this tester certainly looks great, its widescreen format and sharp colours and graphics a massive step forward.

Sadly, though, it’s still a clunky system that requires its console-mounted controls to complete some rather simple tasks. Want to pull up Apple CarPlay or Android Auto, both of which are standard here? First, hit the menu button behind the gear selector. Oddly, there’s no conventional home screen, with the navigation system’s map the default. It’s a bit like turning on a computer and Microsoft Word being open every time.

The tricky touchpad located on the console continues to be a confounding way to work through the system’s various functions, which makes the touchscreen a welcome addition. Yet it’s mounted so deep on the dashboard that it takes long limbs to reach it from either front seat.

Practicality: 7/10

In yet another disappointment, occupants with a stature to match those arms (read: tall) will be greeted by a serious lack of headroom in this midsize SUV. With an optional panoramic sunroof spanning the length of the passenger compartment, the only way my 6-foot-3 frame fit in either set of seats was to slouch uncomfortably. However, cabin width is reasonable enough that it doesn’t add to the claustrophobia up front with both seats occupied, while the back bench can fit three wide when required.

The rear seats also have a few handy tricks to help when moving cargo. Of course, they fold for maximum capacity; but their 40/20/40 split allows long items to be stashed inside while retaining four full seats. Should more cargo room be required, either side can be electrically stowed via buttons just inside the tailgate opening or low on the seats themselves in a 60/40 split, with the same switches used to raise them back into position. Finally, the seats in the back also slide on rails in order to borrow some legroom to add to the space for stuff (or vice versa).

Officially, the Lexus RX 450h has the same 453 L as its gas-only sibling, the RX 350, which is less than the similarly sized Mercedes-Benz GLC-Class offers – though that’s not available as a hybrid. Likewise, folding the rear seats results in 923 L, less than the GLC-Class. It’s also considerably less than the cargo capacity of the Toyota RAV4 Hybrid that’s also built in the same southwestern Ontario city despite the Lexus boasting a slightly larger footprint.

Power: 9/10

Just like that RAV4, this gas-electric RX has its battery pack stashed under the back seat so it doesn’t cut into the space that’s available. It’s a 1.9-kWh unit that works in unison with a dedicated electric motor that drives the rear wheels, as well as a 3.5L V6 gas engine and twin electric motor-generators under the hood. One of them drives the front wheels and, just like the motor in the back, works in reverse for regenerative braking, while the other acts as a generator to put energy into the battery.

Net output from the hybrid drive system stands at 308 hp – slightly more than the gas version makes on its own. And, considering the focus on efficiency, the combo is quick to respond to requests for forward momentum. While it sounds a bit odd under heavy acceleration, the RX 450h can in those moments feel not very much like a hybrid at all.

Comfort: 9/10

Despite slouching inside them, the leather-wrapped F Sport front seats in this tester were nice, with good bolstering that’s supportive without being too narrow and restrictive. As their name suggests, there’s just a bit of sportiness to their shape and the way they hug occupants, but they don’t feel over the top or overbearing. Either way, the front seats are both heated and ventilated in every hybrid-powered RX, while the outboard rear seats are heated, too, and feature some contouring of their own.

Driving Feel: 8/10

This being a Lexus, the drive experience is largely one of old-school luxury. Rather than sporty and sharp, the ride and handling characteristics are relaxed while remaining responsive – particularly with the adaptive suspension that comes with either available F Sport package. That means all kinds of comfort on rough roads, with the damping doing well to adjust to impacts before they unsettle occupants.

There isn’t much in the way of steering feel, with a numbness to the electrically assisted rack, but it’s decently direct in its response to inputs. It’s also clear this isn’t a completely by-wire system and it’s better for it, with a nice weight and resistance that feels natural, while pressure cracks can be felt as they gently pulse through the wheel as a subtle reminder that it’s actually connected to the front wheels.

The transmission is the only weak point of the powertrain, with its lack of gears pronounced under heavy throttle. The brand’s engineers tried to make it feel like a conventional automatic through the use of simulated shift points, but it’s the way in which the continuously variable transmission (CVT) winds out almost endlessly when passing or merging that’s unbecoming.

Fuel Economy: 8/10

This powertrain is best left to its own devices for optimal performance and efficiency. Sure, there are some drive modes to sort through, including the eco setting I left it in for much of my week-long test; but the system knows what to do regardless and will always prioritize efficient electric operation – even in sport mode. That means doing its best to take off from a standing start under battery power, or getting back to it as soon as a foot is lifted off the throttle.

With all that in mind, the RX hybrid is reasonably efficient, returning ratings of 7.5 L/100 km in the city, 8.4 on the highway, and 7.9 combined. For the sake of comparison, the gas-only version is good for 12.2 L/100 km around town, 9.0 on the highway, and 10.8 combined, according to Natural Resources Canada (NRCan). Meanwhile, an initial evaluation drive on a cold and rainy day in late October covering some 250 km, mostly across secondary and major highways, came in at 8.0 L/100 km, while the full week finished at 8.3 over some 550 km.

Features: 9/10

Rather than go the traditional route with a premium entry such as this and gate-keep the most desirable features behind pricey packages, Lexus has split the difference by including some – though by no means all – good stuff in the RX 450h’s pre-tax starting price of $62,115 including a non-negotiable freight charge of $2,115. That means dual-zone automatic climate control, heated and ventilated front seats, a heated steering wheel, heated rear seats, and Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are all standard. Also included in that price are eight-way power-adjustable front seats, leather upholstery, and a 12-speaker stereo, among others like a CD player. (Remember those?)

Value: 7/10

Where the various packages come into play is when looking at any of the F Sport styling upgrades, the adaptive suspension, panoramic sunroof (a smaller one is standard), larger touchscreen, or kick sensor for the power-opening tailgate – and they can get quite expensive. Take the F Sport Series 3 package included with this tester: it’s a $14,050 upgrade, pushing the pre-tax price to $76,165.

That makes this RX more expensive than a Mercedes GLC 300 decked out with similar goods – again, it’s not offered as hybrid, but it’s worth mentioning nonetheless – while plug-in hybrid versions of the Audi Q5 or Volvo V60 can easily cost more, though both offer dedicated electric driving range that this doesn’t. Likewise, the larger Lincoln Aviator is offered as a plug-in that’s pricier but provides actual emissions-free driving range instead of bits and pieces like this.

Safety: 9/10

Something that’s mostly the same regardless of price is the advanced safety equipment that’s included in every Lexus RX. Forward collision warning with pedestrian and cyclist detection, and automatic emergency braking; automatic high-beam headlights; lane-departure warning with lane-keeping and some moderate automated steering assist; adaptive cruise control that works in stop-and-go traffic; and blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert – it’s all standard. Rain-sensing wipers also come equipped on the RX 450h regardless of package, while reverse automatic braking, a surround-view monitor, and head-up display can all be added through the options list.

Styling: 9/10

The interior is a rather odd blend of dated displays and controls to go with a few modern ones that makes the RX look and feel slightly out of sorts. While I’m a fan of physical controls for stuff like climate and audio functions, this setup is far past its prime.

Despite the way the switchgear looks, I’ve long had a soft spot for this brand’s styling both inside and out, and that’s certainly the case here. There’s no symmetry to the cabin, which generally doesn’t work in the world of automotive design, and yet it manages to do exactly that. The mismatched HVAC vents that bookend the dashboard, or the way the trim splits the console into a driver-first pod – it’s a stylish take on a sport utility like this one.

Outside, the massive spindle grille is eye-catching if not quite elegant, but it works well with the rest of the sleek styling cues. The very shape of the RX, with its so-called “floating” roofline and tapered rear glass, makes it distinctive at the very least. Add in the splash of colour thanks to this tester’s Matador Red paint and contrast grey multi-spoke F Sport wheels, and it stands out in a sea of bland sport utilities, premium or otherwise.

The Verdict

There’s no denying that the 2022 Lexus RX 450h is a stylish sport utility with decent road manners and impressive efficiency – especially compared to the average entry in the segment. Even the space inside for both people and stuff, while not especially abundant, is decent, and its overall reputation for reliability and longevity adds plenty of appeal. It’s only the way the controls look and feel and, more importantly, the way the infotainment interface functions that makes it feel like it’s stuck in the past.

The good news is there’s hope for the future. In the slightly smaller 2022 Lexus NX the brand has introduced a completely overhauled approach to its tech that’s far more modern, with an intuitive arrangement of its switchgear and tons of screen real estate that’s easily accessible from either front seat. For now, the RX requires a little bit of practice – and a whole lot of patience – to get the hang of.

Competitors

Specifications

Engine Displacement 3.5L   Model Tested 2022 Lexus RX 450h
Engine Cylinders Hybrid V6   Base Price $60,000
Peak Horsepower 308 hp net   A/C Tax $100
Peak Torque n/a   Destination Fee $2,115
Fuel Economy 7.5 / 8.4 / 7.9 L/100 km cty/hwy/cmb   Price as Tested $76,265
Cargo Space 453 / 923 L seats down  
Optional Equipment
$14,050 – F Sport Series 3 Package, $14,050