Fifty Shades of Green: The Lexus RX 450h Is For The Opulent And The Eco-Conscious
I’m on my fourth cup of coffee, suffering the writer’s curse. Even with a deadline sneaking up on me like a scorpion, I barely have three words to start with. Even in my fully padded and soundproofed podcast studio 30 floors above the rest of the city, I can feel the editorial screws tightening up as I stare at my own Everest: the blank page. There is nothing more intimidating, yet at the same time, more rewarding, exciting, and fulfilling when you beat it—especially when you get it right.
A blank page. That’s exactly what Lexus had in front of them in 1993 when they dreamt up the world’s first luxury crossover, the Lexus RX. That enigma just outside of your comfort zone and everything you know you’re good at. They could have cut and pasted a pretty decent SUV from their already many templates, just as I could have slapped one generic sentence after the other to make up a minimum word count. But they chose to write their own story; and 22 years after it debuted in 1997, they have one hell of a tale to tell.
It’s one thing to be driving the world’s first luxury crossover and another thing to save the earth. But to do both at the same time? Well, you can thank Lexus for that. They pretty much invented that marriage. Yes, you could get technical and argue that Ferdinand Porsche invented the first hybrid vehicle—which is true—but it was Toyota who made it affordable. Lexus just came along a few years later and made it desirable.
What is it that makes the RX450h a standout and such a joy to drive? Well, there are many answers to that question, but for the sake of brevity, let’s focus on the stuff the competitors wish they had.
To start: that marvel of a powerplant. With a total system output of 308 horsepower, the RX is no slouch. The dash to a hundred happens in just 7.7 seconds, which is still respectable considering its carbon footprint, and it only starts to run out of ideas at 200 km/h. Impressive, no doubt. But to try to sum up the RX450h in numbers is like choosing between a single malt or a blended whiskey based on alcohol content—it’s just not about that.
With the RX 450h, it’s all about the experience. Everything you touch, smell, and hear (or don’t hear) is part of that exclusive journey that has made this the best-selling luxury hybrid SUV of all time.
At one point, the RX accounted for 40 per cent of Lexus sales. Even after inspiring countless competitors from rival marques, it remains the top-selling Lexus hybrid, with global sales of over 335,000 units through March 2016, out of one million Lexus hybrids delivered since 2005.
It’s not hard to appreciate why. Slip behind the thick, meaty steering wheel that is generously wrapped in premium leather and run your fingers across every surface: you won’t find a coarse edge or a bit of substandard material anywhere—yes, even in the places you can’t immediately see. Press the start-stop button and watch the Lexus quietly rouse from slumber without uttering a single decibel. As you glide your foot off the brake pedal, the RX crawls forward so silently it feels almost surreal. A slight dab of the throttle summons the combustion engine into this technological orchestra as seamlessly as a conductor calls upon a new instrument to join in the piece.
The whole process is so fluid and masterful that it requires a hybrid indicator display with animation to tell you what’s going on. Even then, there’s still no way to fully appreciate the sorcery that is going on under the hood. It all happens in unison. In a blink of an eye, power is being harvested, stored, and replenished during a high-speed ballet between hardware and software. Imagine driving your smartphone and you’ll get pretty close to the feeling brought on by sitting behind the wheel of the RX 450h.
Even the all-wheel drive system is completely electric. I was half expecting a ringtone when I hit the horn. Because if there’s an area where they could save gas, weight, or emissions, they found an app for that. I know I keep using the music analogy because of how everything works in symphony; but if this car were a movie, it would be titled Fifty Shades of Green.
In a perfect world, we would all be driving hydrogen cars—then again, in a perfect world, Mother Teresa would have more Instagram followers than the Kardashians, but we all know how that turned out. While we’re on our way, hybrid technology is the most reliable and affordable road towards that goal. I’m talking about the hydrogen, of course, not the Instagram followers. Even when we perfect hydrogen and get it to an affordable level, hybrid technology will still play a role, and nobody has been able to play that part better than Toyota and Lexus.
There’s still some room for improvement—I’d like to see lithium batteries instead of Nickel-Metal Hydride in the next model—but with global warming becoming more and more tangible than many thought it would in our lifetime, this is the way of the future. With the RX 450h, that future is now.