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2010 Lexus 450h, a hybrid SUV

Interior, 2010 Lexus 450h

Back Seat, 2010 Lexus 450h
DailyTech takes a ride in the Lexus RX 450h

The hybrid SUV market has popped up and expanded greatly over the last several years, though it has been damaged by the recession.  Ford offers the affordable Escape and Mercury Mariner hybrids and Mazda is offering its new Tribute hybrid SUV. Toyota's Highlander is also making the rounds in the hybrid market.

However, Toyota's luxury brand, Lexus, has the competitors easily beat on price.  Priced lower than the non-luxury 2010 Volkswagen Touareg, 2010 GMC Yukon (GM), 2010 Chevy Tahoe (GM), 2009 Dodge Durango (Chrysler), 2009 Chrysler Aspen (Chrysler) hybrids [source], and enjoying the role of being the only luxury crossover hybrid on the market, the 2010 Lexus 450h seems well positioned in terms of price and role.  It's clear why Toyota has managed to sell over two million hybrids -- something no other automaker can claim.

A second generation hybrid, the latest Lexus RX hybrid SUV packs a combined 297 hp (44 hp from 2 electric motors, 245 hp from a 3.5 L 2GR-FE V6 gas engine) and uses advanced technologies such as running the engine on the Atkinson cycle, utilizing exhaust heat recovery, and offering a cooled exhaust gas-recirculation system to reduce fuel pumping losses.  It also offers voice commands, an in-dash navigation system, and LED headlights.

The vehicle has a one-motor variant EPA rated at 30 mpg city, 28 highway for the all-wheel-drive variant, and 32/28 mpg for the standard.  It can tow up to 3,500 lb.

That sounds like a great package, but how exactly does it perform?  That's the question we set out to answer, taking the AWD (two motor) vehicle variant on a week long test drive.

When considering hybrids, one of the first questions that comes to mind is how well they perform in terms of fuel economy.  This was one disappointment about the vehicle.  The vehicle consistently failed to achieve the EPA estimates, from the first day to the last.  Instead, we received 27.2 mpg.  We logged considerable mileage on the vehicle -- approximately 430 miles, so we're confident these results aren't just a fluke. 

One factor may have been that we were averaging a speed of 29 mph and encountered a lot of stop-and-go traffic, conditions that would lower efficiency.  And 27.2 mpg is still substantially higher than most SUVs that average somewhere between 18-20 mpg and even diesel SUVs, that typically get around 21 or 22 mpg. 

The fuel economy does illustrate a problem, though -- while customers expect EPA ratings to be conservative, sometimes they're overly liberal.  When it comes to hybrid SUV's buyers face a tough choices -- getting lower fuel economy in models like the Lexus RX hybrid in exchange for better power, or opting for underpowered four-cylinder vehicles like the 2010 Mazda Tribute hybrid.

Speaking of power, that was a definite positive -- acceleration was peppy for a hybrid SUV vehicle and there was little trouble accelerating up to high speeds on the highway, thanks to the capable V6 engine.  Likewise braking was responsive, though it had a bit different feel thanks to the regenerative braking features.  Handling was terrific, the car took turns well.

As for the feel of the vehicle, its very comfortable and spacious.  The wheel retracts when you're not driving, a nice touch.  The drive is relatively smooth and NVH (noise, vibration, and harshness) is not overly high, thanks in part to the smooth electric motors.  

The vehicle's suspension, though felt taut and was rather disappointing.  Driving along bumpy city streets in Detroit, the driver was jostled around substantially more in the RX 450h than in his "pedestrian" 2002 Chevy Malibu.  Despite the RX 450h's greater weight, this was a bit of a surprise, considering the vehicle had Macpherson struts and gas pressurized shock absorbers (front), along with a double wishbone suspension (rear) with more shock absorbers.  The suspension did take turns very well, but the trade-off was that it just did not perform sufficiently when absorbing large road bumps.

One nice feature of the car was its adaptive headlights.  LED bulbs provided clear illumination of the road.  Our model had adaptive headlamps, a nice option as it helps illuminate curves.  Another interesting feature was automatic brights -- something that we've rarely seen other reviews mention.  The feature automatically turns on brights when there are no cars in the front view, apparently, and then turns them off when cars come into view.  This is a really nice feature, and was particularly handy when riding on some back country streets where deer might be lurking.

As for aesthetics, the car scores high marks.  Arguably one of the more attractive hybrid SUVs, the car features some nice curves and an aggressive look.  The interior came with optional leather and wood trim, completing the luxury feel.  While some reviewers panned the navigation system we found it capable from both an aesthetics and utility standpoint.  Brighter than in other Toyota models, the system dropped map marking dots/breadcrumbs during trips (you can turn them off), a handy feature to help you plot a reverse course.  It also offered a robust system for finding points of interest like local gas stations or restaurants, as well as offering turn by turn directions.  A directional indicator (N/NE...S/SW) in the rear-view mirror was also a nice touch.

Recapping, a few things would make the Lexus RX 450h a sweeter package.  A smoother suspension, better gas mileage, more support for MP3 audio (like Ford's Sync), and a better standard blind spot warning system (blind spot cameras are an add-on) would all help to improve the experience.

However, the great price point and V6 engine overshadow many of these detractions.  Taking the price into consideration, we feel that the Lexus RX 450h provides appealing value and a good buy for the eco-minded luxury SUV buyer.  With enough perks to make a fulfilling basic luxury experience, the Toyota appears to have a solid competitor on their hands with the 2010 Lexus RX 450h.

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RE: Jostled around more than a 2002 Chevy Malibu
By Samus on 10/20/2009 12:47:28 PM , Rating: 2
Toyota hasn't made a car with a soul since the last Celica, which didn't look all that great in comparison to their previous sports cars. I don't know what the hell happened to Toyota, but something tells me they are going to screw up on a massive scale real soon when people start to care about what a car looks like instead of just how good of a tool it is. Ford did this when they redesigned the Taurus in 1995. It was the best selling car for 10 years, then they screwed it up and literally gave the crown to the Camry, not because the Camry was better, but because it just looked better. Then Toyota redesigned that in 2001 and ever since Toyota hasn't made a decent looking car.

I personally don't see myself ever purchasing a GM vehicle outside of a Corvette or a Volt, but the Chevy Malibu isn't a bad car. I'm surprised I don't see more of them on the road.

By EvilBlitz on 10/20/2009 2:32:30 PM , Rating: 2
Toyota already did screw up on a massive scale. Did you miss their CEO getting fired and getting a good dressing down?
New "Celica" is coming. Joint work with Subaru, I think it looks good.
Toyota dropped the Celica as they stopped racing in the WRC and went Formula 1 only.
Also imho Camry was and is superior to the Taurus in one very important way, quality.

By MrBlastman on 10/20/2009 5:19:40 PM , Rating: 2
I miss the older MR-2's--the ones from the late 80's/early 90's. Those cars looked like mini-ferrari's with the proper from-Toyota body kit; hot cars indeed. They were even hotter with a turbo in them.

The spider's were okay, but they weren't the older line MR-2. Oh, and I agree about the Celeca's. I can't wait to see them back in action again. Perhaps Subaru's collaboration with Toyota is why Subaru pulled out of WRC (Sad day that was :( ). I suppose Subaru wanted to focus on making a worthy successor to the Celeca (A rightful icon of WRC in its own right as well).

RE: Jostled around more than a 2002 Chevy Malibu
By Cullinaire on 10/21/2009 3:11:32 AM , Rating: 2
As much as I'd like to agree with you on the "soul" point, it is getting tiresome hearing the same tired argument time after time (I read this everytime there's a Toyota topic on various auto blogs).

Bottom line is, manufacturers make what sells. Most of Toyota's "soul" cars, and for that matter, those of the other manufacturers (Z32, FD, etc) were cancelled since they stopped selling. Yes, you can blame them for jacking the prices up to German levels, but at the same time what manufacturer won't keep upgrading models for subsequent generations (and raising prices)? There are few exceptions to this nowadays. I'd say the MX-5 is the least affected by this issue. If you accounted for inflation (and avoided the dealer markups), it hasn't substantially increased in price since its introduction. Weight on the other hand...(but that's probably the Fed's fault)

As for the last Celica, I won't deny that it sold well considering what it was, but I'll take a guess as to why it was canned: Toyota didn't see a market for an even more expensive version with more bells & whistles (and the suits probably won't even think about the alternative - keeping it the same). What to do with all the capital saved? Yes, dump it into developing things like the Venza. Hurray!

Also, I doubt people will ever care about the looks of a car enough that they'd just up and stop buying Toyotas. Those people, who make up the majority of the market, are the ones that spend money on new cars. They care about fuel mileage, interior space, and NVH levels. A lot of these things are often at odds with looks and soul. Most people who complain about "soul" and "cars as appliances" wouldn't buy a new car anyway. Why would you, when they are so many used ones from eras that federal regulations didn't bloat and cripple?

By Samus on 10/21/2009 12:32:35 PM , Rating: 1
Toyota hasn't made a real sports car (Supra) in 15 years. They haven't made the Celica for 5 years. The sportiest car they make is the Corolla and Matrix XRS. 170HP and shitty suspension. But hey, it's got a 6 speed so it's gotta be sporty, right?

Toyota was banned from the WRC for cheating in 1993 with the Celica Altrac. They'd won the previous year by a landslide victory and it was presumed because they cheated then, too. If I remember correctly they were running their boost controllers out of regulation-spec. This was back when 2000cc was the engine cap. Ever since then they've just assisted Subaru; the only legal way they can participate is though another vehicle manufacturer.

Toyota has done poorly in F1 compared to Honda, Ferrari and Cosworth, so I don't know why they bother, other than they haven't been banned from that yet and probably enjoy the additional publicity and they need it.

Everybody buys a Toyota now because everyone is led to believe the Japanese make the most reliable vehicles. Yes, Honda makes exceptionally good engines and Denso makes solid components, but quality? Toyota has had more recalls on its trucks than Dodge. DODGE! My roommates 2003 Tundra had $3200 worth of recalls alone, although she only had to pay $480 for them since one was overdue. However, balljoint failures caused her to get into an accident a few months ago in Utah. And the thing didn't smog because the manifolds were made with cheap shitty steel and the o2 bungs rusted out. The o2 sensors later shorted and fried the ECU.

She was never notified about any of these recalls until she brought it into the dealer with a fried control module.

Consumer Report says Toyota has terrible customer service and low repeat-buyers, however then states something that just feels like they were bought. "In sight on these customer surveys, we've found Toyota vehicles to be the most dependable in our testing"

Hey CR, if they're so dependable, how come people aren't continuing to buy them the next time around?

Mazda and Honda have the highest customer return rate of Japanese vendors according to CR survey.

Yes, I'm biased, I hate Toyota for a lot of reasons, and most of them, are FACTUAL. Not having a soul, is my opinion. And most people agree with me. They're God damn ugly boring cars and I'm just tired of looking at the consecration of shit they resemble.

"This week I got an iPhone. This weekend I got four chargers so I can keep it charged everywhere I go and a land line so I can actually make phone calls." -- Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg

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