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Super smoothie is as good for you as for the planet

Wednesday, 11th March, 2020 3:54pm

The Lexus iRX450h is a car with which, if you’re not already familiar, you really ought to be.

The current version was launched in 2015, but since then Lexus has been regularly, gently, incrementally, upgrading it so that each year it’s a little better than it was the last.

Last year, we got to sample the slightly longer, roomier, seven-seat RX450h-L. This year, we’re back into the five-seat version, and the upgrades are a little more subtle, but still rather useful.

The most significant upgrade is that now, you can plug in your iPhone and use Apple CarPlay through the RX’s big, elegant, touchscreen. That’s a massive improvement, because Lexus does not have an especially impressive infotainment system. The graphics are clunky, the menu layout irritatingly vague, and the functions not always readily apparent.

In fairness, Lexus knows this and is hard at work right now on a newer, slicker, system that will offer a more robust rivalry to the touchscreens you might find in a BMW or Audi. In the meantime, being able to access podcasts and Google Maps through the screen makes a big difference, as does the replacement of the awkward old mouse-like screen controller with a more sensible trackpad.

On the outside, if you look very carefully, you’ll spot the new RX450h from its revised radiator grille. As before, it has a dramatically pointy snout, with a grille that appears to have chromed fangs invading, Dracula-like, from the corners of its mouth. That grille has been altered very slightly, with the mesh now made up from subtle ‘L’ shapes, while the headlights are slimmer, and the contours of the front bumper a little smoother.

It’s subtle stuff, to say the least, but the effect is pleasing and while we accept that Lexus’s sharp-nosed styling won’t find favour everywhere, it looks ruddy good to us.

Inside, aside from the addition of CarPlay, very little has changed, and that’s a good thing. The main dials are still analogue gauges, but they actually change and alter themselves (when you select Sport mode, for instance) more than some competitors’ digital dials, thanks to clever projector technology.

Overall quality is simply off-the-scale good. In fact, with the subtle wood highlights and relaxing ambience, you could be forgiven for thinking that you’ve stepped into a boutique hotel, rather than a large 4x4.

Seat comfort is especially good, with huge, comfy, leather armchairs up front, and an acreage of legroom and headroom behind for rear seat passengers. Whatever you’re doing and wherever you’re going in this Lexus, one thing’s for sure — you’re going to be soothed.

Actually, Lexus would prefer it if you were a little less soothed and a touch more invigorated. With this round of updates, it has attempted to sharpen the RX450h’s dynamic repertoire, without damaging its ride comfort levels.

To do that, buried underneath you and out of sight, the body is now ‘laser-screw’ welded together, which boosts torsional rigidity. There’s also high-strength adhesive at key structural points for more of the same. There are stiffer anti-roll bars for the suspension, and new friction controllers in the shock absorbers which are there to reduce high-frequency vibrations from small imperfections in the road surface.

To a point, all of that works rather well. Certainly, the RX450h does feel a touch more responsive through the corners than it used to, but the problem is that you need to be going quite quickly to appreciate that fact. And going quite quickly in an RX450h feels… wrong. Much better to sit back, relax, set the cruise control, and let the Lexus take the strain.

Much of that is, of course, down to the hybrid system, which as ever better rewards a gentler driving style. Lexus (and parent company Toyota) has made huge strides in recent years in making its hybrids more frugal in general, everyday driving, rather than forcing you into a specific, ultra-frugal, driving style in order to extract maximum mpg.

That only counts up to a certain level, though — press on hard, and your next visit to the fuel pump will instantly remind you that this is, after all, a big, heavy, luxury SUV with a 3.5 litre V6 petrol engine.

Drive a little more gently, and the frugality rewards are there, though. We managed to bring the RX450h’s average fuel economy in our time with it down to around 7.5 litres per 100km (37mpg) which isn’t bad considering the heft of the whole thing.

Of course, fuel economy is only one aspect of this powertrain. Refinement is the other — not only is that V6 petrol a buttery-smooth engine when it’s turning and burning, but around town you do spend a conspicuous amount of your time running on just the batteries, which brings an extra layer of noiseless refinement.

Elsewhere the latest version of Lexus Safety System + provides additional protection to help prevent an accident happening, or lessen the consequence if the vehicle is involved in an impact.

The Pre-Collision System’s functionality has been increased, with pedestrian detection by day and night and daytime detection of cyclists in the car’s path. The new headlights also use a clever rotating-mirror LED lighting system which essentially creates day from night.

So, the improvements to the RX450h are subtle, small, incremental, but nonetheless welcome. It remains the most refined, comfortable, and overall frugal of the large, luxury SUV group, and Lexus’ impeccable reputation for quality means that it will last as long as you want to keep it.

Worth checking out again, then.

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