New Car Review: 2013 Lexus RX 450h

Front view of 2013 Lexus RX 450h

You have to give Lexus credit. They were early to the party (first, in fact) when it came to putting hybrid power in luxury vehicles, opening up a market among buyers who had extra money to spend.

They started 8 years ago with a hybrid version of the RX crossover (it was the 400h then). There have been changes along the way, but this year, there are several significant revisions:

The basic RX design has remained constant for 15 years, but 2013 brings a freshening that gives all RX models the signature Lexus spindle grille, a new bumper and headlamp design, LED daytime running lights, updated tail lamps and four new colors (Silver Lining Metallic, Claret Mica, Deep Sea Mica and Fire Agate Pearl).

Rear 3/4 view of 2013 Lexus RX450h

The standard equipment list is too long to list here, but highlights for your $47,310 base price include 18-inch aluminum alloy wheels, a nine-speaker premium audio system, dual-zone climate control, a full complement of airbags, power everything and real wood trim.

Lexus wisely left goodies in the extra-cost column. $16,000 worth of them (the Comfort Package, the Luxury Package, rear-seat entertainment and a further upgrade of the audio system, a heads-up display, intuitive parking assist and a Pre-Collision System with Radar Adaptive Cruise Control) found their way onto our test vehicle, leaving a bottom line after delivery charges that fell just $720 shy of 65 large.

The hybrid RX 450h uses the same 3.5-liter V6 engine as the gasoline-powered RX 350, but the addition of Lexus Hybrid Drive takes an estimated 18 city miles per gallon and turns it into 32 (the highway figure increases from 25 to 28), while boosting total output by 25 horsepower (to 295). The 25 additional horsepower is offset by the extra weight of the batteries and other hybrid hardware. That’s 342 pounds, which is why 0-60 in the RX 450h is 7.8 seconds as opposed to 7.7 in the RX 350 (both figures are Lexus estimates).

Interior view of 2013 Lexus RX 450h

On the steering wheel you’ll find a new Sport mode button. Press it and you’ll get more aggressive behavior from the Continuously Variable Transmission, less interference from the Vehicle Stability and Traction control systems and a (slightly) higher level of steering effort.  Oh, and the background lighting on the instrument panel switches from blue to red. That may be more noticeable than any actual change in performance.

Bottom line: Lexus is letting a bit more emotion, a hint more sport, filter into its best-selling line (there’s even an F Sport package for the RX 350 this year). But let’s not kid each other. This isn’t an LF-A wagon…it’s a Lexus people mover. The focus is still on luxury, smoothness and isolation from the world outside. At the wheel, it’s still mostly whispers and whipped cream, which is just how the RX’s loyal following likes it.

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