Although the Toyota Prius got all the hybrid hoopla, Lexus showed that a hybrid could be powerful and luxurious with the RX hybrid SUV. That model launched as the RX 400h in 2005, and now gets a much-needed update for the 2010 model year. At Lexus' preview for the car, we got to drive it over mountain roads and spend some serious time trying out the new cabin tech.
The new model is called the RX 450h, as Lexus bumps up the gas engine from 3.3-liters to a 3.5-liter V-6. And, like the original model, that engine is complemented by a full hybrid system, with electric motors that can power the car. With newer battery technology, Lexus was able to make the RX 450h's nickel-metal hydride battery pack, which sits under the rear seat, a little smaller. As with the old version, the gas engine and one motor/generator drive the front wheels. Option it up to all-wheel-drive, and a second motor/generator gets added to power the rear wheels.
We took a sport-trimmed model on a drive over twisty mountain roads in Northern California, and found a lot of improvement. Where the steering on the RX 400h was extremely light, even at speed, Lexus returned the electric-power steering to give more resistance in the RX 450h. Coming through a tight corner at speed, the steering wheel offers much more feedback. The tires were singing in the turns, but the sport-tuned suspension kept the car reasonably flat. Of course, there is a trade-off in that the ride didn't feel as soft as with the RX 400h. Lexus changed the suspension pretty radically in the rear of the RX, taking out the strut towers in favor of a double-wishbone. This new suspension leads to a firmer ride and increases the cargo area. … Read more