Ignoring good fuel economy practices, we repeatedly punched the accelerator coming out of turns, getting a strong result from the car as it picked up speed. In the turns, the RX 450h didn't wallow particularly, its suspension trying to put it back on an even keel after inertial lean attempted to pull it away from the apex. In all, it showed itself game for this type of driving, it not entirely capable. Understeer was evident entering the turns, and the rear wheels were more obedient followers than active participants.
The shifter does have an S on it, along with a plus and minus for manual shifting. But there are no fixed gears in this transmission. Rather, it is an electronically controlled continuously variable virtual gearbox. If you put it in manual mode, you are merely shifting through virtual shift points, a computer's idea of where a gear should be. Put it in Sport, and it merely limits the top virtual gear to fourth. These shift points are useful to control the vehicle's speed in slippery conditions, but don't have anything to do with sport.
Near the shifter, mounted on the console, is an odd-looking growth, the likes of which haven't previously been seen in cars. Where Lexus used to rely on touch screens to control the cabin tech, the desirability for antiglare purposes of recessing the LCD deep in the dash led the company to develop the Remote Touch controller. This new controller is a joystick that moves a pointer on the car's LCD. If you've used a mouse, Remote Touch will be second nature. The ergonomic joystick and mount fits easily into your hand, with an enter button on the side of the mount.
At the front of the mount are buttons for the main menu and quick access to the navigation system map. We would also have liked quick access buttons for audio and phone systems. But we found it easy to quickly select menu items with the joystick--it's faster than even Infiniti's cabin controller, which has been our favorite for usability. The new Lexus controller delivers haptic feedback as you move its cursor over menu items, making it easy to use while paying attention to the road. And the amount of feedback is adjustable.
The new navigation system stores its maps on a hard drive, although Lexus didn't do much to improve the maps themselves. The RX 450h only offers 2D maps, as opposed to the 3D maps becoming common with other automakers. But these maps show good resolution and are overlaid with traffic information, including traffic flow in red, amber, or green, as well as specific incidents.
This system wasn't entirely consistent about helping us detour around traffic problems on a programmed route. We had the navigation system set for dynamic routing around traffic incidents, but still had to go through about three menus to make it recalculate our route after it announced slow traffic on the road ahead in some cases. At another time it actually did bring up a proactive warning about a traffic problem ahead, and provided easier access to calculating a detour.
Route guidance itself works well, with graphics to show upcoming turns and text-to-speech (the system reads out the names of upcoming streets). One annoyance we had with this navigation system is that, when giving voice guidance, it didn't mute the stereo. We could barely hear the navigation instructions when playing music at moderate volume, and not at all when playing loud music.
Entertaining in car
The 2010 RX 450h offers most of the music sources we've come to expect from a modern system. Along with satellite radio, there is an MP3 compatible in-dash six-CD changer, a USB port that can also accept an iPod cable, an auxiliary input, and Bluetooth audio streaming. The only things it lacks are HD radio and the ability to rip CDs to the navigation system's hard drive. The CD changer seemed very slow to read discs, but that might be more our perception when comparing it with the speed of iPod access.
The Remote Touch controller does its job well for selecting music. USB drives and MP3 CDs are just shown in file and folder formats, while iPod integration lets you select music by album, artist, and genre. Another annoyance: when viewing the song detail screen, to see which songs are playing on a satellite radio station, for example, the LCD automatically switched back to the map screen after about 30 seconds.
This RX 450h was loaded with all the cabin tech options, including the top-of-the-line Mark Levinson audio system and rear-seat entertainment system. We like how the entertainment system's LCDs are mounted to the backs of the front seats, meaning they don't change positions with the headrests and there is no screen dropping down from the ceiling to obscure the rearview mirror.
For the RX, Lexus only offers the Mark Levinson audio system in conjunction with the rear entertainment system. The other option packages include the lesser, but still premium, sound system we heard in the RX 350. Where the Mark Levinson system uses 15 speakers, the premium system only has 12. However, we didn't notice a real difference in the audio quality between these two systems. The Mark Levinson system, with its 330-watt amp and 7.1-channel surround sound, seems suited for movie viewing, explaining its inclusion with the rear-seat video package.
Although the audio system didn't mute for navigation guidance prompts, it did for the Bluetooth phone system. This system is the same one we saw in the RX 350, and it does everything we could ask. It paired easily to an iPhone and let us upload the phone's contact list to the car. Contacts were available on the LCD, using the Remote Touch controller, but, more conveniently, each contact can be dialed by name with the car's voice command system.
The 2010 Lexus RX 450h offers a lot to keep us happy. If it isn't placing calls by saying the name of the person to whom we want to talk, it's modulating the accelerator to maximize electric drive and fuel economy. And it doesn't hurt to be sitting in such a comfortable environment. This RX sports one of the highest tech power trains available, and the results show in the excellent fuel economy. And while the suspension isn't particularly advanced, it does deliver an appropriately luxurious ride.
The cabin tech offerings excel in the basics--navigation, phone, and audio systems. But where the RX 450h lacks is useful driver-aid technology. It does have a rearview camera, but it's a simple bumper view, with no overlay lines. The electronics interface design isn't perfect--we found a few areas where it could be refined. But we do like the overall design of the car. Although an SUV, it remains a manageable size. Most people can see over the roof when standing next to it.
|Model||2010 Lexus RX 450h|
|Power train||3.5-liter V-6 hybrid Synergy drive|
|EPA fuel economy||32 mpg city/28 mpg highway|
|Observed fuel economy||27.7 mpg|
|Navigation||Optional hard drive-based with live traffic|
|Bluetooth phone support||Standard|
|Disc player||MP3 compatible 6 disc CD/DVD changer|
|MP3 player support||iPod integration|
|Other digital audio||Bluetooth streaming audio, USB drive, auxiliary input, satellite radio|
|Audio system||Optional 15 speaker 330 watt 7.1 channel Mark Levinson|
|Driver aids||Rear view camera|
|Price as tested||$54,225|