Winning hybrid version enhances Lexus RX

A hybrid version of the Lexus RX is a pairing as formidable as peanut butter and jelly. It’s that smooth. It’s that good. The 2017 RX 450h is a near-perfect union.

What makes this hybrid worthy is its starting point, the indomitable RX 350. Soft sport-utility looks, cabin height that allows for excellent road views but has an easy step in, quality interior materials and sedan-like handling are part of the makeup that has largely been part of the RX package since its inception in 1998.

The RX 450h comes in a base all-wheel drive model and F Sport trim that is available with either all-wheel or front-wheel drive. We drove the former, which is where our focus lies.

Performance might be an issue with some hybrids but not this one. RXs all come with a 3.5-liter V6 gas engine. The hybrid also has three electric motors that actually boost the horsepower from 295 to 308. While the RX350 has an 8-speed automatic transmission, the 450h comes with a continuously variable transmission. Official testing proves the hybrid to be quicker from 0-60 mph.

So what about the mileage, which can be the big selling point of a hybrid? EPA ratings show the 450h at 31 mpg/city and 28 mpg/highway compared to the 350’s 20 mpg/city and 27 mpg/highway. That’s going to give you some savings at the pump. While it won’t be enough to counter the increased price tag — $9,915 more than the comparable gas-only model — it does bring a few more standard features and environmental feel-good moments.

Distinguishing standard items on the 450h are navigation, heated and ventilated front seats and upgraded sound system. Newly standard this year are several safety features, including a pre-collision system with warning, lane-departure alert with steering and lane-keeping assist, dynamic radar cruise control and automatic high beam headlamps.

Drawbacks to the RX are few, but if you are looking to be picky, you might consider rear-seat legroom to be a bit lacking if the front-seat passengers are tall and the cargo area, at 18 cubic feet with a sloping tail, trails the competition. The latter is lessened by a wide opening and easy load height. The rear seats do fold in 40/20/40 fashion for longer items.

These are relatively minor details compared to the benefits of the RX 450h. This is a vehicle that stands out with its road handling, comfortable seating, cockpit controls and security of Lexus reliability.

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