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2021 Lexus RX 450h Review: Still a Good Option, But for How Long?

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Auto123 reviews the 2021 Lexus RX 450h luxury SUV.

We covered this ground earlier this spring: Lexus is finally adding plug-in hybrid technology to its toolbox. We say finally because it's about time! Pure electrification is also coming to Lexus showrooms in the coming years, but for that we'll have to be patient.

It's true that Lexus paved the way for electrification in SUVs in the mid-2000s with the RX 400h hybrid model, but 15 years later it’s still at the same stage; Toyota's luxury division needs to accelerate the electrification of its fleet. Fortunately, that moment should come somewhere in 2025 when, the company promises, every model Lexus sells will be available with an electrified option.

Until then, the Lexus RX 450h remains an enviable option for those who want to reduce fuel consumption while riding in a super-comfy cocoon. The virtues of Lexus' best-selling utility model of the 21st century remain many and impressive.

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2021 Lexus RX 450h, front
Photo: V.Aubé
2021 Lexus RX 450h, front

The Executive Package, a $14,050 option
The 2021 RX 450h I was given, dressed in this Twilight Blue Mica colour scheme, is the kind of vehicle that now goes unnoticed in heavy traffic. Without the optional F Sport packages, the RX 450h is more apt to blend into the environment, and it excels at sipping gas at the rate of a compact sedan. But be warned: our tester might be introverted in natures, but it also comes with the optional Executive Package that adds the cost of a whole Toyota Yaris to the price of the crossover. Fourteen thousand tomatoes is a lot of money!

The good news is that Lexus piles on the goodies for the price. The list of on-board equipment is long - very long. The problem is that this list includes a lot of gadgets that are standard on many mainstream models, especially Korean brands that are lately making make luxury automakers look kind of bad in terms of the value they offer.

For example, a new Kia Sorento SX comes standard with: A leather-wrapped shift knob, leather and woodgrain steering wheel, paddle shifters behind the wheel, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility, LED taillights, a motion-activated sensor-assisted rear liftgate and dual-zone automatic climate control. The Sorento SX costs $25,000 than the RX 450h we tested.

Yes, of course, the Executive Package delivers a ton of stuff as well, offeing a wide range of applications, panoramic roof, power-adjustable mirrors, wireless charging, triple-beam LED headlights, head-up display and so on, but the substantial price gap may explain why some consumers are abandoning the luxury segment in favour of top-range mass-market models.

2021 Lexus RX 450h, interior
Photo: V.Aubé
2021 Lexus RX 450h, interior

Under 9.0L/100 km!
Don't go by the images of the gauges in our gallery, which were taken while the engine was idling and making the fuel-consumption numbers look bad.  The 10.6L/100 km displayed quickly melted back down to a much saner 8.9L/100 km average in mixed driving. That's not quite as good as the EnerGuide's rating of 7.9L/100 km (7.5L/100 km city and 8.4L/100 km highway), but it was reassuring to see that my average wasn't too far off the official figure.

I also know I could have done better if I'd been more careful with the engine on highway on ramps, with my right foot cajoling the 3.5-litre V6 to sing, which it does and it still sounds great despite the addition of the hybrid system to the equation. It also makes that CVT transmission screech, but that’s’ another story!

In any event, while there are more frugal options on the market, the Lexus RX 450h continues to impress with its fuel stinginess.

2021 Lexus RX 450h, badging
Photo: V.Aubé
2021 Lexus RX 450h, badging

For the boulevards above all
You won’t be surprised to learn that the RX 450h does not deliver a thrilling ride. While it’s possible to equip the vehicle with F Sport packages (Series 2 or Series 3), the RX is not in the same ballpark as its German rivals on that level. The RX 450h's primary mission is to keep its occupants as comfortable as possible.

The suspension with its marshmallow qualities is ideal for absorbing our famed Canadian potholes that are still too numerous even at this time of year, as we move well into summer. The light steering is also a mainstay of this kind of comfort-over-thrills vehicle, but in this trim, it's quite welcome. It's true that the driving modes alter the powertrain's response somewhat, but it's a far cry from the RC-F coupe, to say the least.

As for that CVT, it's certainly less playful than the RX's non-hybrid 8-speed transmission. In the end, the 2021 RX 450h does what it's supposed to do: the keyword here is comfort.

2021 Lexus RX 450h, front grille
Photo: V.Aubé
2021 Lexus RX 450h, front grille

The last word
I can't help but come back to the brand's shift to electric mobility. For so long, Lexus didn't need to venture into integrating plug-in hybrid technology, simply because the overall fuel economy average was exemplary. Even Toyota had to invest before Lexus. But now, in 2021, the manufacturer is at a crossroads. If Toyota's success with the RAV4 Prime is any indication, a Lexus RX PHEV using the V6 engine seems like a really great idea.

Until then, the 2020 Lexus RX 450h is a great option for anyone looking to travel in great comfort while saving on gas and enjoying its proven reliability over the years.

2021 Lexus RX 450h, profile
Photo: V.Aubé
2021 Lexus RX 450h, profile

We like

Overall quality
Sedan-like comfort
Proven reliability

We like less

That Lexus mousepad!
The CVT's performance under acceleration

The competition

Acura MDX
Audi Q7
BMW X5
Cadillac XT5 / XT6
Infiniti QX60
Jaguar F-PACE
Land Rover Discovery
Lincoln Nautilus
Maserati Levante
Mercedes-Benz GLE
Porsche Cayenne
Tesla Model X
Volvo XC90

2021 Lexus RX 450h, three-quarters rear
Photo: V.Aubé
2021 Lexus RX 450h, three-quarters rear

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Photos:V.Aubé
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