The 2021 Lexus RX450hL is the range-topping variant of the Japanese luxury brand’s large SUV line-up.
The RX nameplate has been around since 1998 and the current fourth-generation ‘AL20’ model was first shown to the world in 2015, before the model we’re testing was updated late in 2019.
The mid-life update to the Lexus RX brought a range of connectivity and safety technology improvements, as well as changes for better noise insulation and driving dynamics.
It has the benefit of a proven V6 hybrid powertrain and it comes with a lot of features standard, including seven seats, but despite the update it’s showing its age.
How does it stack up as a luxury family SUV against its German rivals?
Prices for the 2021 Lexus RX range start with the RX300 Luxury at $71,920 before on-road costs, a reduction of $1600 over the previous model. The updated RX we’re testing here is the Lexus RX450hL Sport Luxury, which comes in at $111,070 before on-road costs.
For us, the sweet spot in the range feels like the RX350 which starts at $81,890 before on-roads for the base Luxury, meaning you are paying $9000+ more for the equivalent 450h variants to add the hybrid drivetrain to the same petrol engine.
There’s a roughly $3000 upcharge to get an additional two seats to make the RX a seven-seater and give you that ‘L’ designation.
Lexus offers one main option, called the Enhancement Pack (EP) which costs differing amounts depending on variant.
Full price range below:
- RX300 Luxury: $71,920
- RX300 Luxury + EP: $77,950
- RX300 F Sport: $86,800
- RX300 Sports Luxury: $92,700
- RX350 Luxury: $81,890
- RX350 Luxury + EP: $86,390
- RX350 F Sport: $93,970
- RX350 Sports Luxury: $99,870
- RX450h Luxury: $91,090
- RX450h Luxury + EP: $95,590
- RX450h F Sport: $103,440
- RX450h Sports Luxury: $109,340
- RX350L Luxury: $85,000
- RX350L Luxury + EP: $88,500
- RX350L Sports Luxury: $101,600
- RX450hL Luxury: $94,470
- RX450hL Luxury + EP: $97,970
- RX450hL Sports Luxury: $111,070
All prices exclude on-road costs
Part of the mid-life update for the Lexus RX range, including the RX450hL tested here, is a minor revision to the design of the SUV itself.
Although you have to really look to tell the difference between the new and pre-facelift models, on closer inspection you’l notice a revised front bumper that has a distinctly different integration with the lower door area, while the rear bumper has also seen some minor changes, and there’s revised L-shaped tail lights.
Additionally, the lower edge of the new spindle grille has been modified with a more pronounced profile. The headlights have also been revised; they’re now a little narrower with built-in LED daytime running lights that form a single bar of light instead of the dot-like LEDs as before.
Styling changes aside, Lexus now also offers additional technological features such as Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.
There’s also a 12.3-inch screen across the range (base models previously had an 8.0-inch display) with touch functionality, four new USB ports (total of six), and enhanced active safety.
Other features on the 450h include 20-inch alloy wheels (18-inch on the RX300 Luxury), real leather-accented seat upholstery, front seat memory functions with ‘easy access’ on unlock, and heated/ventilated front seats.
Finally, new features include the front cornering lamps and the hands-free kick sensor for the power-operated tailgate.
The short answer is yes. Tested back in 2015, the Lexus RX received a five-star safety rating from ANCAP.
As part of the mid-life refresh, the Lexus Safety System suite has gained night-time pedestrian and daytime cyclist detection for the pre-collision safety system and autonomous emergency braking.
It also has a pretty handy feature to stop you hitting things when you’re parking, which is exactly the sort of tool you need for a happy marriage.
It feels a bit old. That’s the best way to put it. The location of the infotainment screen is so far back and, while the the screen resolution itself is not too bad, the software driving it is extremely ordinary.
Lexus has for decades suffered from poor infotainment systems and software, and the RX really takes the cake despite an update to the screen. Having CarPlay means you can ignore the native software, but that’s no real excuse.
We also found the display sits quite far behind the screen and doesn’t deal very well with sun glare.
Infotainment complaints aside, it’s actually a very solid and well-built car. The leather and the way the cabin comes together is nicely done, though the design and ambience in general is feeling a generation or two out of date.
In fact, the leather Lexus uses is far nicer to touch and feel than what the Germans have to offer, but the buttons and the technology that you have to interact with now feel two generations out of date.
It has a CD player. That’s a sentence we felt required writing. But it’s simple things like the buttons, or the reversing camera which are insanely low quality (even if the 360 camera is pretty good). All these little things really add up to take away from what would otherwise be a very nice place to sit.
There was a time where we would say the interior feels a little bit too much like a Toyota, but really the issue with the Lexus RX’s interior is that it simply doesn’t feel like a current-generation Lexus model like the ES or UX.
The Lexus RX is super quiet and very plush, the wooden steering wheel gives it that extra sense of luxury over all else. It’s an ideal daily and the sort of car you definitely want to drive long distance.
The 15-speaker Mark Levinson audio system is extraordinarily good and we could almost deal with the rubbish default infotainment system just because of how amazing the sound quality is inside the cabin.
We found the front and rear seats super comfortable and supportive. You can easily fit three kids in the back or two adults, but it’s just not wide enough to fit three average-sized adults for long drives.
There is plenty of interior storage spaces and USB ports (no USB-C, however) to keep the kids happy.
The third row is definitely just for kids, probably no older than 10. It also feels a little claustrophobic, so while it’s a seven-seater on paper, it’s not a proper third-row seat that you want to have kids in as a permanent solution. Unless they are naughty kids.
It would also be nice if the sunroof extended past the front seats and all the way across the whole cabin.
The boot is relatively spacious at 506 litres, although we found the lip can be a little high for large things like prams. Handy that it now opens automatically with a wave.
The Lexus RX450hL makes use of the same 3.5-litre direct-injection V6 petrol engine from the RX350, with standalone outputs of 193kW and 335Nm in hybrid guise.
But for roughly $9000 extra, you get the Lexus Hybrid System bringing the total power output to 230kW.
Unlike newer Toyota/Lexus models, the RX uses an old-school nickel-metal hydride (Ni-MH) battery that, when coupled to the electric powertrain, has a theoretical power output of 123kW (335Nm) to the front and 50kW (139Nm) to the rear.
It doesn’t really feel like it has that much power and torque though, and that probably has something to do with the extra 130kg of weight the RX450hL has over the RX350L.
The transmission is an electronically-controlled continuously variable transmission (CVT), which is really where the Lexus falls short compared to its German rivals that offer ZF eight-speed automatics.
The Lexus RX450hL drives like you’d expect from a brand that is all about smoothness and luxury. It’s a little soulless, but that’s okay.
Being behind the wheel of this Japanese SUV is a soothing experience. It’s so quiet and refined. You can hardly hear anything outside and, with the stereo turned up and the kids playing on their iPads in the back seat, you can truly get lost in your own little world.
The update to the RX has made the suspension a little more supple, almost to the point that it’s too soft, but in a good way. It does tend to lean a bit more than, say a BMW X5, but as a result it also absorbs poor-quality roads with far more grace. For its intended purpose, it’s an ideal setup.
Power from the engine is actually pretty decent and the RX450hL really does get up and go. Surprisingly, it doesn’t even sound that bad!
The driver assistance features are also up to scratch, as we found both the active lane assist and head-up display to be effective in their intended purpose. But as previously mentioned, the reversing camera is very poor in resolution and clarity which is a big bummer.
During our week long test of city and highway driving, we managed an indicated 8.6L/100km, which is a fair bit higher than the 6.0L/100km quoted by Lexus.
It’s worth nothing here this is an older generation of hybrid. Several Toyota and Lexus models have switched from nickel-metal hydride (Ni-MH) batteries to lithium along with new ‘Dynamic Force’ engines, the RX tested here is still stuck with old tech.
It really begs the question, why not just buy the RX350 and save $9000?
The RX line-up is covered by the company’s four-year, 100,000-kilometre warranty with roadside assistance for the same period.
Lexus offers capped-priced servicing for all its models sold from 2020 onwards for the first three years.
As such, the Lexus RX450hL costs $595 a service, bringing the three-year maintenance figure to $1785.
We love the Lexus RX range for providing a super luxurious ride in a pretty crowded luxury SUV market.
It lacks the sporty feel of the German offerings and definitely does not compete with newer rivals when it comes to technology.
Nonetheless, it’s a Lexus, which means it’s super comfortable, extremely well built and will be unlikely to ever give you a headache. Sometimes, that’s enough of a reason to buy one.
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