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Revamped RX450h sees new opportunities in the hybrid market

The hybrid version of the RX sport utility, introduced in 2005, sold relatively well but was never a game-changer in terms of capabilities or performance.

The hybrid version of the RX sport utility, introduced in 2005, sold relatively well but was never a game-changer in terms of capabilities or performance.

But the new RX450h sits at a sweet spot in the hybrid SUV market – more car-like than the Ford Escape Hybrid, and not as large as the Chevrolet Tahoe or Chrysler Aspen hybrids.

Outside, there’s not much to separate the 450h from its non-hybrid counterparts, save for blue-tinged Lexus badges and LED headlamps. Underneath it’s a different story.

At the centre of its electronic heart is a 3.5L V6 engine that runs on an Atkinson Cycle for increased efficiency. Alone, it makes 275 horsepower, but the total system output is 295 horses. Power enough to hit 100 km/h in a little more than seven seconds, and more than enough torque to do burnouts in the Whole Foods parking lot.

If only it were rear-wheel drive. The truck’s all-wheel-drive system has been tuned specifically for the hybrid, called an “active torque control system,” which allows for a more normal feel in cornering. In addition, a hybrid snow mode helps maintain cornering traction and braking performance in slippery conditions. Add to those features its exhaust gas recirculation system to reduce emissions substantially and an exhaust heat recovery system to speed vehicle warm- up in cold weather.

A selectable EV mode helps keep the electric motors running for as long as possible, while an ECO mode is geared specifically towards achieving the best mileage. The final powertrain component is a rear electric motor/generator and power coupling to allow for four-wheel regenerative braking, as well as transferring torque to the rear wheels when traction is needed.

Did we mention it’s more than 8 per cent more efficient than the old RX400h model, too?

Expect it to command a healthy premium over the standard RX, while options packages remain similar across the entire RX range.

– Michael Banovsky

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