The current car trends in India mostly consider European brands as the more luxury-oriented, while Japanese and Korean brands are considered to be more of the run-of-the-mill kind. And why not? Luxury car makers like Mercedes-Benz, Audi, BMW, Jaguar, Aston Martin, Volvo, etc. have gained a reputation for building tough, luxurious cars. But there has been one manufacturer headquartered deep in Japan that has been playing the underdog all this while. Yes, we are talking about Lexus, the premium luxury car division of Toyota Motor Corporation. The company is present in 89 markets worldwide, and entered its 90th market that is India, this year in March. The company entered India with the ES300h sedan, RX450h and LX 450d SUVs. We got an exclusive opportunity to experience these impressive luxury cars in the town of Udhagamandalam, popularly known as Ooty.
Our drive began from the Taj Savoy Hotel in Ooty, which has a history of nearly 140 years, quite contrary to the young, luxury brand that was introduced to the world about 28 years ago. Although we are highly impressed with the progress the company had made over this very short span of time. We got behind the wheel of the RX 450h first, already having fallen heads over heels with its looks. The RX 450h looks sharp and futuristic, and is something that you will adore even after a decade of ownership.
The front is characterised by the Spindle shaped grille that is now the trademark of all Lexus cars globally. Toyota Motors initially began as a textile manufacturer way back then, and later on entered automobile manufacturing. The Lexus logo has a Blue tinge in it to classify it as an Hybrid (the ‘h’ in RX 450h stands for ‘hybrid’). The impressive looking 3 eye LED projector headlamps and the fog lamps looks uniquely-crafted too. The sides are characterised by various creases, cuts and reflecting surfaces that makes this SUV look futuristic, but at the same time, doesn’t look overdone. The rear is where you will notice the crossover styling the most, with a highly raked windscreen, floating C-pillar and the rear spoiler. Overall though, this car looks as sharp as a scalpel ready to cut its way through traffic. This SUV is a head-turner and easily best in class, if only exterior design was to be considered.
Once in the driver’s seat, you get a good view through the front glass and it’s easy to get into a comfortable driving position. The large ORVMs provide excellent visibility and it feels pretty airy upfront. Jump in the back seat and there is adequate legroom, but taller passengers will find the headroom to be a bit scarce. The seats themselves are comfortable and adding to that airy feeling is the huge panoramic sunroof that gives the cabin an upmarket look. The dashboard looks very stylish too, with high quality materials all around. It is mainly dominated by the 12.3 inches infotainment display, which isn’t a touchscreen unit and can be controlled via a joystick on the centre console. The system does not support satellite navigation as yet. The centre console also houses a retro analogue clock which we loved, but the array of buttons on it looks a bit cluttered. The F-Sport version we drove came with a fully digital instrument cluster that is a direct lift from the RC range of sports coupes. It also offers up a G-sensor with steering angle, and accelerator and brake hydraulic pressure bars. Overall, this is a cabin that looks and feels extremely plush unless and until you are suffering from OCD!
We know that Lexus India has introduced an all Hybrid line-up (except the LX which does not get a hybrid variant at all!). The Lexus RX 450h is powered by a 3.5-litre V6 petrol engine that is mated to two electric motors. The total output for this SUV stands at a potent 308 PS which transfers power to the front wheels via an efficient e-CVT gearbox. The F-Sport version that we drove came with paddle shifters behind the steering wheels and sporty Aluminium finish pedals. There are different driving modes too, namely Eco, Normal and Sport. In the Sport mode, the engine feels lively with initial acceleration that is helped by the hybrid battery pack. It feels extremely responsive in this mode, but press on and the CVT gearbox shows up its ugly head. There is the typical rubber band effect that comes into play at about 4k RPM that takes away from the sporty drive feel. The Lexus RX 450h doesnt live up to its sporty looks, and we feel the culprit here to be the CVT gearbox alone. There is also an EV mode that allows you to use pure battery power, which can be sustained for a maximum of 500 metres at speeds below 30 kmph. The 3.5-litre engine in this F-Sport version makes a sporty exhaust note, thanks to a sound generator placed deep into the engine ports.
The ride on the Lexus RX 450h always feels stiff-kneed and this is enhanced on rough patches of road. The suspension rounds off smaller bumps at slow city speeds well but give it a bad road and you wont find the car to be the most happiest there. This is a crossover that is meant for Urban driving conditions and there are no two ways about it. On the winding roads of Ooty, the Lexus RX 450h though handled confidently with the electrically assisted power steering offering good feedback. The steering system is light and easy too, and making back to back 3 point turns to get our perfect panning shot was easy. There is a reversing camera that helps a whole lot while reversing the car, and the huge ORVMs were always a boon.
The Lexus RX 450h is primarily front wheel drive SUV but if needed, can power the rear wheels too. There are two electric motors that are located on the front and the rear axle. So in a mucky situation, the rear electric motor will power the rear wheels acting like an on-demand all-wheel drive system, given the hybrid battery pack has enough charge on them. Safety features on the Lexus RX 450h include a total of 10 airbags, ABS, hill start assist, stability control, TPMS, ISOFIX seats, HUD and an Engine oil monitor too. The Lexus RX 450h is available in a total of 12 exterior colour options, 8 upholstery options and 5 trim options.
At a price of Rs. 1.09 crore (ex-showroom, Delhi) the Lexus RX 450h is no bargain. The SUV competes with the Jaguar F-Pace and the Porsche Macan in India. This SUV is the most impressive of the entire Lexus India line-up just because of its looks that are so radical in this segment. Go for the Lexus RX 450h if the main criteria on your list are striking looks, an earth-saving powertrain and a comfortably plush interior.