Refinements keeping Lexus at forefront of hybrid market

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Even the most experienced motoring writers get it wrong sometimes, as the arrival of the new-look Lexus RX450 proves.

When it first appeared in 2005, many felt this was a clever and intriguing technical achievement, but a hybrid SUV was something that didn’t really have much of a market.

Others felt it was Lexus building something just because they could, while some claimed it was because the company didn’t have access to state-of-the-art diesel engines so had to build these silly hybrids instead. All wrong, as the benefit of years of hindsight have afforded us.

With virtually every SUV manufacturer worth its salt now rushing to develop a hybrid model, Lexus has the satisfaction of being first by a very long way. Still, that satisfaction will count for nothing if it’s overtaken and squeezed out of the market by arriviste rivals who can build better products, hence this updated and improved latest generation car.

Amid the many changes made to this latest RX 450h, perhaps the drive system has been altered the least. Customers still get that wonderful 246bhp 3.5-litre V6 supplemented by an electric motor on each axle, which gives the four-wheel-drive Lexus a maximum potential output of 295bhp.

This is enough to endow it with a crisp turn of speed, resulting in a 7.8s sprint to 62mph and a top speed of 124mph.

The basic shape of the RX 450h has become a bit of a trademark for Lexus and it’s one that buyers are familiar with.

Instead of the archetypal SUV box shape, the RX is a lot more athletic.

There’s still the big wheels, high waistline and sharply-angled tailgate but many of the details have been freshened up. The styling changes are led by the spindle-shaped grille that is rapidly becoming a signature Lexus design cue. Moving round to the rear, you’ll spot a set of neatly-redesigned tail lights too.

There are also a number of detail improvements throughout the cabin. There’s a revised steering wheel, incorporating a new selector switch for the hybrid system’s drive modes, and the operation of the Remote Touch controller has been revised so that it works more like a computer mouse.

As impressive as the old RX 450h was, it was hard to escape the notion that things were getting a bit on the pricey side.

Lexus has responded to these grumbles with the latest car. No, prices haven’t gone down, but you do get a lot more equipment for your money now. Rather than merely tweak the equipment provision, Lexus has made wholesale changes to equipment specifications across the range and has also introduced an F Sport trim for the first time.

It has developed into a car with a specific character of its own, that doesn’t try to be a rufty-tufty off-roader. This low-profile, high-concept style is what has attracted many buyers around the world and will continue to do so with the latest model.