Can the Lexus RX450h match a diesel’s economy on a road trip?

by Anton Andres | Aug 3, 2022
Lexus RX 450h front
PHOTO: Anton Andres ILLUSTRATION: undefined

Let’s be real here: Hybrids still haven’t taken off like they should have in the Philippines. You can pin it on high purchase prices of the cars, a devotion to diesels, or even misconceptions about the hybrid system. While it’s normal to be skeptical about new technology, hybrids have been around here for decades. So why there still those who doubt hybrids?

There are also those who say that hybrids are pointless because they doesn’t match diesel power in terms of economy. But that got us thinking: How does a hybrid cope on a long road trip? Can it match, or even beat, a diesel? To answer that, we gave Lexus a call and asked if they could participate in our little experiment.

Lexus RX 450h rear quarters

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The car

Lexus was happy to help us answer this question. With the focus on efficiency, we were half expecting them to send a compact with a four-cylinder for efficiency’s sake. However, that wasn’t the case at all because they gave us the keys to the RX450h. No, not the next-gen one. We don't have it here...yet.

On paper, the current RX450h doesn’t have the makings of something that can go toe to toe with a diesel in terms of economy. For starters, the Lexus has a 3.5-liter engine that hoses fuel through six cylinders. The RX450h is a heavy fella too, tipping the scales at over two tons. Sure, it has a battery that can help it move along, but even we were a bit skeptical. Still, it’s worth trying out if the hybrid hype is real.

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The route

To give us a more realistic figure, we decided to take the heavy Lexus on a road trip. We’ll start off in Taytay, head to the expressway up north, and stay at Clark, Pampanga. It was a good time to go there too since it was the first round of the 2022 Vios Cup. All in all, the trip would take over 200 kilometers both ways. To make things more interesting, we decided to go there on a Saturday, right when everyone in the Metro goes to the provinces.

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Setting off

It wasn’t entirely good news when we started the Lexus. The crossover only had two bars of battery charge in it, meaning I had limited range with the electric motor. At least the engine is there to help charge it up, but it does little to help the economy run. After all, the biggest enemy of any big engine is slow, stop and go traffic. At least it was enough juice to get us out of the village.

With just the electric motor moving us along, it was entertaining to see 99.9km/L displayed on the car’s info display, but that went down once the engine kicked in to recharge the battery. Still, it displayed 15km/L by the time we got close to the Cainta junction with its three-minute-long traffic light. So far, so good.

Lexus RX 450h fuel economy

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Into the city

Here’s the party trick of hybrids: The car runs on battery power when you’re stopped or when you’re at lower speeds. That meant the three-minute wait at the traffic light burned no fuel, boosting our economy.

In the case of the Lexus, it can run on electric mode at up to 70kph, perfect for the city loop of the trip. That meant we were able to run on electric power for a longer distance and the engine off until the batteries needed another recharge. Because of the traffic, however, the batteries stayed charged since it recaptured the energy from braking and sends it back to the hybrid drive system. Sure, there were times when the brawny 3.5-liter mill powered the car, but it was equal work between the electric motor and engine. Because of that, we didn’t use much fuel along EDSA, even when it got a little congested.

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By the time we were at the on-ramp to NLEX, the RX450h managed 12km/L. So far, so good since some diesel SUVs fall short of the numbers the Lexus displayed in city driving.

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Out on the highway

While hybrids offer loads of benefits in the city, the same couldn’t be said when it comes to highway driving. The RX450h was no exception to that since you’ll be on the engine’s power the whole time. That also means waking up the 3.5-liter V6 plus the two electric motors that gives you a total output of 308hp.

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However, it was surprising to see that the punchy powertrain can happily do 15km/L with the cruise control pegged at 100kph. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to use the cruise control for longer distances thanks to annoying left-lane hoggers. We lost count of how many times we had to slow down to 80 kph (or even 70 kph in some cases) then get back on the accelerator to get back to 100 kph.

Admittedly, that hurt our fuel economy, but we’re going for a realistic test here anyway. Besides, we had over 300hp at our disposal, so we used every bit of it during overtakes. Hypermiling? What hypermiling?

Lexus RX 450h hybrid drive

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How’s the Lexus, though?

At this point, it’s a good time to mention how the RX450h is as a vehicle. The main highlight here is comfort as the Lexus has it in spades. When it comes to the ride, the RX irons out the bumps without a hitch. Potholes and uneven concrete were no challenge for the RX in the city, and on the highway, it gently wafts along and eats up miles in the most soothing way possible. As far as luxury crossovers go, this is one of the best in terms of comfort. Plus, the cushy seats and excellent noise isolation amplify the serene experience. Oh, and did we mention it has seat chillers?

However, if it’s a dynamic and fun driving experience you’re after, you won’t find it in the RX450h. The light steering won’t bring out your racing driver fantasies, nor will the soft suspension help you carve corners like you’re in a race car. But that’s not the point of the Lexus RX450h. It won’t make you pump out adrenaline, instead it’ll lower your heart rate when you’re driving around the city or cruising on the expressway.

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Lexus RX 450h dash

As for the practical stuff, the RX450h delivers since it primarily has the North American market in mind. Space is no issue whether you’re in front or at the back, and the cargo space is generous despite the battery eating up a bit of real estate. And since you’re in a Lexus, there’s loads of leather and soft-touch materials to make you feel like a million bucks and that every centavo you spent on this car was well worth it. The only gripe we have is our love-hate relationship with the Lexus “mousepad”.

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Touchdown, Clark

The drive to Clark was serene but the repeated overtakes meant our fuel economy wasn’t exactly record-shattering. By the time we entered the gates of Clark International Speedway, the trip computer showed 13.2km/L. Still, it wasn’t bad considering how many times we had to punch the gas to pass the slowpokes in the passing lane and repeated acceleration pulls to get back to the speed limit. Granted, a lighter foot would’ve yielded better results, but we’re here to do a real-world test.

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Southbound

After an eventful (and tiring) day at the races, it was time to get back into the cozy and comfy leather seats of the Lexus. With the A/C dialed up and the seat chillers switched on, we were hoping for a nice, quiet cruise on the way home. Thankfully, it’s exactly what we got for the most part. With fewer cars on the highway, it was easier to maintain a steady speed and maximize cruise control. We also confirmed that the RX450h, even with its huge V6 engine, can manage 15km/L at a constant pace of 100kph. Of course, we still overtook the left lane blockers, but it didn’t affect economy as much anymore since there were fewer of them.

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Even the drive to the city was smooth, but it all came to a halt at the Kamuning area. Thanks to the repairs being done to the flyover at the time, everyone had to squeeze their way through side streets, causing even more gridlock. Happily, the batteries were fully charged by then, meaning we didn’t use much fuel in the thick of it. An hour after that, we finally reached our home base in Taytay and saw our trip’s fuel consumption.

Lexus RX 450h economy

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The result

After over 200 kilometers of traffic, highway cruises, and overtaking, the RX450h did 14km/L. It's an impressive result given the performance the Lexus offers, and even more impressive despite all the conditions and zero efforts to do hypermiling. If we did the same route and drove the same way with a non-hybrid model, we'd be looking at about 9 to 10 kilometers per liter.

Lexus RX 450h front quarters

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Lexus RX450h - The verdict

Sure, there are diesels that can get higher numbers on the highway, but how many diesel SUVs and crossovers pack over 300hp, have heaps more torque, and ride this comfortably while returning consumption figures like that? Well, that’s the flexibility of the RX450h.

You’ll be hard-pressed to find anything that comes close in size, space, performance, and efficiency at its price. That, and its closest European rivals, are all diesel and a bit more expensive. Some of those may be more engaging to drive than the Lexus, but the Japanese crossover is worthy of sitting at the table of that group.

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The P5,398,000 price tag isn’t chump change for most of us, but the RX450h proves that even with a large engine, hybrid power is practical in the real world.

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