Let me start by saying again that I really don’t understand the Lexus naming conventions. Is there a vehicle manufacturer with more obscure and confusing naming? Be that as it may, however, Lexus has really found the balance between performance, comfort, luxury and convenience with the 2021 Lexus RX 450h F Sport SUV, and it’s been really fun to drive this car for a week through some pretty variable weather here in Colorado. Featuring a peppy 3.5L 308hp V6 engine with Lexus Hybrid Drive, it delivered a responsive drive and decent fuel efficiency. Since Lexus is the luxury brand of Toyota, my assumption is that this hybrid drive system featuring the great continuously variable transmission is the same you might find on a hybrid RAV-4 or Prius. The company’s really had a lot of experience with hybrid tech and it shows with the smooth and effortless response.
The vehicle Lexus loaned me featured an Atomic Silver exterior which worked well with its angular wedge design. The trademark Lexus front grill design is enormous, as you can see in this photo, but somehow it all works together as a design language, with curb appeal. Notice that it also finds a middle ground between the boxy shape of a SUV like the Toyota RAV-4 and the more traditional Lexus sedan (like the Lexus NX 300h that I drove a month ago). In fact, this RX looks a lot like the NX if you compare the photos.
Still, what you get with the SUV form factor is more room and an interior that’s higher off the ground. A smidge less sleek, perhaps, but a whole lot more comfortable in my opinion. Here’s the back leg room so you can get a peek at the interior:
Honestly, not a huge amount of legroom if the driver or front passenger is tall. I’m 6′ 3″ so I definitely push the seat back to be comfortable while driving, and while the rear passenger has enough leg room to sit comfortably, it’s not a sprawling stretch, more “coach” than “first class”. Then again, for many SUV owners, the back seat is populated by children who are smaller anyway.
Notice also in the photo the rugged floor mats, front and back. They’re optional but if you drive anywhere that’s not pristine, investing in floor – and cargo – mats is a no brainer, either from the manufacturer or a third party. Me? I have WeatherTech mats in my Mazda and have gotten into the habit of gifting them to family members who get new cars too. Just do it. You’ll thank me later when you get into the car with wet, muddy boots.
Speaking of mats, here’s the one in the back of the RX 450h, which also gives you a sense of the spacious cargo area too:
The rear hatch also has the popular kick sensor: With the keys in your pocket, you can move your foot under a specific point of the rear bumper and it’ll automatically open up the rear hatch if your hands are otherwise full. The next best thing to asking your driver to “pop the boot”, right?
Moving up to the drivers area, you can see it’s not just well appointed, but surprisingly compact in its control layout:
Wondering where the name “Lexus” comes from? I dug up this interesting tidbit: When the list of possible brand names was presented to Toyota, “the front-runner was Alexis, which eventually was [shortened] to Lexis and finally Lexus. What does it mean? There’s debate about that too, with some people suspecting it stands for “luxury exports to the US”, others insisting it’s a combination of “luxury” and “elegance”. Imagine if they would have stuck with Alexis. Would Amazon then have chosen a different name for its voice-activated Echo device AI?
In the photo above you can see the fun metal racing accelerator pedal and shift knob that’s just part of the F Sport package. Much of what you get with the F Sport package is to do with the drive and handling experience, however. I didn’t have a non-F Sport 450h to compare, but this configuration with the hybrid was definitely a fun drive, as I’ve said. The 12.3″ premium navigation system with Mark Levinson 15-speaker audio was delightful too, though I’m a bit taken aback that car companies still charge for that as an option – and a $3300 option at that – rather than just make that part of the standard configuration. Then again, with phones being used more and more for navigation, does your car need a nav system or just a big screen and CarPlay + Android Auto? What’s your configuration in this regard?
I should also note that while the vehicle Monroney details that it’s Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and Amazon Alexa compatible, I was unable to figure out the magic USB plug to hook my iPhone 12 Pro into the infotainment system so I could actually use CarPlay. If I owned it, of course, I would have popped into the dealer to ask or looked in the manual, but why do car companies make it so difficult?
The main gauge layout is well considered and the dial of the speedometer changes color depending on what driving mode you’re utilizing. In SPORT mode, it’s like it’s challenging you with that big, overt red zone!
Notice the fuel efficiency: overall I saw 28mpg, which isn’t great for a hybrid. My smaller Mazda SUV gets the same mileage without all the extra complexity and cost of a hybrid engine. I know, it’s not apples to apples, but it is worth mentioning that if you’ve just bought a > $60K hybrid, you might expect it to be at least in the low 30’s for mpg, not 28. In city driving this might be a bit better [EPA ratings are 31/28 city vs highway].
The RX 450h also featured a color heads up display, which was as always much appreciated. I found it could have been brighter too, but that might also be a setting in the complicated settings and preferences area of the vehicle. Modern vehicles have hundreds of preferences and settings, so it’s a good idea to occasionally check all of yours even on a vehicle you’ve driven for a few years.
The other thing that’s mostly unique to Lexus is the infotainment control touchpad – Lexus calls it the “Remote Touch Control” – right on the center console by the driver’s right knee:
This takes some getting used to because if you’re on the move, your road might not be entirely smooth, which means it requires some level of concentration to not false push on a bounce or bump. With practice you’ll find it second nature to control the system, but I’m still not convinced it’s the best user interface option for a vehicle in motion.
And, finally, one more view, the rear exterior of the Lexus RX 450h with F Sport badging, etc:
IT’s a smart looking SUV with a fun drive experience and a lot of amenities to like. Would I prefer +10mpg fuel efficiency? Definitely. Would I be happy if it had a different control system than Touch Remote? Yes, again. But if you’re in the market for a luxury hybrid that zips along and offers up a good combination of fuel efficiency and comfort, the 2021 Lexus RX 450h F Sport might be one worth a close look.
CONFIGURATION: 2021 Lexus RX 450h F Sport SUV in Atomic Silver with 3.5L 308hp Lexus Hybrid Drive engine featuring a continuously variable transmission. MSRP: $53,520.00. Options included: Wireless charger, cold weather package, color heads up display, triple beam auto-leveling headlights, panorama moonroof, premium navigation and stereo system, touch-free rear door, parking assist, all-weather floor liners and cargo mat, door edge guards and mudguards. AS DRIVEN: $63,495.00.
Disclosure: Lexus generously loaned me the RX 450h for a week of driving and exploration in return for this writeup. Thanks, Lexus!