2024 Lexus RX450h+ Luxury AWD: Upscale plug-in hybrid SUV

When former Toyota chairman Akio Toyoda first said that most consumers were not willing to only buy all-electric vehicles, he and his company were criticized by environmental advocates for not doing enough to fight climate change. At the time, Toyoda instead called for a “multi-pathway approach” that includes gas/electric hybrid vehicles, saying, “Customers — not regulations or politics — should make that decision.”

The wisdom of Toyoda position has now been proven. Sales of EVs have slowed in recent months, prompting the Biden Administration to reconsider its regulations that pressure manufacturers to increase their production of all-electric vehicles at the expense of other models. At the same time, buyers wanting to reduce their carbon footprints are flocking to traditional gas/electric hybrids that get high mileage and the newer generation of plug-in hybrids that can go a reasonable number of miles on electricity alone before switching over to a traditional hybrid mode. With regular recharging, plug-in hybrids — also known as PHEVs — can practically double as EVs for daily driving, but still go on long trips with stops at regular gas stations, eliminating the range anxiety holding so many buyers back from going full electric.

And Toyota is fully prepared to meet that demand, with no fewer that 29 vehicles that include some form of electrification, counting those sold by Lexus, its luxury brand. Four of the company’s electrified vehicles are PHEVs, including the new 2024 Lexus RX450h+ Luxury AWD, the subject of this review. It is a striking, comfortable, upscale midsize two-row crossover SUV that can go up to 37 miles on electricity alone before switching over to a conventional gas/electric hybrid mode EPA estimated at 35 miles per gallon — the best of both worlds.

Toyota’s first PHEV was the 2017 Prius Prime, the plug-in version of its original groundbreaking traditional compact gas/electric hybrid. Like all PHEVs, the Prime was equipped with additional battery capacity that could be recharged with a cord, allowing it to go up to 25 miles on electricity alone before switching over to the conventional Prius hybrid mode. Although that wasn’t a lot of all-electric miles, for many drivers, it was enough for most day-to-day driving.

But then Toyota introduced its remarkable 2021 RAV4 Prime. Using the same basic technology as the Prius Prime, the plug-in hybrid version of the popular compact crossover could go up to 42 miles on electricity alone — the most at the time — and came standard with all-wheel-drive, thanks to the second motor driving the rear wheels. That was a game changer. (The 2024 RAV4 Prime starts at $43,690.)

Two years later, Toyota completely redesigned the Prius as a sleek, fun-to-drive compact with a Prime version that can go up to 48 miles on electricity alone. The Northwest Automotive Press Association named the 2024 Prius Prime (starting at $32,975) the Best Electric or Plug-in Hybrid Vehicle of 2023. The American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy just named it the “greenest” car in America, despite the fact that it is not all-electric.

And now Toyota has transferred its PHEV technology to Lexus with the compact NX 450h+ AWD (starting at $59,905) and midsize RX 450h+ Luxury AWD (starting at $70,905) crossover SUVs. Both get up to 37 miles of all-electric range on a full charge.

One can ask whether any vehicle with a Prius-related powertain should start at nearly $70,000, like the 2024 Lexus RX 450h+ Luxury AWD. But the luxury vehicle market is not rational. That would mean getting from Point A to B at the least cost. Instead, luxury buyers expect the highest level of comfort, technology, performance, and sophistication — and the 2024 Lexus RX450h+ Luxury AWD delivers across the board.

To answer the obvious question first, it has plenty of power. A 2.4-liter inline four-cylinder engine is paired with three electric motors that produce a combined 304 horsepower. Car and Driver found that’s enough to go from zero to 60 in 6.2 seconds, which is very good for any midsize SUV. And that performance is available in both the all-electric and gas/electric hybrid modes.

Both even more important for luxury buyers, the 2024 Lexus RX450h+ Luxury AWD is a boldly styled SUV, with a large spindle grill, low front air dam, and bulging rear fends that give it an aggressive yet refined look. The only letdown is the rear end, where the thin wraparound taillights make it look like a much less expensive Toyota Venza (also a traditional hybrid, by the way).

The interior is equally attractive, featuring what Lexus calls the tazuna concept, which means everything is within the driver’s reach and forward sightline. That includes the essential controls and information displays. The concept helped produce a minimalist layout, uncluttered by too many buttons and knobs.

Technology is as important as comfort in luxury vehicles these days, and Lexus didn’t scrimp on the RX450h+ Luxury AWD. It is only offered in the top-of-the-line Luxury trim that includes the optional 14-inch high-definition screen with dazzling graphics. The system is compatible with both Apple and Android phones, too. And the 21-speaker Mark Levinson surround sound audio system is equally impressive.

The standard Lexus Safety System+ 3.0 is also very advanced. In addition to such expected features as lane assistance, adaptive cruise control and automatic high beams, it includes a pre-collision system that takes over to protect the occupants when a collision is imminent. There is also a proactive driving assist that automatically slows the RX 450h+ Luxury AWD for curves, can help steer around bicyclists, and much more.

In a week of test driving, I found the RX450h+ Luxury AWD to be an impressive and entertaining midsize luxury SUV. The ride was firm without being harsh, the acceleration was smooth and swift when pressed, the heated and cooled leather front bucket seats were comfortable and supportive, and the infotainment system was easy to figure out and use. The AWD also made quick work of slushy streets during an early March snowstorm.

When I test plug-in hybrids, I always run the additional battery capacity out so I can compare the all-electric to the gas/electric hybrid modes. The RX550h+ Luxury AWD is of course a little noisier when the gas engine kicks in, but it is not intrusive, thanks to good sound deadening. It is also virtually vibration free, even compared to the Prius Prime and RAV4 Prime, both of which I’ve tested.

The RX is one of those vehicle lines available with different powertrains designed by different numbers and letters that practically require a scorecard to understand. The base RX350 comes with a turbocharged 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine that produces 275 horsepower and 317 foot-pounds of torque, passed to the front or all wheels by an eight-speed traditional automatic. The next step up is the RX350h with a 2.5-liter four-cylinder hybrid engine. It generates 246 total system horsepower and 233 foot-pounds of torque, passed to all four wheels through a continuously variable transmission.

The most powerful RX500h has the same 2.4-liter turbo engine, but with a hybrid electric motor. It produces 366 horsepower and 406 foot-pounds of torque, with power was passed to all four wheels through a six-speed automatic transmission. The RX450+ Luxury AWD is new this year and is the top-of-the-line model. Although it is not the most powerful version, I consider it to be the Lexus flagship because of its advanced PHEV powertrain.

Despite the government regulations now under fire, an increasing number of manufacturers have been introducing new traditional and plug-in hybrids in recent years. Not all are equal, however. Some, like all versions of the 2024 Toyota Prius (starting at $27,950), maximize fuel savings. Gains can be modest in larger vehicles, however. And some vehicles use the electric motors mostly to increase performance. Consumers who are primarily interested in reducing their carbon footprint would be wise to do some research before shopping on sites like fueleconomy.gov.

But I’m glad the world is finally coming around to appreciate the wisdom of former Toyota chairman Akio Toyoda’s “multi-pathway approach” to auto making. Toyota will gladly sell you a 2024 bZ4X starting at $43,070 or 2024 Lexus RX starting at $55,150 you want. But it will also sell you a range of fuel-saving traditional gas/electric and plug-in hybrids if they meet your needs better.

And the 2024 Lexus 450h+ Luxury AWD should satisfy those looking for a luxury midsize two-row crossover SUV that can double as an EV most days but still go on long trips without the fear of running out of electricity.

2024 Lexus RX450h+ Luxury AWD

Base price: $68,730

Price as tested: $76,105

Type: Midsize two-row crossover SUV

Engine: 2.4-liter plug-in hybrid four-cylinder engine, three electric motors (304 hp)

Transmission: Continuously Variable Transmission

Drive modes: Eco, Normal, Sport

EPA estimated all-electric range: 37 miles

EPA estimated mileage: 83 MPGe/35 mpg city-highway

Overall length: 192.5 inches

Curb weight: 4,750 pounds

Final assembly: Miyawaka, Fukuoka, Japan

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