Those in the market for a hybrid SUV have yet another option with the 2010 Lexus RX450h, which was unveiled at the 2008 Los Angeles auto show.
Replacing the RX400h hybrid after only two years on the U.S. market, the RX450h still uses Toyota's Hybrid Synergy System in either front- or all-wheel-drive forms, but adds a few new tricks. As its name implies, the RX hybrid gains a larger motor for 2010, moving from a 3.3-liter V-6 to a new Atkinson-cycle 3.5-liter V-6. Coupled with what Lexus claims is a "more efficient" power inverter, the total output for the hybrid system is 295 hp, 27 more than the RX400h.
The new 'ute isn't simply about a power boost, either. Engineers added a cooled exhaust gas recirculation system to reduce pumping losses, and a clever new exhaust-heat recovery system. The latter captures heat from the V-6's exhaust and uses it to reduce warm-up time, allowing the RX450h to run in electric-only mode more often and for longer distances.
But the hybrid refinement is just icing on the cake. For 2010, Lexus' entire RX lineup has been completely re-worked, as evidenced from its exterior form. Certainly, the traditional RX shape (first seen in 1996) is still evident, but the new SUV has a sleek, tapered form that feels more balanced than its predecessors. We also like the roofline, which seems faster and more raked than the outgoing model. Unique touches to the RX450h model include a new grille insert, 19-inch alloy wheels, blue-tinted head- and taillamps, and the availability of LED headlamps, much like those on the flagship LS460h.
Perhaps more dramatic are the changes made to the RX's interior, which now sports more angular faces than the Sydney Opera House. Though it's interesting to look at, it's even more intriguing to use, a fact we attribute most to Lexus' new Remote Touch controller. Designed to interface with navigation, climate, and audio systems (not unlike the infamous BMW iDrive), it functions very much like a computer trackball. In fact, the cursor doesn't jump from menu to menu, but glides across the screen as if one were using a mouse. We've yet to try it while on the move, but it seemed slick and easy enough during our brief test on the show floor.
If all this sounds good but you're not quite convinced of the hybrid system, fear not - Lexus will still offer the RX350 for 2010, which uses more conventional drivetrain. Look for a 275-hp 3.5-liter V-6 (up 5 hp from 2008), mated to a six-speed automatic transmission with sequential shift.
Regardless of which model buyers choose, they'll be able to belly up to the typical Lexus technology smorgsaboard - Pre-collision systems, adaptive lighting, dual-screen DVD systems, and surround sound systems by Mark Levinson are available on both models.
Lexus expects the RX350 to go on sale in February, while the RX450h won't arrive until the spring of 2009.