2013 Lexus RX450h AWD review: Fresh

2013 Lexus RX450h

2013 Lexus RX450h

It’s called a mid-cycle refresh. It’s a way carmakers keep a model “fresh”—because no one apparently wants to buy a stale car design—and usually includes some sort of change to the  front of a car, such a new grille, maybe a tweaking of the taillights, a massage to the interior and a minor mechanical/technical update. That perfectly describes the 2013 Lexus RX series, including the RX350, the new RX350 F Sport and our test 2013 Lexus RX450h hybrid.

The Lexus “spindle” grille, essentially a square pinched in at the sides, marks the refresh of the Lexus RX series, along with new headlights with the now obligatory LED accent lights, and taillights with new clear lenses. Inside there’s a new steering wheel and the multifunction remote-touch interface device (Lexus’ console-mounted joystick/mouse device) was changed, more about which later.

The wood/leather steering wheel is part of the Luxury Package of the 2013 Lexus RX450h.

The wood/leather steering wheel is part of the Luxury Package of the 2013 Lexus RX450h. (Click to enlarge)

The new F Sport model has the same engine as the standard RX350, but adds steering wheel-mounted paddles for shifting gears and a trick suspension that, as Lexus describes it, has “firmer shocks and springs for a more engaging driving experience. A unique lateral performance damper system absorbs and minimizes body vibrations, resulting in a more linear steering feel and enhanced ride comfort. In lieu of conventional fixed bracing, this system features a front performance damper and a rear damper connecting the left and right sides of the rear structural frame.” Got that?

The drivetrain for the 2013 Lexus RX450h hybrid was unchanged, however the electronic controls had a “sport” mode added. Again, no change in output, but selection of Sport most obviously turns the instrument panel lighting to an accusatory red other than its usual soothing eco-friendly blue. Other than that, Sport mode modifies the throttle and electric-power-steering map for quicker response and dials back kick-in of the car’s stability- and traction-control systems. No doubt Sport is for dashing in and out of McDonald’s for a burger and fries (with extra salt) instead of the politically approved whole grain yogurt and sawdust casserole.

The 2013 Lexus RX450h has 80 cubic feet of cargo capacity with the rear seatbacks folded.

The 2013 Lexus RX450h has 80 cubic feet of cargo capacity with the rear seatbacks folded. (Click to enlarge)

The change to the multi-function display controller was the elimination of the mouse buttons for select. Now one simply depresses the toggle to click. It sounds simpler, though we found took a deft hand to push down without pushing just enough sideways, especially when that unexpected bump comes just at that moment.

Speaking of the display. We were, weren’t we? The hybrid operation schematic has the usual power flow, including power generation and use, including what was happening at the rear axle. Our test 2013 Lexus RX450h was equipped with the optional all-wheel drive, but instead of the usual driveshaft to the rear of the vehicle to deliver the extra push, the RX450 h drives the rear axle with an electric motor only. The rear electric motor is along for the ride until it’s called into action to provide the extra push, either for extra acceleration or extra dig with traction is low, or for recharging the batteries in a regeneration mode.

2013 Lexus RX450h equipped with optional 19-inch alloy wheels.

2013 Lexus RX450h equipped with optional 19-inch alloy wheels. (Click to enlarge)

We were hoping for deep snow or at least slippery surfaces to test the effectiveness of that rear electric drive, but no such luck. A bit of sand on the pavement let the front wheels give a quarter spin before the traction control set in, and no doubt the rear axle motor helped keep the RX450h from bogging then.

Our test 2013 Lexus RX450h carried a base price of $47,310, but was optioned up to $58,060, including destination. A big part of that increase was the Luxury Package that included semi-aniline leather, heated wood-and-leather steering wheel, 19-inch alloy wheels, LED headlamps and more, for $5,635. The Luxury Package doesn’t include, however, the navigation system, at $2,775. Note: That’s not just navigation, but also Lexus Enform, sports scores and fuel prices, destination assist and eDestination and more. See the window sticker linked on the next page for full standard equipment and option information.