In the beginning, hybrid automobiles were solely about economy, so much so that the original Honda Insight felt crude as an engineering senior project and “Toyota Prius” became the punchline for car enthusiasts’ jokes. Like vegetables, if it’s good for you, it can’t be fun.
That’s not completely true anymore. Honda makes the CR-Z, a two-passenger hybrid sports coupe, and the BMW i8 takes hybrid into exotic performance territory, for example.
And then there’s the 2016 Lexus RX crossover, and specifically the 2016 Lexus RX 450h F Sport. The Lexus RX is all-new for the 2016 model year, with a new chassis, a more radical front end, more power…and for the first time a sport-added F Sport version of the 450h hybrid.
The bolder look comes from an even bigger Lexus-trademark “spindle” grille. The RX received a midcycle facelift in 2013 replacing a bland trapezoidal grille with a mild version of the Lexus spindle, split by a “bumper bar.” The 2016 RX grille is big, one piece, black and glossy, from hood to the ground, and surrounded with bright metal trim,. The regular RX has shiny black horizontal bars; the F Sport has a black egg-crate design. Of course, most of it is blanked off behind the exterior designs in the interest of aerodynamics. On the other hand, there are scoop-like shapes at the lower front corners of the Lexus RX that could be an inlet for drag-reducing air curtains for the front wheels. But they are blanked off, its only function cosmetic.
Inside the 2016 Lexus RX has more angles and edges, and joins the current mania for tablet-style multi-information screens on the top of the dash. The RX is available with a variety of different interior trim combinations of colors and hard bits. Our test 2016 Lexus RX450h F Sport came with Rioja Red leather with Scored Aluminum trim, for a techno look. Or there are several woods and other stuff.
The F Sport package includes assorted sporty pieces, including perforated and heated sport seats with substantial fanny-grabby bolsters, a black headliner, electronic instruments, rain sensing wipers, ambient lighting on the doors and so on inside, and F Sport wheels, the honeycomb grille and other exterior trim pieces, and special suspension.
And by special, we mean an adaptive variable suspension. The AVS adds a linear solenoid with an oil pressure valve to the AVS shock absorber. What it means to average people is that in normal mode (and modes other than Sport+), the shock absorbers can soften over bumps and irregularities for a smoother road.
The driving modes of the standard 2016 Lexus RX include ECO, Normal, and Sport. ECO reduces engine power and throttle response, plus dials back on the climate control system to improve fuel economy. Normal, of course, is the default position. Sport resets throttle response and tightens the electric power steering.
The RX models with the adaptive variable suspension system, including our test 2016 Lexus RX 460f F Sport, have three additional mode settings. Selecting SPORT S changes to a quicker throttle response. For a “feeling of powerful acceleration.” Beyond that is SPORT S+, which keeps the powertrain changes from “SPORT S” mode while tightening the electric power steering and stiffening the suspension settings for flatter cornering. A first for Lexus is the ability to “CUSTOMIZE,” a mode setting that allows the driver to alter the various modes elements individually, such as when one might want to keep the steering and throttle response of Sport S+ but set the suspension softer for driving on spring–read “winter ravaged”—roads.
We tried different settings on the same stretch of winding road, and after having gone back to ECO, or even Normal, from Sport S+…we turned it back to Sport S+ again before we finished our lap in the softer settings. Yes, it makes that much of a difference, and yes, life is too short to drive a winding road with mushy suspension.
The new chassis is more rigid, however. Lexus cites new technology, including “high-tech body adhesives and laser screw welding; liberal use of high-tensile strength steel throughout the vehicle including key areas such as the underbody cross members and front (A-pillar) and middle (B-pillar) sections; the implementation of a new process called ‘annular frame construction’ for strengthened frame sections within the vehicle around the front and rear doors; and redesigned body frame sections and additional spot welds around the rear portion of the vehicle for enhanced strength and handling.”
Safety technology, in addition to the usual stability control, brake assist and electronic brakeforce distribution, includes dynamic radar cruise control, lane departure warning with steering assist, vehicle sway warning, parking assist, panoramic view monitor (in addition to the usual—how jaded are we—birds-eye view, it has a variety of 360 degree surround views made possible by minicams in the grille, under the side view mirrors and at the rear), plus blind spot monitor with rear cross traffic alert and intelligent high beam as standard or optional equipment.