Lexus 2017 hybrid range review: We drive Lexus’ innovative dual-power range
In 2017, car makers are releasing hybrid versions of their existing cars, but as each brand struggles to be the most well-known, there’s a model that’ll forever be associated with hybrid tech: the Toyota Prius. Alongside the i8, the Prius is a pioneer of hybrid technology, and now Lexus – a high-end offshoot of the Toyota brand – is benefitting from the Prius’ years of hybrid development, and expertise. To find out just how good the Lexus Hybrid range is, I sampled three of them on a selection of roads near Geneva, Switzerland.
Lexus RC 300h
The first car I drove was the Lexus RC 300h, a hybrid coupe that looks innovative even from the outside. Its striking angular lines and aggressive LED lights might not appeal to everyone’s tastes, but it’s hard not to appreciate the thought behind them. Most cars in this sector of the market have safe, comfortable styling – and you can’t blame Lexus for trying something new and different. On the whole I think the design works well, but it’s a pity it’s not carried over into the interior.
The cockpit of the Lexus RC 300h featured stitched coloured leather and the seats are comfortable, but it still feels far less futuristic than the outside of the car, and this mismatch continues with the infotainment system. The RC 300h uses a good-sized 7in screen, but the user interface feels clunky and inefficient, and it doesn’t use that screen real estate effectively. That problem is only made worse by how deeply it’s recessed into the dash. There’s also a 4.2in screen in the instrument hood, which shows all the navigation and multimedia options you’d expect, but it doesn’t have the resolution nor ease of use of something such as Audi’s Virtual Cockpit.[gallery:19]
The Lexus uses a curious control system that involves a touch-sensitive trackpad situated on the transmission tunnel. Annoyingly, I found it pretty difficult to get used to, even after several hours in the various Lexus cars I drove. When compared with the “wheel and button” control systems found in recent BMW and Audi models, the trackpad felt fiddly and twitchy in use, but also somewhat flimsy.
Nevertheless, this Lexus does include a whole range of useful safety tech. Lexus’ Vehicle Dynamics Integrated Management package includes preventative systems such as autonomous emergency braking, as well as adaptive cruise control. Other, less sophisticated features are here, too, such as a blind spot monitor, rear cross-traffic alert and lane-departure warning.
Once you’ve paired your phone or slotted in a CD, the Lexus delivers great sound, especially if you’ve opted for the optional 17-speaker Mark Levinson Premium Surround system. It doesn’t sound as good as the Burmester system in the Mercedes S Class, but it’s certainly on par with the likes of the Audi A5’s Bang & Olufsen system.
As for driving, the Lexus RC 300h has a naturally aspirated 2.5-litre engine with a hybrid system for 220hp, and although it’s not the most powerful car, it feels poised and dynamic on even the twistiest roads. If you want something faster, the RC 200t could be your best bet: That comes with a 2-litre turbocharged engine capable of 241hp, but it isn’t a hybrid.
Lexus RX 450h and GS 300h
Despite their different sizes, both the RX 450h and GS 300h are good and bad in the same ways as the RC 300h. Both cars look stunning on the outside, and that’s especially true for the RX 450h SUV. Lexus’ angular design looks great on the RC 300h, but it works just as well on a large blank canvas such as an SUV. Simply put, the RX 450h is one of the best-looking big cars you can buy right now.
Inside, the RX 450h appears to lose its mojo, reverting to a well-built but slightly conservatively designed cockpit. It does, however, come with a larger 8in or optional 12.3in display, and its position at the top of the dashboard makes it much easier to use than in the RC 300h.
The GS 300h saloon also has an 8in or optional 12.3in screen, but it’s recessed into the dash – which has the effect of making it feel smaller. Both cars also include a heads-up display to show crucial information such as speed and directions, and in the very bright conditions I encountered, this worked well. What’s more, both cars have the same level of connectivity as the RC 300h, so you’ll find Bluetooth, USB ports and the option to install the same Mark Levinson audio system. Overall, though, the RX 450h is the nicest cabin to be in.
As for the handling? Annoyingly, the GS 300h feels underpowered on the road, just like the RC 300h. Lexus’ executive coupe uses a 2.5-litre, four-cylinder petrol engine and electric motor, but because it’s relatively heavy, it only gets to 60mph in nine seconds – not what you’d expect from a executive, hybrid saloon.
In contrast, the RX 450h SUV goes from 0-60mph in 7.7 seconds. Its 3.5-litre V6 hybrid unit is able to put out 308hp, and that means the large SUV can move pretty fast when you need it to. But while that makes it a stable, entertaining ride, it also highlights the strange lack of power of the other two, allegedly sportier models.
However, hybrids are about economy as well as power, and in this area all three models perform strongly. The GS 300h has a quoted rating of 58mpg, while the RC 300h clocks in at 57.6. The Lexus RX 450h brings you 54.3mpg – which is pretty impressive when you consider just how large and heavy it is. Due to the limited time I had in the cars, I was unable to verify these figures myself, but according to Auto Express, the RC 300h clocks in around 40mpg in mixed, real-world use. I’d therefore expect both of the other cars to return similar real-world results.
As it stands, Lexus’ hybrid range appears to be a mixture of the good and the bad. There’s much to like about them – particularly the angular, interesting styling – and there’s also a good range of safety features onboard. However, the bold design doesn’t extend to the interior of the cars, with all three cars feeling slightly dated, especially when it comes to their infotainment systems.
But there is a silver lining. Just a few weeks ago, I drove the Lexus LC500h. Featuring comic book looks, a highly impressive hybrid powertrain and an interior that’s modern and still luxurious, the LC500h is the best car Lexus currently makes. However, below it sits a range of cars, that, while stylish, seem to lack the same sense of quality, togetherness and freshness as the new Lexus coupe.
We’re hoping to spend longer with these cars and review them in full soon, but in the meantime, you can check out full reviews of every car on our sister site Auto Express.