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2014 Lexus RX450h: Upscale luxury crossover hybrid

by: TOYOTA MOTOR SALES, USA, INC. - Style, power and good fuel economy make the 2014 Lexus 450h a top hybrid.Despite their fuel-saving advantages, hybrids are still a complicated choice for a lot of car buyers.

Toyota initially made it simple for those concerned about the environment. The Prius, the best-selling hybrid in the world, is only sold as a hybrid. You pay the price, you get a hybrid. Most other hybrids are hybrid versions of conventional gas-powered vehicles, however, and they cost more because of the added parts, including the electric motor, extra battery, and brakes that charge the extra battery during deceleration. So, with only a few exceptions, you pay more to buy the hybrid version, and — even though your get better mileage — the fuel savings might not ever offset the higher price.

Lexus has found a way to tempt hesitant buyers with the hybrid version of its most popular RX350 luxury compact crossover — they made it feel and drive really nice. The 450h, as it is called, performs about as well as the RX350, which comes with a powerful 3.5-liter V6. The 450h uses a slightly more fuel-efficient version of the same size engine, then adds either one or two electric motors, depending on whether you buy the front-wheel-drive or all-wheel-drive version. As a result, although the RX450h is a little slow off the line when it's running primarily on electricity, it quickly picks up speed and freeway passing is a breeze.

At the same time, it gets 12 miles per gallon more around town and three miles per gallon more on the freeway than the RX350, saving $3,500 in fuel costs over five years. Although that's only about half the price premium for the hybrid version, the gap could narrow considerably if the price of gas goes up, which is always a possibility.

Although the 450h does not scream hybrid on the outside like a Prius, our test model came with genuine bamboo interior trim pieces, including the top half of the steering wheel, that made us feel both responsible and privileged at the same time. It also came with the new, larger display screen being offered on the RX350 this years, although ours also showed the interaction between the gas engine and electric motors in real time if we wanted it.

The second electric motor powers the rear wheels, which is what made our 450h an all-wheel-drive version. Although not recommended for off-road use, the additional motor should improve traction in the wet conditions we face so often in the Pacific Northwest.

The exterior styling and interior design of the RX350 are among the best of any luxury compact crossover, which means the RX450h is equally desirable. The outside look is clean and crisper, with the update corporate grill giving it a more aggressive look. Interior changes were held to a minimum, which is fine because the layout, materials and fit and finish were already top notch. With a ride that has been described as a magic carpet, what more could any want in a hybrid?

2015 Lexus 450h AWD

Base price: $21,691

Price as tested: $33,000

Type: 5-door, 5-passenger luxury crossover.

Engine: 3.5 V6 and dual electric motors.

EPA estimated mileage: 30 city/28 highway

Overall length: 188.8 inches

Curb weight: 3,468 pounds

Final assembly: Lafayette, Indiana