When 350 beats 450 - Lexus RX 350 Limited

 

Hmm. Pretty sure I now know why Lexus revealed the performance figures for the facelifted RX 450h Limited, but not those for its less expensive non-hybridised RX 350 Limited.

Words: Peter Louisson   |   Photos Tom Gasnier
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It’s because the lesser machine comfortably sees off the flagship for acceleration, despite having just a single engine and no motors. So we recently discovered. Odd that Lexus didn’t supply the performance figures of the RX 350 range because those after a more eco-friendly option would have been perusing the CO2 and combined fuel figures anyway, not acceleration data.

At the local launch of the RX 350 and 450h, we felt the former was the better all-round drive. And having checked out the 450h F-Sport more extensively, and then the 350 Limited directly thereafter, we’re in little doubt as to which is the better machine, both as a drive and a purchase. Not that customers see it our way, more opting for the big dog.

The RX 350 averaged around the 10L/100km mark during the highway cycle, driven in regular, legal fashion.

As with acceleration, driving dynamics are not the primary mission of the 450h and we wonder why there is even an F-Sport in the line-up. It makes more sense in the faster, lighter RX 350 but you’d buy the 450h for its tech and luxury, and fuel use advantage. You’d savour how it gets from A to B in a quiet and measured way, sipping a tad less fuel than the ICE powered RX 350. While it’s a trifle difficult to put an actual number on that, the hybrid is only ever a bit thriftier overall, despite the theoreticals suggesting a major difference (9.6 vs 5.7L/100km). Perhaps in town running? In our hands, mainly during open road driving, there was at most a 2L/100km difference between them. The RX 350 averaged around the 10L/100km mark during the highway cycle, driven in regular, legal fashion. In the same circumstances you can expect around 9.0 for the 450h. That’s partly because the hybrid is almost 150kg heavier than the RX 350. Helping with 450h economy is a CVT whereas the 350 gets a regular eight-speed transmission. While both have paddles, it’s more fun to manually shift something with real gears than artificial steps. Not that you need to go there much in either because there’s a Sport mode in the 350 as well. Only not the pointless Sport-plus that the 450h F-Sport gets.

The thing about the RX 350 is that it just drives better, whereas the RX 450h doesn’t really feel like anything other than a big, heavy elevated SUV.  The steering’s numb, and the brake pedal has that odd regenerative sensation under foot, making it harder to modulate the action.


Perhaps most tellingly the RX 350 just gets up and goes with more vigour. Odd, I know, given the RX 450h has both combustion and electric motivation. But the mainly Otto-cycle operation of the V6 in the 350 makes it gruffer to the ear (the 450h is virtually inaudible) and with more power (vs the Atkinson cycle mill of the 450h) it jumps better at take-off. Despite being down slightly on overall power compared with the 450h, its power to weight advantage (9.32kg/kW vs 9.50) makes it’s palpably quicker both 0-100 (7.83sec vs 8.72sec) and on the overtake (4.89sec vs 5.51sec). We also managed a slightly better emergency brake stop from 100 of 36.9 vs 37.5m. These may not be big differences but the RX 350 still feels more vibrant.

Bear in mind also that the “EV” mechanism of the RX 450h (the old style NiMH battery pack) imbues it with an extremely limited ability to run on battery power alone - Lexus doesn’t even quote how many kays it will do and that’s because it won’t do more than a few hundred metres, and only at slowish speeds on the flat without the engine refiring. So this is nothing like a plug-in hybrid with a lithium-ion battery; in town these can do about 30-40km of electric running before needing the combustion engine.

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As to other differences between this and the RX 450h, there aren’t really that many. Both come extremely well equipped. The RX 350 doesn’t get the head-up display of the F-Sport, nor any of the sport-specific interior flourishes, like aluminium pedals and trim. There’s not the flash two-tone leather either; it’s essentially black with white stitching. There’s no adaptive suspension so the ride can tend firmer at slow speeds. And this Limited model gets a standard panoramic sunroof whereas it’s a $3k option on the F-Sport. Struggling to think of anything much else.

Whichever you opt for, you’ll likely be happy. The Lexus RX won the JD Power quality award in the US for 2019, with a customer satisfaction rating of 97 per cent.

The Stats

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Model Lexus RX 350 Limited  Price $108,900

Engine 3456cc, V6, DI, 221kW/370Nm

Transmission 8-speed auto, all-wheel drive

Vitals 7.83sec 0-100km/h, 9.6L/100km, 223g/km, 2060kg

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