Lexus RX 450h L: The car that ‘Buzz Lightyear would drive to get to infinity and beyond’

Lexus RX 450h L is just as floaty and absurdly comfortable as the five-seater, says Charles Rangeley-Wilson.

The Lexus RX 450 is a boulevard SUV that I rather liked in its five-seat incarnation. I liked its zany, spaceship styling, its comfort and, most of all, its magic-carpet ride. It really did float about the place rather beautifully. Now, the luxury arm of Toyota has added a few inches to this hefty hybrid and squeezed inside them an extra row of seats.

It’s not hard to work out why: the UK market for big SUVs is dominated by seven-seaters, such as the Audi Q7 and Volvo XC90. Lexus currently owns only a small portion of that market and the lack of a third row really wasn’t helping. Enter stage left the RX 450h L and no prizes for guessing what the L stands for.

Amazingly, the Lexus designers have achieved this extra capacity with only a marginal weight gain of 125kg (275lb) and only 110mm (4½in) extra hang out back. The wheelbase is exactly the same. As are the looks – almost. The L version is marginally less good-looking now that its ‘bum looks big in this’.

Some argue it wasn’t good-looking in the first place. Japanese motor design, with its love of strakes and folds and warp-drive exaggerations, might look a tad off-key in the view of the round eye, but isn’t the presidential-cavalcade vibe of so many European SUVs a tad samey? If Buzz Lightyear had his pick of the car park, I reckon he’d plump for the RX in which to travel to infinity and beyond.

As for me, it was only Oban and beyond – which, from Norfolk, can feel as far. I needed a car to ferry a family and a summer holiday’s worth of kit. The Lexus with extra seats would add to my survey that had thus far included the said Q7 and XC90, together with the more modestly priced, but more effectively spacious Skoda Kodiaq and, most recently, the behemothian Mercedes GLE.

So far, I have to admit, my jury is out on the concept of a third row, probably because I don’t live in London with a family of four kids, all at school age, two of whom are still quite small.

The RX 450h L did little to bring the jury back in. That the Lexus engineers have achieved a miracle of packaging is in no doubt – they’ve even fitted air conditioning back there. If you are small enough, getting in and out of the third row is a breeze, because folding the second row down and sliding it forward is done with one effortless pull of a lever. Popping the third row flat again is also one-button easy.

My lack of conviction in general, and with the RX 450h L in particular, derives from how that third row shrinks boot space without adding much else, except for very small passengers.

Put it this way: our extra adult passenger sat in the second row, our dog lay in the footwell and still the boot was full.

 

The Lexus RX 450h L

No complaints about the drive, however: it was equally as floaty and absurdly comfortable as the more conventional five-seater. It’s simply that the five-seater would have been equally effective at the same long-distance task.

If ferrying a minor tribe to rugby and hockey matches is a regular thing, if getting the same tribe to and from school, either daily or weekly, is also a thing and if commuting the sort of distances at which hybrid technology can genuinely reduce the miles per gallon of such a large car is also a thing, then, yes, a large, hybrid SUV with seven seats might be what you need.

I’d like to give the seven-seat version of the Lexus – of which I am fond – a glowing five-stars in this regard. It’s still a great car, admirably ploughing its own furrow, but the competition is roomier in the back.

On the road: The Lexus RX 450h L

  • Priced from: £50,995
  • Combined fuel consumption: 47.1mpg
  • Power: 308bhp
  • 0–60mph: 8 seconds
  • Top speed: 112mph