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2021 Lexus RX 450h review: Quintessentially Lexus

No other model defines Lexus as well as the RX. This was one of the first vehicles to prove that you can blend a commanding seating position with a carlike ride, a combination that helped the crossover become a popular choice. The RX was also one of the first to introduce an electrified powertrain, offering a hybrid variant since its inception. With the rest of the competition now offering some degree of electrification, does Lexus’ bestseller still have an edge? We’ve got our hands on a 2021 Lexus RX 450h Black Line Edition to see.

2021 Lexus RX 450h exterior

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Photo credit: Stefan Ogbac / EV Pulse

Lexus’ current design language gave the RX a polarizing look, especially with the massive spindle grille and angular headlights and taillights. The low roofline and raked rear window add to the swoopy look. F Sport models get a special grille pattern, different bumpers, and F Sport badges to distinguish them from the standard RX. You can further differentiate hybrid models by their blue Lexus and 450h badges, and hybrid badges on the lower part of the rear passenger doors.

2021 Lexus RX 450h interior

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Photo credit: Stefan Ogbac / EV Pulse

The RX’s fit and finish is a textbook example of Lexus build quality and attention to detail. Everything you interact with feels expensive and padded with something soft and/or squishy. You want to keep using every button, knob, and dial because they’re so satisfyingly tactile. There are exceptional levels of sound insulation, too. Even at highway speeds, the cabin is like a leather-lined vault because there’s so little noise entering.

The rest of the cabin adheres to a comfort-first approach. Supremely cushy yet supportive front seats make spending time in the RX a joy. Passengers in the back enjoy a well-cushioned bench and a flat floor, giving them abundant foot- and legroom. Should you need more flexibility and space, the rear seats also slide, recline, and feature seat backs that split 40/20/40. The RX’s exterior design cuts into usable space, though. Tall passengers may find headroom lacking due to the low roofline while the rear window eats into cargo space, preventing you from loading cargo upright if all seats are taken. There’s also a significant blind spot in the rear right because of the thick D-pillar.

2021 Lexus RX 450h tech features

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Photo credit: Stefan Ogbac / EV Pulse

The RX was one of the first Lexus models to get an updated infotainment system with a touch screen. As a result, the interface is easier to use because you don’t have to deal with the touch pad and its inconsistent sensitivity levels as often. The optional 12.3-inch display has a logical menu layout and responds quickly, making it easy to use even on the move. The 15-speaker Mark Levinson audio system is crisp and tuned well, meaning it always sounds clear regardless of the volume levels. Other quibbles? The built-navigation could use a graphics update for the maps because it looks dated, especially compared to what you get from Google Maps when using Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.

Lexus Safety System+ 2.0 is standard on all RX models and isn’t very intrusive. Lane-keeping assist gently brings you back to the center and can help you take gentle curves at highway speeds. Adaptive cruise control veers on the conservative end, meaning it leaves more room between you and the vehicle ahead even in its closest setting. The car is slower to close gaps and accelerate when the car you’re following moves. Braking, on the other hand, happens earlier, which is helpful considering the RX’s 4,740-pound curb weight.

2021 Lexus RX 450h driving impressions

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Photo credit: Stefan Ogbac / EV Pulse

If you’re looking for a luxury crossover so comfortable it’s like you’re riding on a cloud, the Lexus RX is it. The suspension isolates the passenger cabin so well that you don’t feel much harshness — if any. Even with the optional 20-inch wheels, the RX expertly filters out every imperfection you drive over.

Unfortunately, the RX drives as big as it looks. You get lots of body roll when cornering because the crossover is so softly sprung. There are plenty of secondary and tertiary vertical motions over big bumps and undulations, which become especially noticeable on the highway. The slow, disconnected steering amplifies the RX’s size and makes it bulky to maneuver at low speeds.

The RX 450h’s hybrid powertrain adds to the crossover’s chill character. A 3.5-liter V6 is paired to a nickel-metal-hydride battery, two electric motors, and a planetary gear set. The system makes 308 hp combined. Thanks to the electric motors’ instant torque, the crossover gets to highway speeds without much drama even with its 2.5-ton curb weight. Smooth power delivery and operation contribute to the sense of serenity you get driving the RX, making it a great long-distance cruiser.

2021 Lexus RX 450h pricing

The 2021 Lexus RX 450h starts at $48,845. Our test car, a 2021 RX 450h Black Line Edition with several options including a head-up display, triple-beam LED headlights, built-in navigation with a 12.3-inch touch screen, a Mark Levinson surround sound system, and a sunroof costs $61,455.

Final verdict

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Photo credit: Stefan Ogbac / EV Pulse

If traditional Lexus virtues appeal to you, the RX 450h should be on your radar. Comfort is its strongest feature thanks to its impeccable attention to detail and calming driving experience. Like most things, there are trade-offs; in this case, it’s handling and interior packaging, the latter of which is due to the crossover’s swoopy styling. Although the Lexus RX remains a compelling package, it’ll need to evolve again while addressing the current model’s shortcomings in the age of electrification. Luckily, Lexus has the know-how to do just that and is in the right position to secure the RX’s position as a segment mainstay in the future.

At a glance

  • Year: 2021
  • Make: Lexus
  • Model: RX 450h
  • Trim: Black Line Edition
  • Type: 4-door luxury mid-size crossover
  • Combined horsepower: 308 hp
  • MPG ratings (city/highway/combined): 31/28/30
  • Pros: Exceptional ride comfort, vault-like cabin insulation
  • Cons: Tipsy handling, styling compromises visibility and interior volume
  • Base price: $48,845
  • Price as tested: $61,455
Written by Stefan Ogbac
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