T3 Drives: Is the future of SUVs hybrid? We drive the Lexus RX to find out

The original tech-laden hybrid SUV that stands out from the crowd

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Lexus is no-longer the butt of Alan Partridge 'Japanese Mercedes' jokes. It's luxurious, stylish, trendy, and most importantly (to us) high-tech. 

It's been a continuous, on-going project, that started when the Japanese marque roped in the assistance of close friend of T3 will.i.am when launching its latest NX compact SUV and had the internet ablaze when I exclusively attempted to ride its hover board concept — a move designed to get the youth of today buzzing about the brand.

The bottom line is Lexus wants you to believe it is no longer the Japanese Mercedes and instead draw your eyes towards its refreshed line-up of stylish and forward thinking vehicles.

The 15-year-old RX is the latest model to receive the new design language, updated interior tech and improved engines.

With the recent slew of Hybrid SUV announcements from Land Rover and Jeep et. al. we've decided to revisit the original Hybrid SUV.

Lexus RX design

New Lexi are noted for their massive, snarling grilles and the RX is no exception. 

In fact this is arguably one of the largest iterations of the marque's new spindle grille yet. Its gaping fascia makes up the majority of the front end and gives the car the appearance of a basking shark mid-feed, or perhaps a robot Mick Jagger.

The flanks and rear haven't escaped the designer's pen either, with sharp creases and indents featuring on almost every panel. 

Takayuki Katsuda, chief engineer of the RX, actually revealed that his team's original designs weren't mad enough - although he may not have put it quite like that - and the head honcho at Toyota told them to let their imagination run even wilder.

It's worked, because the RX doesn't look like anything else currently on sale in the premium SUV sector, and that's a great thing.

Lexus RX interior

Anyone investing in a premium SUV will be looking for an interior that's well equipped but the big Lexus really puts tech at the forefront. Literally: there's a massive 12.3-inch colour display that sits in the centre of the dash, controlled by the slightly odd mouse set-up familiar from other recent Lexi.

Rather than a track pad or a rotary dial, Lexus opts for a little rubber nubbin that moves a cursor around a screen. It takes a while to get used to and can prove quite fiddly when driving, but it does the job.

There's also a heads up display that's projected onto the windscreen in front of you for speed and navigational information, plus the system offers the usual Bluetooth and online connectivity when paired to a smartphone.

It's a solid system, and everything worked as it should, but the infotainment and menus look incredibly dated now compared to its European rivals.

Lexus has made a huge improvement to the general fit and finish of its recent vehicles and the RX's cabin is a truly sumptuous place to while away the hours.

We took the RX up to Scotland and back, and there wasn't a single complaint about comfort from any of the four occupants.

This is thanks to the large leather seats, ample legroom, and reclining rear seats.

Lexus RX Hybrid Drive and autonomous modes

Rewind over ten years and the Lexus RX400h was the first luxury SUV to receive hybrid technology. Now, every brand is at it, but the RX was the original.

The latest model celebrates this legacy, with the range-topping RX 450h packing a 3.5-litre direct-injected V6 petrol engine and a permanent magnet synchronous electric motor.

This isn't a plug-in hybrid though. Instead, those giant battery packs are charged by kinetic regeneration under braking and deceleration. The result is a combined fuel economy of 54mpg and the ability to enjoy all-electric motoring around town, like a milk man.

The V6 is generally sweet and when combined with the electric motor it offers 309bhp and 335Nm of torque, making overtaking manoeuvres a doddle. 

Overall, the car seems more at home cruising the long motorway stretches rather than being booted around country lanes. 

It's also beautifully silent when pootling around town, thanks to that electric motor and battery power. This is usually an area where SUVs struggle.

Fully autonomous driving isn't quite with us yet, but the Lexus RX provides a glimpse into the future thanks to a plethora of self-driving systems. 

Just crank up the dynamic radar cruise control, fire up the lane assist setting and sit back in those plush leather chairs as the RX wafts you to your destination with minimal fuss.

Handily, the vehicle will actually warn you to place your hands on the steering wheel if you accidentally start nodding off, which is not impossible, given the comfort levels of the RX's cruising.

The RX really was the perfect choice to cruise up to Scotland in, chomping up motorway miles with ease.

Lexus RX: Verdict

The Lexus RX is an impressive look into the future of hybrid SUVs. 

It's perfectly comfortable and the hybrid system is great for those who often drive shorter journeys around town, thus benefiting from all-electric motoring (yet still want something big enough for long family trips). 

It must be said, this isn't the most exhilarating SUV on sale at the moment, and the menu graphics feels like it was lifted from a Manga comic compared to the sleek systems found in European rivals.

Lexus is making a bold statement with this RX and the style and performance backs it up.

Lexus RX spec

Engine: 3.5-litre V6 and electric motor
Performance: 309bhp/335Nm torque
0-62mph: 7.7 seconds
Top speed: 124mph
Fuel economy: 53.3mpg
Emissions: 120g/km CO2

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