Although the price of new cars will remain competitive the Treasury and Government tax bandits will continue to use transport as a ‘cash-cow’ as they struggle to deal with our financial woes.
‘Buying smart’ has to be a New Year’s Resolution for most motorists again this year whether it’s a low annual mileage retail customer or a high mileage business or fleet driver.
Looking for cars with low CO2 emissions which automatically means good fuel economy and helps reduce tax. We pay road tax (VED), Benefit-in-Kind tax (BIK for company car drivers), VAT and fuel tax on every litre sold. The unfair thing is that as cars become more fuel and tax efficient the less money goes into the coffers of the Treasury, that in turn means the tax bandits put tax rates up to recover the lost revenue.
For a savvy motorist wanting to ‘buy smart’ in the premium brand 4x4/SUV sector the latest Lexus RX 450h five door, five seater really should be on their shopping list. Now this model comes with a high performance 3.5-litre, V6, 246bhp, silky smooth and near silent petrol engine, not the obvious choice for fuel efficiency in this sector where diesel power dominates. But petrol is significantly cheaper than diesel to buy and doesn’t incur the three per cent surcharge penalty for BIK tax rates. The secret to the RX 450h’s fuel economy is its hybrid system with the petrol engine and with two electric motors working in tandem to provide the intelligent four wheel drive capability.
Not convinced that two electric motors can make a 4x4 with a petrol engine tax friendly or fuel frugal? Well the latest revisions to the petrol/electric hybrid powertrain has increased power by 10 per cent, produced a 28 per cent reduction in the Combined Cycle fuel consumption with a 30 per cent improvement in cold weather fuel efficiency and reduction in CO2 emissions.
This means the RX 450h has a Combined Cycle fuel economy figure of 44.8mpg with CO2 emissions of only 145g/km. Remember this is petrol power we are talking about not diesel. No other petrol powered premium five door, five seater large 4x4 comes close to those figures and they are also better than all 3.0-litre and above turbodiesel models, including the all-new lightweight Range Rover as well. This fuel and CO2 efficiency doesn’t come at the expense of performance. The RX 450h has a zero to 62mph acceleration time of just 7.8 seconds due to the high torque of 234lb ft available as soon as the electric motors start spinning and then boosted by the engine. Total power output from the engine/motors is 295bhp.
What do the fuel and CO2 efficiency figures mean to savvy drivers? Well VED road tax is only £135 a year, less than a 1.6-litre 160 Ecoboost petrol powered Ford Mondeo Hatchback. Company executives will love the RX 450h SUV as well because the Benefit-in-Kind tax is only 20 per cent, the same as the petrol powered 1.6-litre Mondeo. Lexus claims company car drivers can save up to £9,000 in BIK tax over three years compared to some other premium SUVs. As another example on how tax efficient the RX 450h is for company car drivers; the BMW X5 SUV petrol/diesel models range between 33 and 35 per cent for BIK tax. First Year road tax for the X5s will cost between £460 and £1,030. These comparisons make you realise how certain applications of hybrid technology not only boost power and performance but they really do lower running costs as well. The RX 450h’s purchase prices, given its Lexus premium brand status, engineering, build quality and driving refinement, are not prohibitive in this executive 4x4 sector. They start at £44,495 and go up to £55,495 through four new levels of specification, SE, Luxury, F Sport and Premium.
They all use the same power petrol/electric hybrid powertrain with on-demand 4x4 drive and a CVT auto transmission with Eco, EV (Electric Vehicle power only), Snow and Sport driving modes. The Sport mode is a new addition. The top of the range Premium variant has electronically controlled suspension as standard which allows the driver to select four ride height settings over a 60mm range. The system also automatically adjusts the vehicle’s ride height to its lowest aerodynamic setting when travelling at cruising speeds. The latest generation of the RX 450h have their suspension and handling tuned for the European market and the electronic system fitted as standard on the top spec version, or as an option on others. It really smoothes out the ride reducing pitch and roll making it very composed even where the large 19-inch wheels are fitted. With its near silent engine and smooth ride the vehicle more or less glides along on open roads. Only the electric power steering lacks the ideal feedback and the low speed ride can be fidgety.
Four wheel drive is automatically engaged via constantly adjusted front and rear electric motor torque under hard acceleration from standstill or through the gears, when driving through bends and whenever the front wheels loose traction on or off road. It is potentially an off-roader as well with its all wheel drive traction and high ride height but more than coping with off road tracks might be a bit daunting – it’s not in the same league in this area as a Range Rover. During deceleration and under braking the RX 450h’s petrol engine shuts off and both electric motors act as high-output generators harvesting power back into the high capacity batteries situated under the rear seats.
The latest generation RX 450h underwent significant changes in 2012 to its front-end design, creating a sharper and more distinctive look, led by the adoption of a spindle-shaped arrangement of the upper and lower grilles – a central element in the latest development of Lexus’s L-finesse design language. All models gain new-look rear light clusters and retain the coupe styled side profile with forward leaning large rear tailgate and roof spoiler.
The RX 450h is 15mm longer, 40mm wider, 10mm higher and has a wheelbase that is 25mm longer than its predecessor, increases that provide more interior space but do not compromise the car's agility and town-friendly manoeuvrability.
Inside the vehicle, the cockpit design showcases numerous advanced features. The dashboard is divided into two distinct zones: an upper Display Zone, which includes the Head-Up Display and an eight-inch LCD multi-display screen; and a lower Operation Zone, which contains system controls such as the steering wheel-mounted multi-information switch and Remote Touch control.
The RX 450h has Remote Touch control, an integral part of the Lexus Navigation System. It operates on the same basic principles as a computer mouse, and is quick and intuitive to use, with icons presented on the central multi-display screen that give access to adjust the audio, navigation, ventilation, phone and set-up systems. The Head-Up Display (F Sport and Premier grades) presents key driving data in the driver's line of sight at the base of the windscreen. Information is shown in white for perfect clarity in all conditions, and includes vehicle speed, turn-by-turn navigation instructions, audio information and, where fitted, Adaptive Cruise Control and Pre-Crash Safety system status.
A multi-information toggle switch on the steering wheel lets the driver activate and customise numerous vehicle functions and information systems without taking a hand off the wheel. The control is linked to a white OLED multi-information display set within the instrument binnacle.
Other key features include a Smart Entry and Start system, automatic moving of the driver's seat and steering wheel for easy entry and exit, dual-speed power windows and a high-efficiency dual-zone climate control system. Completing the interior specification is a premier sound system; the top-of-the-range choice is a 15-speaker Mark Levinson Surround System. The fast acting navigation system, accessed by the Remote Touch control, has a 40Gb HDD capacity covering the whole of Europe and includes traffic information infrastructure and 3D mapping.
That is lots of technology and specification to be impressed by and helps justify the vehicle’s top of the range price. From the mass of spec on my Premier version of the RX 450h the items which really impressed were the exceptionally quiet operating electric windows, the fast reacting heated and folding door mirrors, heated front seats, electrically operated memory front seats, full air conditioning, 40/20/40 split folding rear seats with fore, aft and reclining functions, 446-litres of boot space extending to 1,760-litres with the rear seats folded flat, a temporary spare wheel, the solid clunk of the doors when closing them and of course leather upholstery. This was a rather daunting light beige with matching carpets, not ideal in colour for Winter country use but visually impactful for city-slickers or red-carpet celebrities.
The Lexus premium brand overall continues to grow in popularity in the UK as an alternative to models from Audi, BMW, Mercedes-Benz, Jaguar and Land/Range Rover. The RX 450h achieves over 2,000 annual UK sales, approximately 25 per cent of total Lexus UK sales.
MILESTONES. Lexus RX 450h Premier 5-Door SUV. Price: £55,495. Powertrain: Hybrid with a 3.2-litre, DOHC, V6 petrol engine with front and rear electric motors and four mode CVT auto transmission with part-time 4x4 drive, total power output 295bhp, 234lb ft of torque. Performance: 124mph zero to 62mph 7.8 seconds, 44.8mph Combined Cycle (34.8mpg on test), CO2 145g/km, VED road tax £135, BIK company car tax 20%. Insurance group: 41. Dimensions/capacities: L 4,770mm, W 1,885mm, H 1,685mm, boot/load space 446 to 1,760-lirress, braked towing weight 2,000kg. For: Huge tax savings with low CO2 emissions for a premium SUV of this size, impeccable quality, luxurious specification, quiet, strong and seamless power delivery, roomy, comfortable and easy to drive and park. Against: Real-life fuel economy didn’t come close to the official figure, steering lacks feedback, fidgety low speed ride, some fiddly controls, high insurance rating. Miles Better News Agency