Test Drive: 2016 Lexus RX 450 Hybrid SUV

Courtesy Lexus

With its advanced technical amenities, bold look, and environmentally mindful design, this luxe new vehicle is nothing short of superhero status.

Driving the new 2016 Lexus RX 450 hybrid makes me feel like a superhero. I’m in the coastal city of Charleston, South Carolina, coasting through The Citadel, a military college that dates back to the 19th century. Maybe it’s all the grey-uniformed cadets on parade that’s putting me in this frame of mind, or maybe it’s my appointment with a villainous-sounding character named Fiery Ron. But the design of the Lexus RX 450h surely has quite a bit to do with it.

The Lexus RX 450h I’m test-driving is Ironman-red (though Lexus prefers to call the color Matador Red Mica). The spindle grille up front juts out like the jaw of Captain America. Superheroes have cool emblems and this vehicle sports a special blue hybrid badge that says I’m heroically trying to save the environment. The body has lots of sharp creases and curves that hint at the muscle under the hood—a V-6 engine with 308 horsepower. Best of all is the floating roofline that renders the rear C-column virtually invisible, making the SUV look like it might fly. And to top it all off, when I need to put my gear in the cargo area, all I have to do is wave my hand over the Lexus emblem and the rear hatch springs open. Add a blind spot monitor that lets me know when someone is sneaking up on me and a pre-collision system that warns against people crossing my path unseen, it’s clear the Lexus RX 450h is a vehicle with super powers.

Charleston is replete with wonderfully preserved colonial and Civil War–era architecture and local traffic laws encourage their appreciation by keeping cars moving along at a snail’s pace.

Fortunately, my rendezvous with Fiery Ron means I have to drive like a superhero on a mission across the thoroughly modern Ravenel Bridge to Sullivan Island. I shift into a Sport S+ mode that stiffens the chassis and satisfyingly heightens the throttle response when accelerating. (An available all-wheel-drive system only kicks in when needed so the rear motor can concentrate on recharging the battery during regenerative braking.)

The interior, with its wood and aluminum accents (as part of the Luxury Package), is nicely designed and the seating is comfortable. I need the brilliance of Tony Stark, however, to master the controls cluster on the center console since separately manipulated dials and buttons govern key operations like navigation, driving modes, entertainment, and climate control—all of which could be more efficiently integrated for easier use. Thankfully, they don’t hinder my visit to Fiery Ron’s Home Team BBQ, and I pull in just in time for my lunch reservation. Ron, I decide during a splendid lunch, is no villain at all, but a superhero in his own right.

From $52,235; lexus.com.