Big black wheels, alluring blue paint and a grille as large as some gates in West Texas don’t always add up to sporty.
Heck, Lexus has been trying to light that fire with the F-Sport package under most of its vehicles for years, such as the 2021 RX 450h F-Sport crossover.
As you may know, the 450h is a somewhat polarizing mid-size vehicle with a hybrid powertrain and a grille only a designer could love.
But it works. Despite the empty sport-hype and styling that looks profoundly odd to me, the RX remains Lexi’s most popular vehicle, outselling all of the brand’s cars combined, including the truly sport IS sedan.
Somewhere along the way, I think I slipped out of the mainstream.
The RX 450 probably has not, offering buyers solid hybrid performance, a well-crafted near-luxury interior and 30-mile-per-gallon overall fuel economy – not to mention floor-mats branded with “sport.”
One reason I was mildly disappointed with the RX is I had kind of hoped that Lexus – Toyota’s luxury brand -- would eventually tune the milquetoast RX for performance as well as economy, as Toyota did with the RAV4 compact crossover.
Maybe next year.
For now, Lexi brings the heat with the, uh, highly distinctive styling of the RX, a vehicle that insists on getting your attention with a slap rather than a whisper.
As you probably know, Lexus favors huge, garish grilles flanked by slinky headlamps that wrap around into the fenders.
A broad, raised hood on the RX I had kind of set the vibe for the vehicle’s thick look-at-me sides carved by odd, curvy character lines and capped by a sloping top.
In an attempt to tune down some of that, I think, Lexus used a black graphic to fill in a scallop on the lower body and that worked fairly well.
The all-wheel-drive RX rolled on 20-inch black wheels – of course – wearing 255-55 tires.
At least it won’t be mistaken for a Ford Explorer.
While nowhere near as sporting as it claims to be, the RX brings some decent weapons to the mid-size, near-luxury segment.
As a hybrid, it relies on one of Toyota’s ubiquitous 3.5-liter V-6s supplemented by two electric motors – one up front and the other in back, giving the RX its all-wheel-drive system.
The V-6 and electric motors provide a decent 308 horsepower that spins mostly the front wheels through a continuously variable transmission (CVT), essentially a sophisticated belt-and-pulley system.
Toyota and Lexus enjoy years of experience with hybrids and it shows in the RX, which though not sporty, is smooth and torquey, and plenty adequate.
Sixty pops up in a reasonable 7.5 seconds, but as you may have guessed by now, that’s only part of the RX’s story.
Hybrids – not electrics – are the logical bridge between gasoline vehicles and electrics, giving drivers a chance to get accustomed to the silence of electric motors without having to sweat a rolling blackout, literally.
Moreover, they tend to be less expensive, far more practical and considerably greener than a gas vehicle.
In quiet drives through my suburb, the RX stayed in electric mode, acting like an EV as it whispered along at 35 to 40 mph – green and sort of mean.
Unfortunately, the occasional electric boost didn’t help the RX’s unenthusiastic handling, which resulted in some body lean and thick steering.
As a near-luxury vehicle, the 4,900-pound RX really excelled at offering a smooth, quiet ride in a pleasant environment.
In fact, the nicely crafted black-and white-interior in my $63,000 RX played yang to the jumbled exterior’s yin.
A deep, two-tier upper dashboard in a smooth black plastic, for example, rolled down to a striking mid-dash trimmed in flat silver plastic.
An 8-inch touchscreen rose from the center of the dash, stuffed with Android Auto, Apple CarPlay and Alexa capability, and offering mostly knobs and buttons for controlling the audio and climate systems.
Somewhere in the vehicle’s polished – but somewhat outdated – center-stack were some of Lexi’s overly active safety nannies, including road-sign assist, blind-spot monitor, rear cross-traffic alert, and lane-departure alert with steering assist.
Sometimes, incidentally, you get to drive.
Meanwhile, the RX’s black door panels with silver and white trim complemented black bucket seats with white bolsters and blue stitching.
That trim flowed to the back seat, which offered abundant leg and head room.
Like every new luxury and near-luxury vehicle on the planet these days, my RX came equipped with a dozen options, including a “Black Line” package with a black grille, the body side graphic and the black wheels, plus a lightweight two-piece luggage set ($1,350).
Also among the options were a navigation system and Mark Levinson premium audio system ($3,365); as well as parking assist ($1,365).
While a bit polarizing, the RX should probably be judged by its 100,000 sales last year. And by the fact that a 2021 model will likely last longer than I do.
2021 Lexus RX 450h F Sport Black Line
- What I liked most: The RX’s build quality and reputation for longevity.
- What I would change: Every square inch of the exterior.
- MSRP: Base price, $51,200; as equipped, $63,195.
- Official color: Grecian Water.
- Fuel economy: 31 miles per gallon in town, 28 on the highway and 30 combined with filler on the left.
- Odometer reading when tested: 3,587 miles.
- Spare tire: Temporary compact.
- Weight: 4,857 pounds.
- Length-width-height: 192.5 inches long/74.6 inches wide/67.7 inches tall.
- Fuel-tank capacity: 17.2 gallons.
- Towing capacity: 3,500 pounds.
- 2021 Lexus RX 450h in a few words: Though not beautiful, the RX is a solid, well-built near-luxury vehicle with good resale value.
- Warranty: Four-year, 50,000-mile overall warranty and six-year 70,000-mile powertrain protection.
- Final assembly location: Cambridge, Ontario.
- Manufacturer’s website: www.lexus.com
- Up next: 2021 Mazda CX-30