Lexus RX500h review: this fast Japanese hybrid is fit to rival Germany’s finest

This sapphire blue beauty can give the top German marques a run for their money

On the face of it, at least, this is the ideal car for fans of Boris Johnson. The RX500h is built with cakeism in mind; on the one hand, you get to have your cake, what with its huge warranty, excellent reputation for reliability and a theoretically fuel-sipping hybrid powertrain.

You also get to eat said cake. This top-spec version has a thumping 366bhp version of Lexus’s much-refined hybrid powertrain, powerful enough to rival the likes of the BMW X5 xDrive40d, the Mercedes-Benz GLE 450d and the Audi Q8 55 TDI. And this F-Sport model includes pumped-up looks that should make it right at home in the health club car park.

In theory, then, this is the perfect large, luxury SUV. But is that the case in practice? After all, if something is too good to be true, it usually is.


  • Powerful, responsive engine

  • Lavish interior

  • Roomy rear seats


  • Irritating driver assistance systems

  • Ride could be smoother

  • Small-ish boot

Screen time

Not so long ago, you’d climb into a Lexus SUV, notice the weird touchpad-controlled infotainment system, then the slightly plasticky bits of trim would catch your eye and you’d remember why most people chose BMWs instead.

That’s all changed with the arrival of Lexus’s latest touchscreen system. Not only is this vastly superior to the old touchpad version, which was unfathomably tricky to use on the move, but it manages to be at least on a par with, if not better than, its rivals’. This is because of the fact that Lexus has included rotary controllers for the temperature and an always-on section of the screen dedicated to the rest of the heating and ventilation controls.

The menus are still a little labyrinthine, while now and again the screen doesn’t pick up your first touch, meaning you have to press twice to select the control you’re after. But on the whole, it’s a significant improvement.

Interior view of the Lexus front seat and dash
Much improved: the Lexus touchscreen - Gael Thill

That’s not all, though. In F-Sport form at least, the RX feels like one of the finest places to be in this class. Gone, by and large, are the cheaper materials, replaced by high-quality finishes throughout, including a leather-swathed dashboard and delightfully comfortable seating.

It’s not quite a home run here, though. Lexus’s steering wheel controls at first seems like a sensible alternative to the clutter you’ll find in most rivals, with dual-function arrow keys that you can switch over using a button beneath – and indeed, on first acquaintance, it works well.

But the way you have to press each key twice – first to catch the system’s attention, then again to obtain the function you were after – soon becomes irritating.

You press and hold, for example, to increase your speed on the cruise control only to find it isn’t doing anything, so you have to do it again to actually activate the command you were after. It may not sound like much, but even after a week with the car I was finding the system increasingly irksome.

The boot, too, looks roomy, but the floor is high, which makes the load space a bit shallow; at 612 litres, it’s still roomy, but a bit less so than the BMW X5’s 650-litre luggage compartment.

The rake of the rear screen also means there isn’t as much room as in a proper squared-off SUV, either, so beware if you need space to move big, bulky objects on a regular basis. Further forward, things are better, with acres of rear seat space – more than enough, in other words, to carry three adults abreast with leg room to spare.

Sounds weird

Start the RX and it’ll tell you it’s ready to go by emitting a gentle “bong”. This, unfortunately, is a sign of things to come. As you move off, you soon realise the Lexus is keen to make you aware of… well, basically everything, with some sort of bong or beep.

The problem is aggravated by the speed limit warning system, which is a mandatory requirement of EU law now (and, like most manufacturers, Lexus doesn’t bother to change this spec for the UK market).

In theory this should never bother you if you adhere to the limits, but it doesn’t always get the prevailing limit right – with the result that you sometimes find yourself driving in a 50mph zone at an indicated 50mph, with the system bonging away at you because it thinks it’s in a 30 zone.

Robbins: 'Each drive is accompanied by a series of occasional bleeps' - Gael Thill

It is unfair to criticise Lexus in particular over this, given all of these systems across the industry tend to suffer the same flaws, but Lexus’s will tell you not only when you’re exceeding whatever the limit may be, but also when the limit changes.

That means each drive is accompanied by a series of occasional bleeps, which come each time the limit changes (and of course, the accompanying bongs if you haven’t quite slowed enough in time).

As a requirement of these systems, you can only turn them off for a particular journey – they restart themselves the next time you switch on the car. And with the Lexus, you have to find your way into the driver aids section of the menu to switch it off again.

Which means you either wobble down the road desperately pawing your way through the menus to turn off the infernal racket, with the car bonging at you more to tell you you aren’t concentrating hard enough on driving – or you try to live with it, tuning out and ignoring the noises as best you can, thereby rendering the system somewhat pointless.

Smooth sailing

Nevertheless, once you’ve managed to get rid of most of the bleeps and bongs, the RX turns out to be agreeable on the move. As is Lexus’s way, and in spite of the moniker, it isn’t particularly sporty, having clearly been set up with comfort in mind. The majority of the time, the suspension smoothes bumps rather nicely, ironing out the road surface and coping admirably with longer-distance journeys.

Granted, the soft dampers can induce a slightly queasy waft if you take a crest too quickly; what’s more, the F-Sport probably isn’t the RX’s finest guise, as the big wheels and slim tyres mean the suspension gets caught out by churned-up patches of tarmac. But on the whole, the RX’s demeanour is big, plush and comfy, which makes it a refreshing alternative to a more stiffly-sprung BMW X5.

The Lexus seen from above
The Lexus is a weighty yet smooth ride - Gael Thill

It’s quick, too. Plant your right foot hard and you get an instant surge from the electric component of the hybrid powertrain, backed up almost straight away by the muscle of the 2.4-litre turbocharged petrol engine.

It’s a four-cylinder unit, but you’d never believe it given the artificial engine note played to you inside; in fact, you’d be forgiven for thinking you’re in a smooth, burbly V6 at part-throttle. The engine noise becomes less believable when you use all the available performance, though; at higher revs, it changes to a slightly odd droning wail, almost like that of a V10, which seems somewhat out of place.

Naturally, driving like this causes the fuel economy to plummet. Even when you don’t, the RX isn’t quite as efficient as you might expect; its consumption figures are either about the same or not quite as good as those of its similarly powerful diesel rivals.

You don’t choose a Lexus to chuck it around, and indeed the RX feels a bit puddingy in faster corners. This is a weighty car and even with the adaptive suspension set to its stiffest, it can’t disguise that fact – body control isn’t as taut as it would be in a more sporting competitor. For all that, though, the RX hangs on gamely, and if you can see past the almost complete lack of feel through the steering you can hustle it along reasonably well.

So how much for all this finery? Well, the RX starts at just over £62,000, but you’ll have to fork out a cool £77,000-odd for this top-spec version. That’s almost bang on the money versus its rivals – and it’s worth remembering Lexus will give you an extra year’s warranty each time you take your RX to a dealer for servicing, until it’s 10 years old or has covered 100,000 miles, whichever comes sooner. You won’t get that with any of the competition.

The Telegraph verdict

With that warranty in mind, it isn’t hard to fathom why you might choose the RX over one of its premium SUV rivals – especially if you appreciate the more comfort-oriented way it goes about its business.

The RX isn’t perfect though. Its touchscreen can occasionally be a bit fiddly, the ride quality isn’t quite as good as it could be, the augmented engine note is weird and the boot isn’t quite as practical as you might like.

But it does succeed in offering that cakeism it promises. It’s fast, comfortable and reliable, while its hybrid powertrain is just as efficient (if not more so) than most of its rivals.

Indeed, the RX has come of age and is now one of the better among this breed of large, luxurious SUVs; in this top-of-the-range form, it’s a lovely thing indeed.

Telegraph rating: Four stars out of five

The facts

On test: Lexus RX500h F Sport

Body style: five-door SUV

On sale: now

How much? £77,195 on the road (range from £62,125)

How fast? 130mph, 0-62mph in 6.2sec

How economical? 35.3mpg (WLTP Combined)

Engine & gearbox: 2,393cc four-cylinder petrol engine, six-speed automatic gearbox, four-wheel drive

Electric powertrain: AC synchronous permanent magnet motor with 1.44kWh NiMH battery

Electric range: 0 miles

Maximum power/torque: 366bhp/406lb ft

CO2 emissions: 182g/km (WLTP Combined)

VED: £1,030 first year, £560 next five years, then £170

Warranty: 3 years / 60,000 miles (then up to 10 years / 100,000 miles subject to servicing)

The rivals

BMW X5 xDrive40d M Sport

347bhp, 37.7mpg, £77,305 on the road

The X5
The X5: An obvious all-rounder - Uwe Fischer

The X5 will be the default choice in this class for many and it isn’t hard to see why: it’s the roomiest here, while also being the sportiest to drive, the most economical and even the fastest. It isn’t quite as comfortable as the RX nor does it have the same guarantee of reliability – or the long warranty. But with those exceptions, the X5 is a very competent all-rounder and hard to dismiss.

Mercedes-Benz GLE 450d AMG Line

362bhp, 35.8mpg, £81,110 on the road

More than comparable: the GLE

The GLE’s mild hybrid (with a diesel engine rather than the more usual petrol) gives it superior firepower to the Lexus along with similar fuel consumption – but you have to pay extra for the privilege. And while the GLE should deliver a smooth ride on its air suspension, it’s a little too jittery, therefore less comfortable. It has more room than the RX, but not by much – and given that petrol is cheaper than diesel, the Lexus will cost less to run.

Audi Q8 55 TDI Black Edition

282bhp, 33.6mpg, £77,770 on the road

The Q8
The Q8: Lovely inside, but with its limitations - Dean Smith

The Q7 can only be had with seven seats, making the five-seat Q8 a more direct competitor to the F-Sport. Unfortunately it doesn’t quite stack up; as lovely as the Q8 is inside, there’s less power and poorer fuel economy than the RX for the same price – not to mention less room both in the back seats and in the boot.