Toyota has got the hybrid powertrain down pat. Having honed its hybrid technology over the last 22 years of building the Prius, which has sold over 10 million units and is now in its 4th generation, the Japanese giant now offers seven different hybrid models, and its luxury brand Lexus offers six more.
Charged recently spent some quality time with the Lexus NX 300h and RX 450h, as well as the Toyota RAV4 Hybrid, Camry Hybrid and Prius Prime. All delivered an excellent driving experience. There’s plenty of power, and the powertrains shift gears and power sources as smoothly as you could wish. My unexpert perception found the drive of the RAV4 Hybrid to be particularly pleasant, with none of the cumbersome “big car” handling that’s typical of larger SUVs.
When it comes to form factors and features, there’s something for everyone in this lineup. I found things to like and things to dislike about each of these models, although the features I consider pros might be considered cons by other reviewers (and vice versa). Different drivers want different things, and that’s why Toyota/Lexus offers 13 models, instead of two or three.
Lexus RX 450
The vehicles we tested were all top trim levels, and they were loaded with doodads ranging from the handy to the silly. The Lexus RX 450hL must have nearly a hundred little knobs, switches and dials encrusting every surface in the passenger cabin – not one but three programmable seat positions, lighted door handles, seat heaters and coolers, adjustable cup holders, etc, etc.
One thing you’re paying for with a luxury model is more comfortable seats. My wife, who suffers from back pain, is a connoisseur of seating technology, and she found the seats in the RX 450 to be the most comfortable of any car she’s ridden in. A luxurious seat is necessarily bulky (and costly). It can’t be simulated in software.
Other bulky components can be eliminated by modern technology. I find it puzzling that many cars still have oversize, old-fashioned shifters. In my Prius, I shift gears using a wee joystick about the size of a computer mouse, but the RAV4 has an enormous metal rod that looks like something from a 1970s muscle car (perhaps that appeals to some drivers). Together with a gigantic parking brake lever, this heavy-duty shifter consumes most of the valuable real estate between the front seats.
Lexus NX 300
The RX 450 has no touchscreen – instead, there’s a contraption somewhat like a trackball on the armrest next to the driver’s seat (the NX 300 has a touch-sensitive pad in the same location). At first I thought this was neato, but I soon found it to be squirrelly and hard to use. To make matters worse, the RX 450’s infotainment system is organized in a non-standard way that makes it complicated to navigate. Fortunately all the old-style manual controls for the audio and AC are still there.
Seat heaters are wonderful in cold climates, but in Charged’s home state of Florida, a seat cooler is much more useful. Cool air blows through tiny holes in the seat cushions, eliminating the dreaded soaked-shirt syndrome.
Perhaps someone can explain the point of having an EV Mode in a non-plug-in hybrid, but I never figured it out. Even in a plug-in hybrid, EV Mode doesn’t prohibit the gas engine from operating – the gas burner will kick in if you punch the pedal beyond a certain amount. In these hybrid vehicles, however, EV Mode doesn’t work above 20 mph or so, so I fail to see that it serves any purpose (the pragmatic Prius has never included this useless feature).
Toyota RAV4 Hybrid
Now we come to my favorite hobby horse – cargo space. As regular readers are no doubt tired of hearing, a vehicle’s practical cargo-carrying capacity is not just a function of cubic feet of space – the best gear-hauling vehicles have a low ride height, little or no liftover at the back, and rear seats that fold perfectly flat. SUVs simply don’t have these attributes, because they aren’t designed for optimal cargo-carrying – they’re designed to carry a large number of large passengers and a moderate amount of stuff.
All three of these SUVs trade cargo space for passenger comfort – again, luxurious seats are bulky, and they can’t be made to fold neatly out of the way (although they can be, and are, motorized). Don’t worry, these vehicles offer plenty of space for groceries, suitcases or sporting equipment, but you’ll find that the smaller and far more fuel-efficient Prius has almost as much useable cargo capacity. On the other hand, rear-seat passengers will ride in luxury, especially in the two Lexi, with adjustable armrests, USB ports and all the mod cons.
For car buyers who aren’t ready to take the plunge and go fully electric, there’s no longer any reason to buy a non-hybrid vehicle. The Toyota and Lexus hybrid offerings cover all vehicle classes, from SUVs to hatchbacks (the Prius Prime) to sedans (the Camry Hybrid), their performance is uncompromised, and the price premium over their legacy counterparts is now small enough that most drivers will quickly recoup it in gas savings.
2018 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid
|Total system power||194 hp|
|Fuel economy||32 mpg combined|
|MSRP||LE: $27,385; XLE: $29,280; SE: $32,435; Limited: $34,280|
2019 Lexus NX 300h
|Engine||2.5-liter inline 4-cylinder|
|Total system power||194 hp|
|Fuel economy||31 mpg combined|
2019 Lexus RX 450h
|Total system power||308 hp|
|Fuel economy||30 mpg combined|
|MSRP||450h: $45,995; 450 hL: $50,720; 450h F Sport: $51,355|