Friday, 23 March 2018

Blue-blooded aristocrat of the offroaders

WHEN the snows came to Henley one memorable autumn afternoon a few years ago the effect on motorists trying to

WHEN the snows came to Henley one memorable autumn afternoon a few years ago the effect on motorists trying to get in and out of the town was dramatic.

It was extraordinary to witness drivers taking literally hours to travel a few miles home, if indeed that evening they made it home by car at all. Many walked and have been dining out on their tales of derring-do ever since.

But you might say every snow cloud has a silver lining and the upside of that trenchant snowfall and subsequent ones has been a marked interest in large 4x4s.

True, at the time there were a few smug 4x4 drivers barrelling through the drifts — although many of them had never driven offroad before and they too, eventually got stuck. Nevertheless, the adverse road conditions were enough to secure a renaissance of 4x4s, especially the large ones.

Indeed, the car I have been driving this week is of that ilk and coincidentally was the same model I had on test in Henley during those heavy snowfalls. Of course there have been improvements to the car since but now as then the Lexus RX450h F Sport is a car to savour at any time, not just in extreme weather.

The standout factor about the RX450h, as it was when I glided it comfortably through the snow, is its consummate luxury. By driving this car you buy into a world of luxury and privilege as a motorist. The Lexus RX450h is the Downton Abbey of upmarket offroaders, a car that by its elegant demeanour leaves most Knightsbridge tractors in its considerable wake.

Of course most of those posh people in Chelsea and Knightsbridge who once swanned around in big black offroaders now whisk around in the obligatory black Toyota Prius or similar. I imagine that this does not unduly worry Toyota, probably the biggest carmaker in the world, because it means the Prius’ and Lexus’ appeal is to a wide luxury market. The truth is that whereas once large 4x4s seemed doomed to become dinosaurs they are back in favour, none more so than the Lexus RX450h.

The most obvious reason for this is because this large, third generation Lexus places a big tick in the green box — it is a hybrid powered by a second generation Lexus Hybrid Drive. This means that this big car’s natural assets — luxurious, roomy inside, dominant road presence and powerful V6, 24-valve engine — are offset by two electric motors, one front and one rear that provide the hybrid drive.

So, when you take off, the car slips silently away on the electric motors and only engages the powerful petrol engine when you put your foot down on the accelerator.

Most of the time while driving the Lexus RX450h you feel inclined to swan around like a dancer performing an American Smooth, exuding style, panache and fluid movement.

The analogy with Downton is not that far off: there is a sense of occasion when driving this Lexus and indeed a certain amount of insular feeling.

But isn’t that what most occupants get while driving a prestige vehicle? If we are honest it is about ego and status yet the Lexus manages to neutralise a lot of the feeling of superiority that you might get with more showy 4x4s.

What impressed me about equipment were the head-up display — a great idea that gives the driver information such as speed on a small display screen projected above the dashboard — the F Sport leather upholstery which on this car was superb, and the dual-zone climate control which was easily manageable, not always the case in some luxury models.

This is a premium car at a premium price but I think for your £50,000 plus you get the 4x4 you deserve. It’s a very comfortable hybrid that allows you to enjoy the benefits of your large off-roader — gliding through the snow while others slip and slide and struggle — while smugly assuaging your “green” conscience at the same time.

Lexus RX450h F Sport

lPrice (on the road): £51,995

lThird generation of Lexus’s full hybrid luxury SUV

lSelectable ECO, EV and SNOW driving modes

lAdvanced Cockpit Design with Remote Touch audio/navigation control and Head-up display

lAdvanced safety technology including Pre-Crash Safety and Adaptive Cruise Control systems, Vehicle Dynamics Integrated Management (VDIM) and 10 airbags

lSelf-levelling four-position air suspension

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