Review: 2023 Lexus RX 450h+ plug-in hybrid falls short in prime mover

The Lexus RX midsize crossover is the mainstay of Toyota’s luxury brand in the United States and the brand’s longtime bestseller. It was the first Lexus to get a hybrid powertrain – in 2005 – and each generation has evolved to preserve its virtues and keep it palatable to premium buyers and their families.

The new 2023 Lexus RX is the fifth generation of the luxury SUV, with deliveries beginning later this year. It will launch with both conventional and hybrid powertrains, including a performance-oriented RX 500h model with a new Direct4 hybrid system. But even beyond that, another model will join the lineup next year: the RX plug-in hybrid.

Coming at “a later date”

The Lexus RX 450h+, as the plug-in version is called, will be offered “at a later date,” the company said. It will first be offered in other markets with more aggressive emissions limits, for which read Europe. While Lexus’ US site still calls it 2023, no model year for the US version was provided during a media preview of the new RX lineup held outside Santa Barbara, California. California. So in this supply chain constrained reality, it could be a 2024 if it launches later next year.

It will be the second plug-in hybrid for Lexus, following the smaller Lexus NX 450h+ launching for 2022. Both models not only share a 2.5-liter inline-4 engine, but the same 18.1 kWh lithium-ion battery . This makes the plug-in RX the only one to dispense with Toyota’s proven nickel-metal hybrid cells, used in all plug-less RX hybrid versions.

2023 Lexus RX 450+ plug-in hybrid (EU spec)

In addition to the engine and dual-motor hybrid system powering the front wheels, the RX 450+ uses the 40kW “E-Four” motor found in its AWD hybrids to provide full-time all-wheel drive. Lexus declined to share power outputs or performance specs, saying that information would also come later. The NX 450h+ plug-in hybrid, its fastest model, is rated at a combined 302 horsepower.

I drove a European market pre-production version of the plug-in RX 450h+. Lexus pointed out that the car did not meet US specifications, saying its components and some of its software did not reflect US production versions. (Indeed, the display screen temporarily froze on one screen until we powered the car on; the Euro-style door mirrors and mileage displays underscored the point.)

The company asked journalists to limit themselves to short driving loops, so that everyone can have a chance in the unique plug-in hybrid. We suspect this could have been because its European charging socket meant the car couldn’t be charged at US charging stations. As a result, the only way to charge the battery to demonstrate electric mode was to run the car in its charging mode, using the gasoline engine as a generator—feasible, but not very efficient.

Expensive, energetic, smooth, calm

About 15 miles in the car, I came away with some first impressions of what the first plug-in RX should look like when it arrives in the States. -in hybrid. Our European RX test car included wood steering wheel trim and a video rearview mirror, features not found in the US models we drove.

2023 Lexus RX 450+ plug-in hybrid (EU spec)

2023 Lexus RX 450+ plug-in hybrid (EU spec)

On the road, unsurprisingly, the RX 450h+ drives like a larger, less nimble version of the NX plug-in hybrid. It starts as an electric-only vehicle and switches to hybrid mode only when the battery is depleted or, in certain circumstances, if the driver presses the accelerator to provide maximum power. Drive modes include ‘EV’ (up to battery limits), ‘HV’, which mixes hybrid and electric, and ‘Hold Charge’, which retains battery charge.

Acceleration in electric mode was good, and it wasn’t until I switched to hybrid mode that I realized how quiet the cabin was when running on battery power alone. Regenerative braking wasn’t so strong in its default setting, although the paddles on the steering wheel could increase (left) or decrease (right) the level of regen. Unfortunately, it resets to the default level after every shutdown.

2023 Lexus RX450h+

2023 Lexus RX450h+

2023 Lexus RX 450+ plug-in hybrid (EU spec)

2023 Lexus RX 450+ plug-in hybrid (EU spec)

2023 Lexus RX450h+

2023 Lexus RX450h+

The smaller NX 450h+ is EPA rated at 37 miles of electric range (compared to 42 miles for the Toyota RAV4 it’s based on). With the battery three-quarters full, our Euro RX plug-in showed 31 km (19 mi) of remaining electric range. So we estimate the EPA range rating of the larger RX plug-in with the same pack will end up between 25 and 30 miles.

Is it worth it? The likely lower range makes a plug-in hybrid RX less useful than the smaller NX or the highly sought-after Toyota RAV4 Prime, but it’s a much more popular vehicle in the Lexus lineup. It will be Lexus’ first midsize plug-in hybrid, competing with similar models from Audi, Hyundai, Kia and Volvo. We expect a list price of $60,000 or more. Whether that pricing for this lineup makes sense or whether a 300-mile battery-electric midsize crossover may be the better bet is up to you.


Lexus provided airfare, accommodations and meals to enable Green Car Reports to bring you this first-person driving report.

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