For some time ‘strategic’ has been a popular descriptive, and – save for the career – I attempt to ‘be strategic’ as frequently (and readily) as possible. So when both the Lexus RX 450h and Land Rover LR4 converged on my driveway at the same time – for evaluation on the same week – I smelled a strategy, one summoned by a power greater than my own. Although sitting at almost exact opposite ends of the SUV/CUV spectrum, both the Lexus and Land Rover sit there within $5K of each other. Both start in the low $50s; the Lexus, with roughly $8500 in options, tips the scales at $62K, while our test Land Rover, with approximately $15K in optional adds, arrives in the showroom at just over $66K. And we’ll get to their comparative fuel efficiency in just a few minutes…but it’s interesting that each claim a 0-60 time of 7.7 seconds. Who’d a thunk?
Almost all other similarities, of course, end at the window sticker. Lexus was born – some 25 years ago – of a very real desire on the part of Toyota to capture the growing disposable income of existing Toyota owners before that income went to BMW or Mercedes dealers. And while plenty of money still finds its way into BMW and Mercedes and (now) Audi showrooms, Lexus happily captures a credible share, selling upwards of 200,000 units a year. Its RX crossover has increasingly been the face of the franchise, offering SUV intenders a near-luxury purchase experience that neatly disguises what have historically been its Camry-derived roots. Of course, with a base of $50K the RX 450h – and others in the RX lineup – long ago eclipsed the near-luxury label; these are luxury crossovers targeting a luxury clientele.
Land Rover’s LR4 superseded the LR3, which was the replacement/update for Land Rover’s long-lived Disco. While Land Rover’s alphanumeric initiative will die with the LR4’s upcoming replacement (where it will once again be called Discovery), the LR4 is perhaps the last stateside connection to Land Rover’s agrarian roots. No, you won’t power a pump with its PTO, and it’s doubtful you’ll strap a moose to its hood, but the generous headroom and – by extension – interior volume make a photo safari not only thinkable, but doable. And while the Land Rover’s supercharged V6, in combination with three(!) tons of unladen curb weight, won’t be awarded Greenpeace’s SUV of the Year, know that its 340 horsepower and 332 lb-ft of torque make propelling that three tons (plus passengers) about as easy as you’d expect from an SUV powertrain. Acceleration is effortless and cruising completely relaxed, helped by the standard 8-speed automatic.
Under the hood of the Lexus, of course, we have more going on. Lexus incorporates a 3.5 liter Atkinson-cycle V6 producing 259 horsepower with its Lexus hybrid drive, for a total output of 308 horsepower. In front wheel drive models – such as our test vehicle – that hybrid drive is a Motor Generator 2 (or MG2) providing a maximum output of 165 horsepower, while AWD models also receive a Motor Generator Rear (MGR!) of 67 horsepower, while adding roughly 130 pounds to the RX’s curb weight. The end result of the coupling is almost seamless, although we did detect a vibe immediately after start-up as the V6 comes to life. On the road the transition is utterly innocuous, as is the RX’s on-road composure. While completely pleasant, there is absolutely no sense of connectivity to the road; it’s composed, but essentially benign.
Inside, the LR4 offers two rows of opulent space in combination with a penalty box – if an adult – the literature describes as a third row. Leather-covered seats suggest easy functionality rather than opulence, while the dash and instrumentation have a credible, almost last-century feel to them. (Given that I grew up in the last century, this isn’t meant as a criticism.) Step in – or step up! – is made easier by standard running boards. Once inside, you’re immediately impressed by the almost greenhouse effect of, well, the LR4’s greenhouse. This is as expansive as the modern SUV will probably get, giving even the short trip an almost Scenicruiser flair, while easier to parallel park than the Greyhound version. The upright seating and expansive feel is genuinely addictive; suddenly, you’re at eye level with virtually anyone, including the guy driving the Kenworth.
The Lexus, in contrast, is almost space age, with instrumentation and center screen looking more like a CES display than what we once regarded as ‘automotive’. Of course, all of the necessary info is there, and if bored by your road speed or what might be happening under the hood, know that an information overload – via the 12.3-inch multimedia display – is but a glance away; I have seen flat screen TVs that were smaller. To its credit, changing radio stations via the controls in the center of the dash is a one-step affair, as are adjustments to interior temp.
Behind the dashboard is an interior very comfortable, adequately roomy and what we’ll call aspirationally elegant. Like the Land Rover, there’s no attempt here to provide the lateral support necessary in hard cornering, but front seats are generous while the rear seat will comfortably accommodate three. Given the relatively small greenhouse you might assume headroom is minimal, but seemed adequate for all but the tallest adults. And while there’s no third row in the RX (for that you need to step up to the LX 570), the space behind the second row of seats is both generous and accessible.
With the separation of intent evidenced by these two, so is there a distinct separation in efficiency. Delivered on Monday, with a similar amount of commuting and/or errand running over the next three days, the Lexus was still showing ¾ of a tank remaining Thursday night, while the LR4 was down to ¼ of a tank. That performance is fully reflective of the RX 450h’s 30 combined EPA estimate, while the LR4 achieves but 16. Again citing the EPA, you’ll spend some $6500 in fuel costs over five years in the Land Rover relative to the average new vehicle, while the Lexus will save you $750 using the same comparison. For those spending over $60K on a new vehicle that may not be material, but is – I think – worth mentioning for those of us doing the calculation from an armchair.
To justify the Land Rover you should be pursuing an active lifestyle, not simply posturing as one with an active lifestyle. ‘Active’ is going to the trailhead, snowboarding thru the winter, mountain biking throughout the summer or escaping to Vail or Big Bend on any and all holidays. The LR4’s capabilities, with Terrain Response and Hill Descent Control standard, are endless, but then, so are the fuel bills. And despite iffy reputations for long-term reliability, a Dallas realtor, three years into his second Land Rover, expressed genuine satisfaction with its long term prospects.
The RX 450h, of course, is purchased by those wanting contemporary transport with competitive efficiency. Our only critique is the godawful styling associated with this current redesign. And while knowing beauty is in the eye of the beholder, we spent a week trying to find even a hint of beauty…and couldn’t. Why Lexus management decided on a design theme offering little more than polarization I’m not sure; personally, if seeking more attention I’d opt for the show models Ferrari, Maserati and Alfa regularly employ. But if you can just get past the front fascia (perhaps enter thru the rear hatch?) ownership should be a breeze, and when gas inevitably goes back up, 30 miles per gallon should keep you happy with your decision.
Helena Hybrid, of course, is a fictionalization of what I perceive to be the typical RX prospect. And Helen Mirren is arguably the world’s sexiest septuagenarian, and played Queen Elizabeth II in – you guessed it – The Queen. On most days we’ll take Helen Mirren…