2012 Lexus RX 450h
Power: 295hp, 234 lb.-ft.
Engine: 3.5-liter V6 hybrid
Fuel Economy: 32 city, 28 hwy
Price as Tested: $44,896

The Lexus RX 450h is without question the most elegant SUV on the market. Parked alongside its metallic peers across from Café Cluny in New York City’s West Village, it looked picture-perfect. Unlike the BWM X5’s dual-intake hood or the Audi Q5’s brutish grill, the Lexus RX 450h stood out like a graceful Faberge carriage.  

With the three days I was given to test the RX 450h, I chose to conduct my own mini-market-study while navigating the inspiring city streets. I reached out to a cross-section of friends, from a German economist to an etiquette specialist, offering my chauffeur services for a few thoughts and impressions of the RX 450h.

Of the friends I drove, it was a truly one-sided love affair. All the women fawned over the RX 450h for its “looks,” “grace,” “balanced footprint,” and “ample number of cup holders.” From the driver’s seat I watched as each girl slid into the car, taking in the Lexus’s sleek design, softly lit interior, and soft, 10-way-adjustable leather seats. For a moment, each of these sophisticated and otherwise focused women lost herself in the luxury and comfort of the RX 450h, taking short breathes, as if the car could be inhaled as much as driven. The Cerulean blue metallic exterior might have also set the tone for some of the oohs and ahhs, as the mother-of-pearl sheen was “electrifying.”

For the men I drove, the impression was altogether different. Where the girls wore the RX 450h like a new Louis Vuitton handbag, the men accepted their position in the passenger’s seat as one would expect a boyfriend to accept his girlfriend’s lapdog. After a few minutes, each guy accepted his increasingly pasteurized place in a future of gently shaped, silent and efficient, politically correct vehicles.

My grandfather, Maurice, used to say, “It’s not what’s on the outside, pal, it’s what’s on the inside that counts.” It’s wonderful after all these years and technological breakthroughs how right he remains.

The Lexus, with its sloping hood, bowing like a graceful ballerina reaching for a celebratory bouquet, is easily the most intuitive and functional vehicle I’ve had the pleasure to operate. From the moment you enter the car, your expectations for driver-and-car interactions are tossed out the window. Having taken human interface principles from the likes of Apple, Lexus has revolutionized the way we now sit in, drive, and even communicate with our vehicles.

I must warm first-time drivers: the computer interface on the front console is similar to a Nintendo Wii controller, and therefore unassumingly dangerous when driving. I recommend that you learn to use the controller’s easy audio, climate, and navigation interface before taking the SUV for a spin. With the myriad buttons and knobs, it’s easy to forget about the road. Without functional restrictions on the computer while the vehicle is in motion, it’s easy to imagine how a run to the store could result in a fender-bending “game over.”

When I left the city for the highways, the RX 450h, with its 3.5-liter V6 hybrid drive, handled the road like a jet plane high in the sky, fast yet virtually silent. Its impressive 295 horsepower shot the RX 450h north to Katonah, New York, where I put the SUV to the true test—moving. Unlike the BMW X5, with its paltry 22.5 cubic feet of space (when all the seats are being used), the Lexus RX 450h has 40 cubic feet of space, allowing chairs and even a table to fit in the back. With my friends asleep and the trunk filled, I had a moment of softness for this gentle giant.

While a pleasure on the open road, the RX 450h is meant for the city streets. Both the interactive GPS and the RX 450h’s Parktronic functioned flawlessly, the latter combining a soft crescendo of beeps with an accurate rear-view camera, making for virtually infallible parallel parking.

In the end, the hybrid aspect of the Lexus is a nice touch for your consumption karma, though you should take into account the recyclability of the vehicle’s batteries before claiming sainthood. With dynamic interactive features, the driver has access to informative screens indicating active battery usage, current mpg usage and past mpg ratings. This data only heightened the feeling that I was riding in a robot, or playing a video game. This brings a newfound joy to driving—each ride in the RX 450h provides you with a chance to beat your previous high score.