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It doesn't show the world it's a hybrid like the Toyota Prius does, but the 2012 Lexus RX 450h crossover has the gas-electric drivetrain that gives it a little more cachet in some parking lots than its ubiquitous gas-only cousin, the RX 350.
The RX 450h can be downright difficult to distinguish from the standard RX. The changes to its tall-wagon shape amount to a tinted grille and a slightly reshaped front bumper, a handful of small hybrid logos, and blue-lit gauges. Otherwise, it's the same pretty, anodyne silhouette, the same swoopy, driver-oriented dash.
The appeal in the higher-priced RX 450h lies in its advanced powertrain. It sports a 3.5-liter V-6 that's teamed with electric motors, batteries, and a continuously variable transmission. The combination nets 245 horsepower, and more importantly, fuel economy of up to 32 miles per gallon in the city, according to the EPA. The RX 450h accelerates briskly, and handling is soft and predictable, with steering that lacks feel and brakes that regenerate the hybrid batteries, introducing a hard pedal feel in the process. If the standard RX offers a plainer driving experience, the RX 450h is downright passionless, but we're not sure that matters to the intended buyers.
The interior has a bit of dash in its dash, and seating is comfortable for up to five passengers. There's no third-row seat option, but even in the second row adults will enjoy a relaxed seating position that's easy to get to, thanks to a low step-in height and good head and leg room. The cabin is tightly assembled, though some materials have lost a degree of richness that used to define Lexus cars and crossovers; likewise, there's a bit of rumble in the V-6 that's very minor, but noticeable to anyone who's driven an ultra-refined LS sedan.
Safety scores are excellent: the RX earns the IIHS' Top Safety Pick, and curtain airbags and stability control are standard. Adaptive lights, a rearview camera and a head-up display are available.
The RX 450h has an extensive list of luxury features and comfort items. Bluetooth, power front seats, and dual-zone climate control are standard, while options include leather seating, a side-view monitor, an excellent Mark Levinson audio, a hard-drive navigation system with live traffic info, remote start, and a rear-seat DVD entertainment system.
For more on its styling, features, utility and safety, see our full review of the 2012 Lexus RX.