Following the controversy of SA’s first hybrid, the Prius, not even being allowed on to a sand road (due to a softer chassis rather than having anything to do with the hybrid electrical system), the first question asked of the 4WD Lexus hybrid SUV was: “How far can it go off-road?”

“Pretty far,” answered Lexus SA head honcho Kevin Flynn. “In fact, with the massive and instant torque of the electric motors probably farther than most. So you have the torque of a turbodiesel, yet the open-road performance a the equivalent of a V8 in one package.”

And to prove it the test route in Mpumalanga, around the Sabie area, included quite a bit of gravel road driving – no dongas or rocky stuff, but quite rough forestry roads that gave the newcomer a good shakedown.

And yes, we were very impressed with the ride comfort on these surfaces, with the Lexus feeling well damped and very little irregularities transferred to the cabin.

But let’s face it, most buyers of the R770 000 Lexus RX450h won’t even dream of taking it off-road. And on tar this vehicle is infinitely sophisticated and comfortable, with a smoothness of operation not easily found among its peers.

Performance is top notch, with the electric motors adding additional go when quick acceleration is needed, although the continuously variable transmission (CVT) negates the sensation of strong acceleration somewhat.

The RX350, on the other hand, has a six-speed auto box, and with 204 kW underfoot, it accelerates with alacrity when the right foot is floored. It shares all the comfort and sophistication features of its hybrid brother, but feels slightly sharper through the twisties, probably due to the lower weight.

The RX350 features a refined 3,5-litre petrol V6 engine with dual VVT-i. Maximum power, as said, is 204 kW at 6200 r/min, while 90% of the peak 346 Nm (at 4700 r/min) is available between 2300 and 6200 r/min. The six-speed automatic transmission is coupled to Active Torque Control All-Wheel Drive. The RX350 does 0-100 km/h in a claimed eight seconds and returns 10,6 l/100km (with 250g/km of CO2 emissions) on the combined cycle.

Second generation Lexus Hybrid Drive technology ensures the RX450h has class-leading CO2 emissions of just 148g/km and a claimed combined cycle fuel economy of only 6,3 l/100km. Mated to an Atkinson cycle 3,5-litre V6, the PerformanceHybrid with total system output up to 220 kW, offers petrol V8 levels of performance with the economy and torque characteristics of rival turbodiesel SUVs.

An intuitive multi-media interface now controls on-board functions. Known as Remote Touch, the device replaces the previous touch-screen system in order to create more interior space and improve on-board functionality. The device now controls Hard Disk Drive Navigation with voice activation and Bluetooth connectivity and on-board memory that can store up to 2000 songs.

The RX350 and RX450h are backed by a four-year/100 000km full maintenance plan and a three-year/100 000km Lexus warranty.

RX350 SX – R633 400
RX350 XE – R682 000
RX450h SX – R698 700
RX450h LXE – R769 300

Just to put that in perspective: add all the options the Lexus has as standard to a BMW X5 and you come out pretty much square…