Too many of the menacing cars I love kind of dare me to climb inside, bristling with enough power to light up a small Texas town.
Most look like serious jail-time on 20-inch black wheels – or worse.
I mean, just backing a Charger Hellcat out of the driveway can get suddenly violent for your lawn if you dip a little too deeply into the throttle.
So I should have been partly prepared for the spacey 2017 Lexus RX 450h, a hard-cut crossover that doesn’t generate much power, but looks a bit like a giant mutant fish.
Just like with my favorite cars, I never knew quite what to expect from the profoundly odd-looking RX. Would it dive into the nearest ocean or suddenly sail off into outer space, seeking its home planet?
It was hard to dress for.
OK, that may be a bit extreme, but the RX is more, uh, highly stylized than any crossover I can recall – and some of its lines look sharp enough to cut.
As you may recall, the Lexus RX hybrid was the industry’s first luxury hybrid, arriving at dealerships in 2005 as an understated, well-groomed vehicle.
Since then, I guess, it spent a lot of time in L.A. and Austin.
Now an extrovert in a loud Hawaiian shirt and cowboy boots, the RX 450h sports a controversial giant spindle grille that looks like a cross between a cow-catcher and a contemporary picnic table.
Moreover, the metallic gray F-Sport model I had spread the bulk all around with a thick front overhang, a blocky, clumsy-looking bumper and over-sized headlamps that cut deeply into the front fenders.
Also, a sloping, raised hood eased down onto front fenders featuring militaristic, squared-off wheel-openings – and that’s also where the lines began.
One character-line shot off the back edge of the fender, sailing through the front door-handle. Another beneath the side windows drooped down and then curved back over the rear door-handle.
And yet a third line above the rocker panel rolled up to meet the leading edge of the rear fender.
The only time I’ve seen more lines was in my mirror on a bad Sunday morning.
Even the top had to squeeze into the picture, flashing one of those odd rear roof pillars that was partly blacked out and appeared to be floating off the body.
At least the thick, busy body rode on decent-sized gray 20-inch wheels wearing average 235/55 tires.
Still, beauty is in the eye of the beer-holder and maybe I just don’t get the new RX. (To be honest, I don’t get some of Beck’s songs, either.)
However, as a luxury hybrid, the 450h works pretty well, moved by a detuned 3.5-liter V-6 coupled with an electric motor on the rear axle to produce 308-horsepower.
That set-up accounts for the 450h’s all-wheel-drive status – with the engine driving the front wheels and sparky spinning the rears.
Like many hybrids, a belt-and-pulley CVT “transmission” prone to droning puts the power to the pavement and should help the 450h achieve fuel economy of 31-miles per gallon in town and 28 on the highway.
If you don’t push it too hard, the RX feels plenty adequate, merging easily with traffic and getting quickly and quietly up to speed on boulevards.
Floor it, though, and the crossover’s CVT kind of moans – in protest? – as it seems to slowly gather momentum.
Actually, that’s mostly an illusion: The porky, 4,800-pound RX can hit 60-mph in a reasonable 7.1 seconds, according to Car and Driver.
It just sounds and feels slower.
Likewise, the steering and handling were fairly uninspiring as well – even with the optional F-Sport package. The steering felt light and a bit numb to me, while the RX’s dense, overly carved body leaned and moved around some in curves.
But then, most crossover-buyers care far more about how their vehicles ride and the RX moved confidently over our rocky streets, absorbing bumps pretty smoothly.
It also offered a refined, well-executed interior that fit its weighty $62,000 window-sticker – a place where you could come in from the cold of the exterior.
A two-tier dashboard in smooth, pliable plastic set the tone in the black interior of my 450h, wrapping around a slender 12-inch display screen that stood like a tablet from a recessed area in the center of the dash.
Beneath it, a clean horizontal panel provided knobs and buttons for the stereo and climate-control systems while the graceful mid-dash featured stitching on its edges.
The pliable dash-plastic wrapped around to the tops of nicely formed door panels with padded armrests.
More important, smooth black-leather seats with perforated centers and supportive bolsters added to the RX’s luxury credentials, offering excellent leg- and head-room in back.
In the end, the RX 450h struck me as a vehicle designed by people thousands of miles apart – if not in different solar systems.
The exterior seemed wildly exaggerated and foreboding, while the interior radiated fine mid-luxury class. And if you can get past that boring CVT, the RX delivers decent power and fuel economy as well.
Maybe it’s a way of having it all. Just take a deep breath, though, before you confront it in the garage.
2017 Lexus RX 450h
- What I liked most: The RX 450h’s spacious, refined interior.
- What I would change: Its thick, graceless exterior.
- MSRP: Base price, $56,495; as equipped, $61,595.
- Fuel economy: Rated at 31 miles per gallon in town, 28 on the highway and 30 mpg combined with filler on the left.
- Official color: Atomic Silver.
- Odometer reading when tested: 9,254 miles
- Weight: 4,857 pounds
- Length-width-height: 192.5 inches long/74.6 inches wide/67.7 inches tall
- Fuel-tank capacity: 17.5 gallons.
- Towing capacity: 3,500 pounds.
- Spare tire: Compact temporary.
- 2017 Lexus RX 450h in a few words: A solid well-built luxury crossover in need of more sophisticated clothes
- Warranty: Four-year, 50,000-mile overall and five-year, 70,000-mile powertrain protection
- Final assembly location: Ontario, Canada
- Manufacturer’s website: www.lexus.com
- E-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org