Review: The Lexus RX 450h Is the Perfect Car for Escaping New York

The hybrid SUV is sized for tight spaces, but sporty enough for any and all weekend trips

July 28, 2020 10:22 am
Lexus RX 450h Hybrid SUV
The Lexus RX 450h is a joy.

I’ve never been one of those people who can’t wait to leave New York City on the weekend. Firstly, I hate sitting in traffic — and can’t even complain about it, as I’m part of the problem. Secondly, our fantastic city has, in my opinion, the best food in the world. For instance, when New Yorkers want Chinese food, the first step isn’t opening an app, it’s choosing the Chinese province you want to experience. Due to the pandemic, however, I’m constantly fantasizing about going away — I even went camping recently after a 30-year hiatus. 

Maybe like you, I have also been wondering if the time has come to finally leave the city, though I read somewhere that “the obituary for New York City has been written many times.” But then if we were to leave, where could one possibly go that, first of all, isn’t another city, and secondly, doesn’t immediately limit food options, cultural experiences, general New York weirdness, and things we can still do here post-COVID, like people-watching in the park? The Hamptons? Um, sure, if you’re a gazillionaire. In my opinion, owning a decent-sized house in the Hamptons is like owning a Lamborghini. You might be able to buy one, but can you afford to maintain it? I don’t mean the maintenance costs associated with a pool or fixing a pipe. I’m talking about property taxes, which in some cases on the East End may feel like a mini-mortgage.

Photo courtesy of Simon Van Booy

Recently, Lexus asked if I’d be interested in taking their latest hybrid SUV for a long drive, so my wife and I decided to visit some friends who have given up their respective places in Long Island City and the West Village to rent an apartment in a boutique hotel in the town of Hudson, the popular spot for people that want to get away from the hustle and bustle but not too far away. About two hours north of the city, I imagined eco-farms with hippies making goat soap, but while I’m quite fond of both animals and washing, Hudson is more like a mini-Brooklyn. It’s got cool stores, excellent coffee shops, fantastic dining options, and best of all, racial and socio-economic diversity, along with a significant number of LGBTQ-run businesses. Political affiliation is definitely mixed, but any division seems to be swept away by an overwhelming sense of friendliness in the town —  even with a feeling amongst some locals that the gentrification of Hudson has made life much more difficult for those who live there full-time.

The drive up from the city was uneventful, which is exactly how I like it, and fears of COVID discouraged me from flicking on the blinker whenever we saw a Starbucks logo next to an arrow. The idea of having to stop for gas in our futuristic hybrid was laughable. At one point I thought the gas needle was stuck. In addition to being a hybrid with three electric motors, the RX 450h is all-wheel-drive with a 3.5-liter engine, producing about 308 horsepower. Aside from great gas mileage, it’s also quite zippy, and so quiet that when you inevitably come up behind a skateboarder on his cellphone or someone with no pants yelling about Jesus and the devil (yet another reason to love New York), they may fail to realize you’re there — which is awkward as you crawl behind them, reluctant to honk. “Pedestrian Detection” is just one of the many standard safety features on the vehicle. The RX 450h is actually so safe, the only danger is that you might get bored with it after awhile. But if you see driving as a means to an end, then this is possibly the best car for the money. The range of safety options is dizzying (it’s an IIHS Top Safety Pick for 2020), it’s more comfortable than the lounge at Cartier on Fifth Avenue (though without complimentary coffee), and in terms of reliability, Lexus has already proven itself. My wife does not enjoy driving, and so I wasn’t surprised that she loved this vehicle. In fact, on the freeway, she kept opening the glove box to study the window sticker.

The first thing you’ll notice about Hudson — or at least the popular downtown area (from the 7th Street Park to South Front Street) — is that parts of it appear to be caught in an architectural time warp. While there is a certain amount of building decay, it’s fantastic in a Tim Burton way, as you get a sense of what things really looked like when Hudson was hopping, from about 1790 to the early 1900s (though by then it had something of a reputation for debauchery). After massive decline in the mid-20th century, the first signs of a revival came in the 1980s, apparently due to antique dealers who, like me, were mesmerized by the beautiful, period architecture. Warren Street, now Hudson’s main drag, just over a mile long, is a thriving mix of antique shops, cheesemongers, coffee shops (one of which is also a classic Italian motorcycle store), and unique businesses like The Quiet Botanist (“a wild-crafted botanical apothecary”) and the West Indies Natural Food, owned and operated by Paulette Clarke, who moved to Hudson from Montego Bay in the 1980s. 

Photo courtesy of Simon Van Booy

Our home for the night, and the place where our friends had rented an apartment, was The Howard Hotel, a boutique-style hotel with seven rooms, including a pair of one-bedroom apartments, two king suites and three queen rooms. A king suite is $160 per night weekdays, $250 weekends. While the house started life as a late 18th century mansion, it spent some time as a “seminary for young ladies” before becoming a hotel again in the late 1800s. A complete renovation within the last few years, however, has transformed 216 Warren Street yet again into a modern-looking brick mansion, with the type of Italian restaurant on the first floor, Ca’Mea, that people dress up for. The hotel is owned by Roy Felcetto and Max Cenci, who managed and owned three bed and breakfast properties in the Hudson area before selling those interests to focus on The Howard Hotel. If you don’t drive, the hotel can be reached after a ten-minute walk from the train station (about two hours to Penn Station).

But driving has its benefits, as Bear Mountain State Park and the Woodbury Common outlet mall are both “on the way.” Piloting the RX 450h over 130 miles in one sitting incurred very little driver fatigue on my part. Was it the chair? The climate control with cooling seats? The velvet ride? All the little tech touches that make you feel like you’re in a spaceship? Who can say — though when I returned the vehicle and got back into my own, five-year-old European wagon I felt like I was driving something from The Beverly Hillbillies. Without any bells and whistles, the RX 450h, in my opinion, is a bargain at $46,750, when compared with other new cars for this price. Some of the extras are worth it, I think, such as a parking and safety package which includes Rear Cross Traffic Braking. That’s only $1,865. However, a 12.3-inch Navigation System, and Mark Levinson, 15-Speaker Premium Audio System for $3,365 seems excessive (sorry Mr. Levinson). The model we took to Hudson in “Nori Pearl” comes in at $58,490, which doesn’t really feel like a bargain anymore — even for something this good.

The verdict? The Lexus RX 450h is far superior to its familial peers, and, if you can keep it under $50K, a pretty good deal, as you might honestly not have to buy another car for 20-plus years. That is, if you don’t take it off-roading, and cover, say, about 7,500 miles a year — or the equivalent of about 30 round-trip journeys from the city to Hudson.  

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