The hybrid concept is not new, as Ferdinand Porsche, he of sports car fame, designed the world’s first functional hybrid. The ungainly-looking Lohner-Porsche Semper Vivus arrived in 1900. In spite of this promising start, the hybrid movement stalled until Toyota introduced the first mass-produced hybrid in 1997. When it finally arrived in Canada in 2000, the Prius was already a hit. It not only helped to boost the profile of electrified cars; it spearheaded the near-universal adoption of the hybrid powertrain.
Moving into 2023, Toyota’s hybrid thrust is focusing on the Corolla lineup and adding a super-hybrid to the best-selling Lexus of all time.
The fifth-generation Lexus RX has been totally redesigned inside and out, and now rides on a 60-millimetre longer wheelbase. The bigger news is it finally ditches the V6 engine that has been a staple since its introduction. When the 2023 RX arrives it will feature four new powertrains, three of which are hybrid.
It starts with the gas-only RX 350 with a 2.4-litre turbo-four. It twists out 275 horsepower and a meaty 317 pound-feet of torque — the significance of this will become clear. This is fired to the road through an eight-speed automatic transmission and all four wheels. It promises to be a solid ride, but the more interesting options are found in the hybrid choices.
The RX 350h marries a 2.5L four-cylinder engine with an electric motor and a continuously variable transmission. This setup drives the front wheels with a second electric motor powering the rear wheels. The system combines to produce 246 hp and 233 lb-ft of torque with the rear electric motor adding an electric all-wheel-drive (eAWD) extension. The influence the rear electric motor has on performance should not be overlooked, as the RX 350h runs to 100 kilometres an hour in 7.6 seconds and it manages to do this while delivering an estimated average fuel economy of 7.1 litres per 100 kilometres.
A little further out, the regular hybrid will be joined by the RX 450h+ plug-in hybrid. Lexus has not released any information at this point; however, it’s reported to have an electric-only driving range of up to 80-kilometres.
The most intriguing powertrain is found in the RX 500h F Sport Performance. It uses RX 350’s torquey 2.4L turbo-four, but adds an electric motor and a six-speed automatic transmission. This combination drives the front wheels with a second high-output electric motor powering the rear wheels. The combination delivers 367 hp and a stump-pulling 406 lb-ft of torque. Now that’s going to grab the driver’s attention in a hurry, as will the 6.1 second run to 100 km/h.
The RX 500h also adopts the company’s Direct4 eAWD control system. It’s designed to work with both hybrid and future battery-electric vehicles alike. In this case, it oversees the power split between the front and rear axles. It can drive just the front wheels for improved efficiency, split the power more or less evenly when pulling away and under hard acceleration, or it can adopt a 20/80-front/rear power split, which delivers a sportier drive.
I drove this system in a Lexus ES mule at Toyota’s Proving Grounds in Japan in 2019. The first half of the drive was conducted with the system switched off; the rest with it turned on. The difference was like chalk and cheese. The key is the electric motors, especially the high-output rear motor, plays a much larger role in the overall driving dynamics. Yes, the high output rear motor certainly helps the acceleration cause, but it also amps up the driving dynamics. During the test Direct4 brought better stability on the straight sections, it had a crisper initial turn-in response and it rocketed out of the corner when the gas was goosed. The point here is the distribution of the drive torque proved to be both effective (read fun!) and efficient. Based on this driving experience, Direct4 should give the RX 500h F Sport Performance enviable driving characteristics.
The 2023 Lexus RX will go on sale towards the end of this year. Pricing and full specifications will be announced closer to launch.
For Toyota Corolla fans there’s reason to celebrate moving into 2023. Along with refreshed exterior styling and a new eight-inch infotainment touchscreen in both the sedan and hatchback models comes the availability of eAWD for the hybrid models.
Moving forward, all Corolla hybrids will use the fifth-generation Toyota Hybrid System. At the heart is a 1.8L engine with two electric motor/generators. Reworking the electric side and using a new lithium-ion battery brings more power and better performance. The difference is the Corolla hybrid also employs an optional rear electric motor. The eAWD setup promises to provide better traction in all driving conditions.
Not to be left out, the 2023 Corolla Cross adopts the same fifth-generation hybrid system. The difference is the eAWD system is standard on all models. In this case, it delivers 194 hp and an 8.2 second run to 100 km/h. The bonus is it manages this level of performance while delivering an estimated average fuel economy of 6.4 L/100 km. That, for a family-friendly crossover, is much better than the current norm!
Safety also moves forward with Toyota Safety Sense 3.0 becoming standard across the entire Corolla family, including the Cross. It includes pre-collision with pedestrian detection, lane departure warning with steering assist, active radar-based cruise control, lane tracing assist, road sign assist and auto high beams.
Pricing and full specifications for all 2023 Toyota Corolla range will be announced this summer with the new models arriving later in the year.