Lexus 450H Sport

Source: Courtesy of Toyota

For long road trips, I’m a 3am departure kind of guy. I’m not sure how it started. I think I read something about that time being the hour of least human activity. Even so, I never made a conscious decision to start hitting the road in the wee morning hours. I used to try to go back to sleep but then I discovered that there are some distinct advantages to getting right on the road—not the least of which is lack of traffic. That said, when I recently left Nashville for The Big Apple in the Lexus RX450h F Sport, it was pitch black outside.

By the time the sun came up I was driving through Virginia. Up until then I’d felt like the hybrid SUV was helping me steer but I just chalked that notion up to my imagination. The sensation, however, persisted. Against my better judgment (insert apology to Lexus here) I waited for a long straightaway and took my hands off the steering wheel briefly. Sure enough, the steering wheel was shifting itself back and forth, keeping my Lexus on the road! I was astounded.

Historically, I haven’t been too much of an advocate of the promise of self-driving cars. I mean, what’s not to understand about the utility, especially for people who can’t, or don’t want to, drive themselves around. For those of us who enjoy the open road, however, I’ve considered the inevitable automation of driving as a negative. Not so much anymore.

I was shocked to realize how much I enjoyed the fact that the Lexus was driving itself. Well, let me not oversell it. There wasn’t a big flashing “auto pilot” button on the dashboard. Instead, the vehicle was using a combination of two features that, when activated at the same time, make it seem like the car is driving itself.

The All-Speed Dynamic Radar Cruise Control not only kept the sporty SUV moving at my selected speed, it also maintained an adjustable distance from the car in front of me, even when that car came to a full stop. This was a Godsend, especially when I got trapped in Washington D.C.’s stop-and-go rush hour traffic.

Meanwhile, the vehicle’s Lane Departure Alert with Steering Assist and Lane Keep Assist seemed to be reading the lane markings on the highway and nudging the steering wheel to stay within the lines. It wasn’t completely hands-off. In fact, if I kept my hands off the wheel for more than a few seconds the dashboard would beep and light up with an animation asking me to put my hands back on the wheel. Also, breaks in the highway lines, like off ramps, sometimes confused the system but, overall, I was impressed— especially when the car drove itself through highway turns!

Honestly, I felt like I had an invisible co-pilot. I’d planned to stop and spend the night somewhere but my usual road fatigue was eliminated—I never really felt the need to stop except to get gas. To me, that alone makes this vehicle worth the spend.

  • Lexus RX450h AWD F Sport (lexus.com)
  • Starts at $56.K (as driven, $60.5K)
  • Combined MPG: 28
  • Fun fact: It comes with automatic high beams for night driving