Lexus has taken the first leap of faith towards Ihab drives and have provided me with their 2013 Lexus RX450h for a few days for a full review. Not only did they provide me with the car, they even sent it to me! I have been spoilt! I have had it for roughly 4 days and I have a lot to say about this car. Yes, a lot!
Lexus RX450h Introduction
Applying the modern Lexus design cues to the RX has transformed it into one really good looking crossover. In the engine bay sits a 3.5 litre V6 but this is not the entire story. The RX450h has technically 3 motors. To keep things simple, the petrol engine powers the front wheels providing the standard 245 or so horsepower and 235 lb ft of torque at around 6000 rpm. Also at the front, is an electric motor that drives the front wheels by the batteries when required for either maximum performance or to run on batteries only. When both are being used together for maximum performance, the vehicle is capable of 295 horse power. The third motor comes at the rear of the car, also electric, becomes active when the car requires more stability and traction. So there you have it, bragging rights to say you have 3 motors in your Lexus.
The Rx450h is a 5 seater cross over with adaptive xenon headlamps, radar guided cruise control, panoramic moon roof, heads up display, smart keyless entry/exit that even turns on the interior lighting when one gets near it and has nearly every electric necessity in the books, with 19 inch alloy wheels and a comfortable interior covered with plenty of leather and Lexusness.
It may be hard to identify the RX450h but there are slight touches such as the Lexus logo having a 3D blue glow to it, hybrid badging on the sides and of course the model itself on the back that makes it stand out next to a standard one.
Certainly looks is a matter of taste, but I think the RX is a very attractive car, especially in full F-sport trim.
At the front, the car is at its most attractive point in my view, the aggressive lights taking shape from the current range of Lexus cars, with the daylight running lights make it appear expensive in a mean looking down-ward eye brow formation. The trim continues from the grill in a sharp chrome line down to the bottom of the bumper highlighting the sharp curves and lines around the fog light which Lexus like to call the “Spindle Grille”
The wheel arches are a small little shoulder, giving the car quite a muscular look from the front. Being that most cross overs aren’t aggressive and often not cool, the front of the Lexus more than makes up for what comes after the front fenders.
The lights on the car are xenon, but not bi-xenon, high beams are handled by a traditional secondary light. Day light running lights work in two levels, high during the day and gets dimmed at night when the lights come on. Speaking of lights, they are also fully automatic (I do have a little peeve about this which I’ll mention in the interior) and they come with individual headlamp washers.
It has sensors for the front and back, but also importantly corner sensors which really do come in handy when parking. I have noticed that the system is quite responsive, I have had bikes that would pass the car and the system would alert me within a second of him passing that an object was within range.
The RX is triggered at multiple audiences. Often cross overs are for small families, often driven by moms, but with the Rx’s refinement, which is superb, and its looks, it is starting to appeal to many people, including the younger ages. Most of the people I asked to take a look at the RX are in their mid twenties and they all gave the Lexus a clean “Cool car”. Good job then!
The side profile is where the car begins to show its cross-over-ness. Slightly lower roof line that swiftly curves downwards towards the rear end. To give it more of a sleek appearance, the rear windows curves down a bit more than the rear pillars to give it a sportier stance.
The front muscular wheel fender start to dissolve into the doors and then re-appears around the rear wheel fenders to maintain the muscular look. The side mirrors are chunky, angular and give a powerful stance for the car, which also doubles as a big side view mirror that provides very good rear visibility. They are auto dimming, which is something I really can appreciate on Dubai’s highways and dip downwards when reverse gear is selected (I do not really like that personally)
The rear is where it looks more like an RX. It isn’t identical to the older generation but reminds us of the model it replaces. The lights are big and covers a bit of the side, the rear visibility is decent even though the rear window is at an angle. There is a nice little spoiler to cover a bit of the sunlight coming into the rear trunk with a high mounted brake light. Under the Lexus logo sits the chrome lip, which hides the rear view camera and the electric trunk button. Down low, the rear bumper continues to give some styling cues that suggest performance was kept in mind, with three vertical lines, something that reminds us of rear diffusers.
I got to admit, it is a delight approaching the car, especially with its keyless entry system. The car detects the key fob as it comes closer and the interior lighting comes on, that is really welcoming and is a sexy touch. Touching the door handle unlocks the car, and touching the small indent on the handle locks it. It does take about 2 or so seconds of touching it to lock, which I always manage to remove my fingers before it gets locked. Assuming you own this car, you wont be as impatient as I was.
The overall stance of the car is really appealing, I have put it in many scenarios like parking lots, lined up in parallel parking, and a few random settings and it always was the better looking car amongst ordinary cross overs and SUVs, especially the front. They have done a good job in styling.
This is where most of the owners of the cars will be spending their time with the Lexus, and fortunately, they have done a decent job.
The driver’s view of the RX is quite nice. If I have a criticism it would be that the looks of the interior is now considered an earlier generation compared to the crazy styling inspired by the LFA found in most new Lexus models.
The interior effect essentially puts everything towards the driver, especially with that big swooping “P” shaped center console. The steering wheel is nice and big, a lovely mix of leather and wood, it really does feel luxurious when wrapping your hands on the wheel, it was light to turn too. The RX450h does not have paddle shifters, and if manual gearing is necessary it would have to be with the gear leaver.
Starting from the left, sits the driver door controls, which include 4 fully automatic windows, door and window locks, controls for the side mirrors and side mirror folding control (Thankfully it can be left on auto to close when ever the car is locked). Above that sits a 3 person memory seat. There are two speakers on the door one of which faced directly at the driver. The sound system is a Mark Levinson premium sound system, which does a good job for daily use and does well when cranks things up to their favourite song. Oh, and there’s 12 of those speakers around the car.
Moving along, sits the air conditioning vent, with a very useful driver side cup holder. Now people have mentioned that anything tall, like a bottle of water would block the vent, which it certainly will do, but in my experience, it kept my drink cold! I guess that is only good if I am cold. Below that sits the buttons for the fuel cap and electric trunk release. Beside those, hiding behind the steeling wheel (which is electronically tilting and telescoping) sits the adjustments for interior lighting brightness and ODO meter button.
A touch I felt was a little old fashioned was the foot operated brake, most modern cars have the e-brake in a nice little button in the center console, but oh well.
The dials are very nice on the RX, they are laid out quite well, and everything is in clear white. I love that. On the top of the center sits the driver trip computer, and below sits a screen displaying the gear.
The left side of the steering wheel provides buttons to adjust the volume, generic up and down key for movement and a Mode button that switches between FM, AM and media. Below that is an interesting little button. That apparently is for a small camera that is under the passenger side mirror. The RX does not have all round cameras, so this little camera can help look over side pavements, rocks, etc but sadly the resolution is quite low. They did try to help it out by giving the driver guidelines to where the front tires and doors are but, a higher resolution camera would have bee amazing.
Behind this is the light switch, which goes in the following order: Off, Auto, Daylight running lights, On. I am not one to correct a multimillion dollar organization that spends millions in research and development, but I felt if it was: Auto, Off, Daylight running lights, On, it would have been better! While switching between light modes several times, I would have to go from Auto to Off then to Daylight running lights, which essentially turned the lights on in the middle for no reason.
Moving to the other side of the steering wheel, one has the controls for the driver trip computer (I really cannot find the actual name Lexus uses to refer to this). it is fairly simple, there are two modes (explained later in the review) and control buttons for up, down and enter. To the left of it comes the answer/reject buttons for phone operation which, in my trial worked really well and quick, but as expected on the other end it was a massive “loud speaker and my voice being echoed” scenario. Below that comes the voice commands button in case a person would like to control things or make calls via voice commands.
The last button requires a bit of explaining. The cruise control functions ordinarily as in any car, you set the speed and it does the speed. What the RX does is, it monitors the road ahead and identifies the car in front of you and calculates its running speed. It takes this speed and if it is higher than your speed, you continue as you were, but if it is lower, it will set a distance between you and the car ahead and keep you at his speed till he or you move out of the way. In the case of a car jumping in front of you, it will brake hard to reduce chance of a crash. Now, back to the button, it allows you to set the distance between you and the car that’s in front of you. You thought it would do a lot more didn’t you? The smallest distance it allowed was roughly 3 car lengths I’d assume, which is quite good for highway use.
Moving towards the center dash, this is where one right hand often sits playing with buttons. Starting from the left again, the little area behind the steering wheel under the start/stop button is where Lexus keep their Heads up display buttons. The buttons handle on/off, brightness and height.
Starting at the top of the dash board is the information screen which I think was a little far too deep into the dash. Under that comes the air conditioning vents which were quite smooth in operation, and accented in chrome. The in dash CD/DVD slot as both volume controls on the left and tuning and channel/track search button on the right, which quick short cut buttons to the Radio and Media.
The RX comes with dual zone climate control, with various options of ventilation, rear and front defrost, automatic mode and individual adjustments of temperature. This can also be done on screen. They have put a clock in the dash, but I do not know, for a luxury cross over, I expected something a little more modern.
Below that sits the gear leaver which I still think is in the oddest place on the RX models. Some can live with it, some cant but it has become a design factor that goes with an RX. Do I hope they change it? certainly. Does it look good? I don’t think so. Does it bother me? not really.
This square looking controller thing is what Lexus calls the RTI 2nd generation (Remote Touch Interface) which essentially is a mouse with feedback stress levels which can be adjusted in the system settings. Unlike most interfaces where its a left right up down operation, in the Lexus, its like a mouse where you move through possible selections on the screen. Based on people’s feedback it was a 50/50 in terms of whether people like it or not. It works well enough in my opinion and I got used to it within no time at all. It has a menu button to go back to the menu quickly,
The RTI has a long strip of curved rubber, as to rest one’s hand on it. The idea works, but with the height of the arm rest (even when pushed all the way back) it doesn’t entirely work as an arm rest, maybe a palm rest, which then makes me question why it is that long.
To the side of this armrest sits the wood covered cup holder, which is big enough for two cups. The good thing is that the separator can be removed leaving a big storage compartment. To the left sits two buttons, one that turns off the traction control and the other one labelled EV. EV essentially operates the car in electric mode, more on that in a bit.
The arm rest can be slide forward and backwards, when slid backwards it reveals the air conditioned seat controller, which enables hot and cold breezes for the seats. Now, this was nearly non-existent in my opinion, there are slight cases where it is felt, but it is a little too weak, even when on 3 (which is the highest). besides that sits a little compartment, perfectly designed for coins.
The center glove box is fairly large and has a little door to access some more room underneath, comes in handy for taller items. Also, in there you will find the USB and AUX input.
The leather was beautiful on the RX, it was very soft and had an amazing smell. There were some plastics which weren’t too rough, like on the center console, dashboard top, etc which has a leather texture to it. Surprisingly out of sight is under the center console, sits a little storage area with a power outlet. Accessing it was a little hard but, it provides good additional storage.
The doors have the similar soft beautiful leather with more storage! On the left above is the driver and passenger door, where there is a lovely large armrest, small pocket/place to pull the door from. Underneath sits a large pocket that extends to open, in the picture there are three manuals that are huge, certainly good amount of space.
The back doors follow suit, the bottom storage is limit but Lexus did something smart, which was add cup holders.
If you haven’t noticed, this car can carry 7 Cups at a time.
The rear is quite decent. Surely it isn’t huge, but it does the job of carrying three people in a decent manner. I tried riding in the back once, and being 5’9″ My hair was just touching the roof line. I believe that in short trips this would do just fine.
The back seats are comfortable, have rear tilt adjustment and also can be brought forward or backwards, in case there needs to be a little more storage room in the back.
The center armrest in the back has a nice wooden finish covering the two cup holders. Behind that sits a small storage compartment which I think often holds the remote controls, but they haven’t been provided to me, or maybe they just forgot.
I did give the rear system a try (They are mainly turned on from the front system) and they give access to the radio, and DVD through a remote since the screens are not touch based. They are fixed in position and do not seem to be able to tilt or move about depending on the rear passenger’s needs. Audio is plugged into the back of the center storage area, where there are two air conditioning vents as well to keep the rear passengers air conditioned.
Looking upwards sit one of the RX’s beautiful points, a quite large moon roof that extends all the to the back passengers. It is one touch operated and is just fabulous, and especially from the front gives this “I am in a convertible” sense of openness.
Moon roof controls and interior lights are handled up front ahead of the moon roof and all interior lighting is in white LEDs.
In the back there is quite sufficient storage, I assume two medium sized suitcases would fit with ease. There is a rear trunk area cover that can be removed for additional height. Keeping in mind that the rear window is at an angle, and there is limited vertical space. It shouldn’t be too big an issue though as the rear seats naturally fold down. In the trunk sat the emergency kit which I assume had the warning triangle and a first aid kit but not too certain.
The carpets are very soft! I wouldn’t want to get anything in the trunk not to ruin the soft carpet. There is side storage, and under the carpet sits a spare tire, and below that is the batteries. I haven’t actually seen the batteries, but when the front system shows the picture of the power flow, the batteries are shown at the back of the car, so naturally, there’s no where else to go but down. Either way, fairly decent storage. The trunk lid is electronic and opens and clothes with the touch of a button.
Now that all the physical details are done, lets talk about how this car feels to drive, in the real world.
The car is really refined, there is no doubt in my mind that this car is designed and engineered to absolute modern standards. A lot of cars are comfortable today, but take them on a very long drive, they could easily be tiring to be in, not the Lexus RX450h. I had a trip once that I spent nearly 4 hours in the car, mixed between driving in traffic, highway, speeding, car wash, taking hard turns, parking, etc and I came out absolutely the way I did when I got in, and that is what I call refinement.
Road noise is quite low, there is very little drama through the drive. Visibility is quite good, I expected it to be worse up till I received the car. The rear pillar is actually quite big but the size of the windows and their location make for good visibility. The rear window may be slightly on the smaller side but still does quite good, there is no high boot to get in the way. Even with the front, having a small triangle window in pillar helps at times too. This is a cruiser for sure, especially when driving economically or on the batteries, it is very smooth and quiet.
Accelerating though is where noises come into play, it does have a slight whine and under full throttle it does get a bit on the noisy side, not in the sporty way. When idle it would run on batteries, and when the batteries start to run out, there is a slight jerk forward when the engine starts, not an issue but not so refined I think.
Starting this car is the most ridiculous thing ever, exactly every time I got into the car in the 4 days, I would start the engine and due to how quiet it was, I would literally think the engine hadn’t started! No exaggeration I promise.
Another nice feature in the RX is the heads up display. I literally had to forget having to look down that often because it has everything I need on the glass in front of me, and its active too; Change the volume and it appears, change the radio station and it appears! You literally keep your eyes more on the road in this car.
This section might be against the purpose of the RX450h being a hybrid, but it is still a normal car driving around the streets and there are situations where a person drives fast, needs to overtake people, etc and let briefly say, it does quite well.
I haven’t tested 0-100 with a stop watch, but I did manage to get around 8 seconds estimated doing 0-100 in sport mode.
Speaking of which, the hybrid has sport mode! essentially toggling the drivers trip computer (will be seen below) will trigger sport mode where most of the power is available at the touch of the throttle. It does seem to switch into a sportier mode where gears seem to be held on to longer. The instrument panel has three basic modes, when driving economically, the panel will glow blue, when driving aggressively, it will turn the lights off, but when sport mode is selected.. well.. I’ll let you take a look for yourself.
By all means this is not a sports crossover but it handles all the necessary and basic acceleration needs. I drove it down highways where I needed to overtake people quickly or accelerate to get a open gap, etc and it performed quite well. I do not believe a normal family cross over would need any more performance.
Braking on the RX450h is good but the pedal itself wasn’t good at all. The car can stop quite well being that it has all the latest safety standards of traction control, electronic brake distribution, automated braking system, pre-crash safety systems (that in essence will assist in braking in the case of the driver being unaware), and radar guided cruise control, but the pedal wasn’t good and was too soft. I drove it around for a few days and I still couldn’t get it to stop smoothly, no matter how slow I was going. It isn’t a deal breaker but I would have wished for a harder pedal and a more smoother braking set-up.
The Hybrid System
This is the first time I actually review a hybrid vehicle and I was very interested in getting to use it and thus, there is quite a bit to talk about.
(Picture from center dashboard screen)
Essentially how it works is, while normally driving, the petrol engine powers the front wheels and when the driver lifts off the throttle or brakes, the often wasted energy gets to charge the batteries. Now I do not have the specific size of the batteries in the RX450h but it does charge and discharge quite quickly.
The picture on the left is what is often left select when I was driving along. When driving normally, there would be a flowing arrow from the engine to the wheels, and when accelerating hard there would be two arrows, one from the engine and one from the battery towards the wheels. When lifting off the throttle or braking the arrow points from the wheels to the battery. It is very nice to see in real time, how the whole system is working.
When driving slowly, the car would drive on the battery till it goes low on capacity, with the petrol engine on standby to take on any acceleration needs. Pressing the EV button mentioned above triggers the system to activate and run only on batteries. Unfortunately though there are many limitations. If the acceleration is a tad higher than general crawling speeds it would disengage, also if the speed exceeds 40 KMPH it would disengage and the battery needs to be at near full capacity to activate as well. In the manual it states that this mode is for use in car parks and late night in residential areas.
I am not to sure about that, but in essence, driving in a car park slowly without using a drop of fuel? sounds reasonable I guess. Driving on battery could last roughly no more than 10 minutes I believe, it does seem to be low capacity.
Does it mean it is a fail? I would be lying if I said yes, because the hybrid system is always doing something or the other to save fuel! For instance, when standing idol, it would run on batteries rather than on the engine, and after a while, the engine would come on to keep everything running and charge up the batteries till it’s ready to take over again. it is constantly there, working at trying to save fuel, which I think is good.
Another thing that is very important about having a hybrid vehicle, is that one becomes aware that there is system working hard in various situations to charge the batteries and take over some task or the other from the engine. Also, with the dash changing color depending on driving habits, it encourages people (it encouraged me at least) to try to keep seeing the blue glow on the dash as much as possible. When the blue glow goes, my head already thinks I have been driving un-economically. Call it reverse psychology, call it green awareness, call it what ever you want to call it, but you will become aware when you aren’t driving economically, think of it like an aunt that will remind you that you have eaten too much and will get fat.
The reason I said all this and haven’t mentioned fuel economy yet is because I wanted to explain that the hybrid system, at least in the Lexus, isn’t just for the drive but it’s for the overall experience. When I got the car, which was fuelled to the max (Thanks Lexus) had a range of 500 KMS (it has a 17 gallon fuel tank) which based on simple math is 29MPG which is around 8 litres per 100 KMs. Did I achieve it?
No, but I wasn’t driving economically at all for the first 100 or so KMs. I was still exploring the high performance part of the sport mode. In essence, upon return of the car, I had done exactly 400 KMs and the trip computer said I had about 66 KMs worth of fuel left, which accounts to around 27MPG or around 8.5 litres per 100 KMs. What is weird is the trip computer stated that up till that moment my average was 11.7 litres per 100 KM (a shade under 21MPG) and my average after refuelling was 12.5 litres per 100 KM (a shade under 19 MPG).
Is the system trying to convince me I did worse so I drive more economically? I guess that is the only explanation because I did literally do 400 KMs and I can without a doubt expect at least 50 KMs more from what appeared to be a bar and half on the fuel gauge.
In short, the hybrid system works. It saves fuel from various tasks that it handles on itself and EV mode, the hybrid system comes with the hybrid instrument panel that does effect the driver’s awareness and the numbers do state the car can do over 25 MPG. Yes, that isn’t an impressive number compared to cars that go all the way up to 60, 70 MPH but this is a large luxury cross over, with a lot of technology and three motors weighing it down!
I have supported the hybrid till this point, but now for the other objective view, I am not sure of the math of fuel cost savings compared to the additional price to get the hybrid rather than the RX350. I didn’t have to buy the car so I did not run the numbers, but I guess it would pay for itself in a few years, right?
The Off-road abilities
So, I took it for some light off roading. I did not take it to the middle of the desert, but I took it to the real world off roading this car would encounter. Large sandy pits with rough highs and lows.
I looked at the steepest slope I could find and went to conquer it. It started off in front wheel drive mode but when it realized that it wasn’t getting the best traction, it started sending power to the rear wheels and I managed to overcome the slope.
I drove it around the sand, thin, thick and sped up a bit, took sharp turns, etc and it handled pretty much what would be expected of it. Family cross over off roading dealt with with ease. I am not sure how good this would be in the desert but I didn’t want to try it out without letting Lexus know I was about to wreck their Lexus.
A tool mentioned earlier that also assists with the light off roading that the RX is capable off is the right side camera. While going through some rocks and edges, it came to be finally useful as I was worried to scratch the side body, so I turned the camera on (button on the steering) and I could see exactly what clearance I had, sweet!
The infotainment system
I have had been in several cars that had various systems, some of which feature-full and some absolutely lacking. The Lexus RX450h comes with apparently RTI 2 (Remote Touch Interface) and the on board system has a lot to offer!
This is essentially the main screen with 7 main sections that pretty much covers all the basis of the driving experience.
Starting from the top left working clockwise, the Radio page allows the user to have 12 pre-set channels, with automatic scanning and channel name information. The bottom right button labelled sound is where one can adjust sound options like balance, bass, treble, etc.
Next is Media, which would show the audio though the external media sources, in this case it was my phone which was connected through bluetooth. It allows some basic features like random playing, repeat and display of the track information. It does lack fast forward features, not sure if that would be the case with a connected iPod.
Under climate, it visualizes all the options available via on dash buttons; individual temperatures, fan speeds, selected vents, etc.
Finally is phone, which is to be connected via bluetooth. The phone feature synchronizes the phone’s contacts and shows a dialler for quick number input. Voice activation is also enabled for phone use, along with the on steering buttons and finally on the bottom right is a button to access the call history.
Starting from the top left working clockwise, accessing navigation opens up 4 main options, Destination allows you to find or select the place you want to be navigated to, and the others are information on current vehicle position and information about the map.
Under destination, one can select various quick access destinations like Home, up to 5 pre-set destinations, search via points of interest, manually entering the address data, or selecting the place via map.
The map (light version for the night, and the dark version like above for night use) appears when the system runs idle and not in use while driving.
Under the information page, there are two screens, one being the last screen above showing how much electricity has been generated, real time L/100KMs indicator and some trip information. Clicking energy will open the drive train power flow while driving (shown earlier in the review)
Under setup, there are 7 options to adjust settings for pretty much every aspect of the car’s infotainment system.
Under general, there are settings for the clock, language, setting opening and closing images, interface color, sounds of clicks and selections, RTI 2’s feedback force (the pointer can be stiffened or loosened depending on preference) and an option to clear all settings and data.
The voice settings adjusts volumes and which modes can use voice.
Navigation essentially opens up the map shown above.
Vehicle setup is where a whole world of settings exist!
Starting from the top left working clockwise, The vehicle settings have three sub-sections, first of which is maintenance. Under maintenance is a whole grid of all the various settings that the driver can adjust to set dates and kms to be warned or reminded about.
Under vehicle customization, the driver can adjust settings that relate to lights, how long they stay on after closing, how long they come on when opening, when he would like the central locking to occur, which doors to unlock when touching the door handle, a section for the entry/exist assistance where the seat goes all the way back and the steering telescopes back into the dash and other simple settings regarding the basic experiences of owning the Lexus.
Under Lexus park assist sub-section, settings related to the sensors volume and display can be adjusted. For more experienced drivers there is a setting to allow warning noises only to turn on when objects are really close.
Going back to the setup page, there are three more settings; phone, bluetooth and audio. which essentially has settings for the phone book, and phone display. Under bluetooth, it displays all connected devices and allows to connect to more devices. On the RX, there is a limit to 5 bluetooth devices. Finally, under audio settings, it opens the settings for the radio and iPod where it has a few settings and adjustments.
As for the driver’s trip computer there are two essential modes, the general information and driver options. The following are the 5 sections of the information a driver can have active while driving.
As for the driver options, there are 4 options.
Starting from the left: Eco mode toggle on/off, Parking sensors toggle on/off, Sport mode toggle on/off and AFS (Adaptive Frontlighting System) toggle on/off. What the AFS does is tilt the xenon lens to the direction the steering wheel turns to increase visibility in that direction.
It was a lovely weekend with the Lexus RX450h. It truly is a modern day cross over that has developed lovely levels of comfort and refinement. It has some really cool features such as the huge moon roof, adaptive lights, automatic dimming mirrors, 12 speaker Mark Levinson sound system, RTI 2, smart keyless entry and start system, electronic everything, a very decent and economical 3.5 litre V6 engine coupled with a brilliant hybrid system and all this in a package that looks sleek, sexy and with an aggressive front end.
Just like everything else in this world, it does have a few downfalls like the plastics in the cabin, the oddly placed gear leaver, foot operated brake, lack of bi-xenon and all, but there is so much in the package and so much in the experience, to make up for these, and it truly is a brilliant cross over without a doubt. Good job Lexus.
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