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Lexus RX400h - Luxury and Economy

by Ali Arsham
Friday, February 01, 2008

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Lexus RX400h
Toyota’s hybrid system that comes in the Prius has become very popular.  You know about that already because you see so many of them on your way to work everyday.  So what happens when a manufacturer comes out with something that becomes popular?  They start thinking about ways to sell more of them.  Ford took the very popular Explorer and replaced the back with a bed and called it Explorer Sport Trac, as an example.  Toyota is taking the hybrid system and applying it to more of their models.  One of the latest is the Lexus RX400h.  If the mid-size luxury SUV is good, then one with better fuel economy has to be better, right?  There is only one way to find out.

The Lexus RX400h is in a segment that has a lot of tough competition.  So many manufacturers have something in this range so the RX400h has to be good.

Lexus tends to be on the conservative side when it comes to most of their vehicles and the RX400h is no exception.  The conservative part starts as soon as you lay your eyes on it.  The look is definitely not offensive but it is not exciting either.  This is not a car that your teenage kids will lust after.  Inside is much better with clear gauges and nice materials used throughout.  There are some issues with the controls though.  Many buttons on the left side of the steering column are hard to reach and even next to impossible to see when you are driving.  The idea is that these switches are not used very often but you still should be able to use them.  There are very clear gauges in front of the driver but instead of a tachometer, there is a large gauge for energy used.  The gauge is pretty much useless because the harder you press on the gas, the higher the gauge moves.  You don’t really need a gauge for that.

Rear Cargo Area
The rest of the interior is typical Lexus which is a good thing.  The top quality materials and the great fit and finish make the interior a nice place to be.  The selection of colors used in the interior also project a warm feel.  The rear seats provide a very comfortable area for the rear passengers.  Unfortunately, most of the cars in this class do not provide three row seating so the RX400h can seat only 5 people.  That means that there is plenty of room for the five people and most importantly their luggage.  Often a third row is added at the expense of luggage space but the RX400h provides a large trunk area.  But the Lexus falls a little short on luxury features.  To get items such as leather, power tilt and telescopic steering wheel, memory driver’s seat, illuminated entry system and one touch open moonroof you will have to buy the $2000 Premium Plus package.  Most of these items are standard on much lesser vehicles and this is the Premium Plus package.  The Premium package offers much less and the standard car offers even less than that.  In fairness, the package does include two important items which are HID headlights and Adaptive Front Lighting System (AFS).  We don’t know why they don’t call it AFLS but if you don’t understand the name, it is basically headlights that turn with the steering wheel.  And amazingly on a vehicle of this price, you cannot get heated seats.  Yes, no heated seats on the RX at any price no matter what options you pick. 

When you drive the RX400h, the Prius really comes to mind.  If you have driven a Prius, you know exactly how the RX400h drives like.  The only difference is that the RX400h is more luxurious, roomier and quieter.  To start the car, there is no engine noise.  Just turn the key and the ready light comes on.  Put it in gear and it drives like an electric car.  But once you get moving and the gasoline engine kicks in, the Lexus part kicks in with a very quiet vehicle.  If you floor it, the RX400h has 268 total horsepower from both motors.  That results in the 4300 pound car reaching 60 mph in about 7.3 seconds which is pretty good.  Amazingly, it can also tow a 3500 pound trailer which could come in handy.  And if you decide to just drive it to work gently, you can get 26 mpg in the city according to the EPA.  We got very close to that number in everyday driving which is much better than the competition.  Most of them get about 15-17 mpg.

If the road gets twisty, forget about having fun with the RX because it does not like being pushed.  It will understeer heavily at the limit and is not very responsive.  But then again it wasn’t designed for that. 

The RX400h was designed for a conservative consumer who wants a roomy and comfortable SUV that is quiet and pleasant to drive.  It also happens to get great fuel economy.  And it is built as solid as a tank with typical Lexus build quality.  To be able to get one in your driveway, it will cost you though.  The base price of the RX400h is $42,500.  Our test vehicle had two big options: the aforementioned Premium Plus package and the $4000 navigation and Mark Levinson audio package.  So figure on around $50,000 with typical options.  That can buy a lot of other luxury SUVs but none will be better built and more comfortable than a Lexus.

Base price: $42,580
Wheelbase 106.9 in
Length: 187.2 in
Width: 72.6 in
Weight: 4365 lbs.
Seating capacity: 5
Max towing capacity: 3500 lbs.
0-60: 7.3 seconds (mfg results)
Top speed: 112 mph (electronically limited)
Fuel economy: 26 city, 24 hwy (2008 EPA estimates)

Gas Engine:
Displacement: 3.3 liters
Compression ratio: 10.8:1
Power: 208hp @5600 rpm
Fuel requirement: 87 octane

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