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2008 Lexus RX400h Hybrid


This eco-green sentence greeted me when I opened the booklet explaining the hybrid drive system in a new all-wheel-drive Lexus 400h hybrid 5-door sport utility vehicle.

Starting and driving a hybrid vehicle for the first time is an odd, counter-intuitive experience. Turning the ignition key on the Lexus 400h “starts” the vehicle, but may not start the engine. Unlike a regular vehicle, after a few seconds, the “Ready” light will come on. With the “Ready” light on, engage the gear lever and drive. You can drive this SUV up to 20 miles on electric power alone, so the gasoline engine may not start for a while if not needed.

Another surprise: You don’t feel the transmission shift gears. Unlike a conventional transmission, the continuously variable transmission in the 400h delivers power seamlessly.

Consider also that the engine of the Lexus hybrid will turn off and on while driving. At medium or high speeds, the engine will be on most of the time. At low speeds or when stopped, the engine may or may not be on.

The brakes may feel different, too, because the regenerative braking system works together with the conventional braking system. When the car is coasting or its brakes are applied, electric motors function as generators, capturing kinetic energy that would normally be lost as heat through the brakes and transforming it into useable electricity to recharge the batteries.

Get behind the wheel of a Lexus 400h and you’ll discover that this mind-boggling technology can deliver excellent performance, even from a standing start. Acceleration is quick and smooth because electric motors deliver maximum torque on demand. Passing power in the 30-50 mph range also is excellent.

I’ve owned several non-hybrid Lexus automobiles. All are quiet, but the 400h hybrid takes quiet to a new level as my wife Nancy, the front seat passenger, discovered on a long test drive. She drifted off to sleep 20 miles from home.

This vehicle combines a V6 engine with two high-torque electric drive motor-generators, one front and one rear. With a combined system output of about 268 horsepower and 3,500 lb.-ft. of torque, acceleration from zero to 60 mph is 7.5 seconds. The “400” in RX400h stands for the power output of the engine and hybrid battery which, when combined, approximate the power of a 4.0 liter V8 engine.

The RX400h is a “full hybrid,” which means it can operate in electric-only or gas-engine-only modes as well as a mode that combines the power of both.

The RX400h has the luxury features of the companion Lexus RX350 non-hybrid model—power front seats with lumbar adjustment, dual zone climate control, CD player with eight speakers, power rear door and more. The base price is $42,680; my test vehicle included numerous options, bringing the total cost to $49,975. The non-hybrid RX350 base price is $38,900.

There are more than 50,000 Lexus 400h SUVs on the road. The EPA fuel economy estimate for my vehicle is 24 city/26 highway. I recorded 25.2 mpg after driving several hundred city/highway miles. All Lexus hybrids produce 70 percent fewer smog-forming emissions than the average new vehicle. And the gas engine is turned off much of the time during idle and acceleration, which means that zero emissions are produced.

Lexus offers two more “green” vehicles, the GS450h hybrid sport sedan, and the 600h L hybrid sedan. Both models are “full hybrids” also. The GS hybrid base price is $54,900; the LS base price is $104,000.

Because you pay a premium for a hybrid vehicle you should learn how to maximize your fuel economy. The 400h, with the optional navigation system, displays the energy flow within the system, the fuel economy moment by moment, and the miles per gallon. It’s an excellent visual aid to help you save gas.

All new Lexus vehicles come with a 48-month/50,000-mile basic limited warranty. The hybrid-related components are covered for eight years/100,000 miles.