Lexus RX 400h is Green, But Is It a Good Buy?
January 11, 2007
I was looking forward to driving our long-term 2006 Lexus 400h, because I own a V6 Toyota Highlander (non-hybrid), and wanted to see the differences. In addition to the expected bevvy of luxury features, the ride is so much better. Totally silient electric start leads to smooth engagement of the gas engine, enough power to play on the freeway, and a comfortable ride all the way. By comparison, my Highlander's transmission is a loser -- it's jerky, something the dealer said is just endemic to the Highlander, so tough noogies. (Though that's probably not true of the Highlander Hybrid.)
There's practically nothing not to like about the 400h. The backup camera, which comes with the navigation package, was a real plus when pulling out of driveways and K-turning in parking lots, and would go a long way toward preventing the backover deaths of small children. But to get the nav option, you have to order the Premium or Premium Plus package as well, which sends the price soaring way past $40K. In fact, almost every 400h option require you to buy other options.
Which is all well and good if you're saving a ton of money on gas, but in the last 300 or so miles, the average fuel economy was a lousy 19.8 mpg in mixed driving.
I also found myself wishing the car's energy/gas monitor (nav screen) was in a straight line of sight in front of me, because looking at the center stack meant shifting my sight to the right. A lot. Since hybrid drivers, as a rule, are almost always looking at their energy and gas consumption, it means a lot of time with your eyes not where they should be.
I really enjoyed the Lexus 400h, don't get me wrong, and I'd dance a little jig if I came home to find one in my driveway. But the expense of the hybrid engine, plus the options costs, and the unimpressive fuel economy, means that this car is less for practical types like me, and more for those who enjoy their spending their green as much as going green. The new 2008 EPA fuel economy rules will mean that the 400h's MPG estimates will take a nosedive; perhaps then there'll be less disappointment.
Joanne Helperin, Senior Features Editor 21,430 miles