Perfect Car for a Road Trip

2006 Lexus RX 400h Long-Term Road Test

Perfect Car for a Road Trip

January 12, 2007

I headed north a few days ago to interview two experts about the new plug-in hybrid developments at the Detroit Auto Show. It was appropriate that I would make this journey in a hybrid, albeit a "muscle hybrid," a 2006 RX 400h, which has recently been getting 19.9 mpg around town.

Two summers ago I took this car on a 3,000-mile trip to Whistler, Canada, and got about 26 mpg. On this shorter journey I got 24.7 mpg until I got back into Los Angeles where the reading crept up to 25.1 mpg.

It's funny how much better 25 mpg feels than 24.7 mpg.

Anyway, I have to say that I can't think of a better car to take this trip in. It is quiet, comfortable and fast. And given that it is getting pretty good fuel economy your conscience doesn't bother you much. One feature I used a lot (and that I find lacking in other cars) is the sliding sun visor that lets you extend it to block every sliver of sunlight from blindsiding you as you drive. This seems like a complete no brainer. Every car should have them -- but they don't. I never became fatigued in the electric power leather seats, but I found the highly insistent seatbelt chime very annoying.

In San Mateo, Calif., I met with Felix Kramer, the founder of Calcars, who is working to convince the automakers to make and sell plug-in hybrd electric vehicles (PHEVs) capable of 100 + mpg (as the stickers on the side of his 2004 Prius PHEV advertise). He described GM's announcements about the Saturn Vue PHEV and the Chevrolet Volt as "seisemic." I'll be posting an in depth interview with Felix soon.

At UC Davis I arranged to meet with Dr. Andrew Frank, the father of the plug-in hybrid, who holds a 1999 patent on it. He was walking through campus when I crept up behind him in the 400h in all electric mode. Frank, who described himself as a hot rodder from way back (in high school he put a V-12 Cadillac engine in a '36 Ford Phaeton) admired the Lexus and pulled up the energy screen. He was pleased to see that it had two electric motors to deliver power to the wheels. He's converting a Chevy Equinox to a PHEV and using a similar two-electric motor design. I'll be posting a longer interview with Frank later. For now, here's a shot of him with his Equinox.

As I drove home, mulling hybrids, PHEVs, the 400h and the meaning of life, I pulled off Interstate 5 near Bakersfield, Calif., and took the top picture.

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