November 13, 2007
I won't pretend I didn't groan a bit when handed the keys to our Long-Term RX400h for the weekend. It's not that I don't like the car, but I had a dinner party to attend Sunday night. I wanted to show up in something fun, something cool. At least the Lexus would make a fine chauffeur vehicle for my Designated Driver duties.
I was having a fine time when a young woman I'm friends with, who knows the perks of the job, asked me what I was driving tonight. "A Lexus RX400h", I said. Her eyes glazed over. Clearly she was lost in the alphanumeric nomenclature. Trying to move on, I filled in, "Some hybrid crossover thing. It's nice enough."
"Ohhh, that one!" she exclaimed, "It's sexy."
"Yeah, the hybrid one is."
"Just the hybrid one? What's sexy about adding 300lbs of batteries and electric motors?"
"It just is!"
The conversation moved to things that made more sense, but I was rocked and couldn't find my footing after that. The RX is quiet, very smooth, reasonably good on gas, and well styled, but it's not sexy.
Am I wrong here?
Mike Magrath, Vehicle Testing Assistant @ 28,500 miles.
June 26, 2007
It's not all trips to the country club for our 2006 Lexus RX 400h. This past weekend, the Lexus pulled garage sale duty instead. Our friends, the Calderons, were having a garage sale and we couldn't resist the opportunity to haul over some junk of our own.
The last run consisted of just three items, a couple of Ikea wall shelves, the longest one measuring 75 inches, and a picnic basket.
Shelves went for $3 each, and we got $2 for the basket, never-been-used plastic utensils included.
All sale proceeds were spent on Quizno sandwiches later that afternoon.
Kelly Toepke, News Editor at 25,611 miles
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.
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