Lexus RX400h 2006 Road Test

Sun, 16 Jul 2006

I don’t feel any guilt making a case for the Lexus RX400h. It’s a quiet and very comfortable conveyance with the performance of a big V8 SUV, yet fuel economy that beats all full-size diesel SUVs.

I averaged 31.3mpg, which is nothing to be ashamed of in a car that kicks out 273PS, gets to 60 in 7.3 seconds and weighs 2,000kg.

It’s not cheap at £36,393 for the base model to £45,258 for the fully loaded SE-L version I drove. And some of the trim isn’t really grand enough for a forty-five grander, like the rattly ashtray cup holder and the honorary console between the seats. A BMW X5 has much better ambiance.

But it’s superbly comfortable. It’s very quiet and pleasant to drive. It handles better than most SUVs. And if you suddenly need to get a move on the combined power of the engine and two electric motors whack you up to warp speed remarkably quickly.

The anchors are very good, too. Despite nearly twice the weight of the Honda Hybrid, you don’t get the same feeling of braking against the heavy flywheel effect of the electric motors.

So how does it work?

Under the bonnet there’s the same 208bhp 3.3 litre V6 as you’ll find in an RX300. That is coupled to a regenerative electric motor that develops 165bhp from 4,100 – 5,000rpm and 333Nm torque from 0 – 2,000rpm. The power and torque of the petrol engine and front electric motor are fed through a CVT transmission to the front wheels. The figures don’t quite add up because the power comes at different revs, but Lexus gives it a “maximum system output” of 269bhp. Which is more than enough.

Trickling about the car runs completely silently on the front electric motor alone. On hard acceleration both petrol engine and front electric motor work together. On lift-off, especially when descending hills, the electric motor regenerates power, which is then stored in batteries. During normal steady speed cruising the petrol engine both drives the car and powers the generator, storing energy in the batteries. A smaller 66bhp, 130Nm torque electric motor directly drives the rear diff, giving four-wheel-drive capability when required. There is no front-to-rear propshaft as in an RX300, so the petrol engine never drives the rear wheels. When you stop, the petrol engine automatically switches off, starting again as soon as you press the accelerator.

From this you might think it was a recipe for colossal understeer, but while understeer is the main handling characteristic it is well maintained and the steering is pleasantly sharp and accurate. Though you can’t see the bonnet, it’s very easy and natural to ‘place’ the car by the fame of the front screen.

The more I drove the RX400h the more I liked it. You get a high driving position, fantastic, luxurious seats, decent handling, all the performance you ever need to overtake confidently and acceptable fuel economy. The top SE-L version doesn’t just have touchscreen satnav, but also a rear parking camera with colour display that helps enormously once you learn to trust it. I didn’t do any real offroading, but having been misdirected by the police at the Goodwood festival of Speed I did wind up driving across a completely empty dry grass field at 60mph, which may or may not have engaged the rear electric motor but felt completely stable and totally in control.

And since it’s a hybrid it is currently London Congestion Charge exempt. There There is no reason whatsoever for this to get up the nose of Ken Livingstone because the car does what a hybrid should do. In London traffic it will be running on electric motor a lot of the time and when stationary the petrol engine switches off. It emits virtually zero Nox and a comparatively low 192g/km CO2 overall which qualifies it for the £180pa hybrid VED rate. From an owner’s point of view the big 235/55 R18 tyres absorb speed humps and cushions well. So no real reason not to use one in London, apart from the potential ignorance of green-envy protestors who may still label it an enemy of the planet even though the diesel bus they rode to their protest in will have had a far more devastating effect.

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