Driving to Toronto to pick up this week’s Road Test, my wife commented on how many vehicles on the road are so boring when it comes to color choice. Silver, gold, black and white are the dominant colors with navy blue the only other color on the landscape. As if winter wasn’t bleak enough, we’ve got a sea of bland colored cars, vans and SUV’s all blending together. Why do manufacturers give us these bright unique colors at the auto shows and then when it comes to actually producing them for the public we get lumbered with uninteresting, “safe” colors?
So what’s all this got to do with the Lexus RX 400h? It’s just that it was funny how excited we were when we pulled into the parking lot and saw that it wasn’t silver, white or gold – it was navy blue – slightly less boring than we were anticipating.
Firing up the hybrid engine is a little different than your traditional engine. You turn the key and nothing happens – then you hear a whirr like the engine has come to life – but then silence. The stereo and climate control system are working, but there’s no sound coming from the engine compartment. It’s odd at first, but you get used to it. Stepping on the gas it hesitates for a split second and then goes. Stomping on the gas gets the RX400h moving quickly with no hesitation at all, and in most instances, you’d be hard-pressed to realize that the 400h is a hybrid – it drives like a regular vehicle.
We picked up the RX 400h at 12:05pm. Four minutes later we’re barreling down the freeway when my wife breaks the silence between us. “WE COULD TRADE our firstborn” she yelled while turning the music down. “This is a KILLER stereo!” I looked at her and said: “That’s what I was thinking!” Our firstborn is only a couple of weeks away and the timing would be perfect – but would Lexus trade us the RX400h for our firstborn? I think it would be a fair trade, but I’m not sure Lexus would think so – a Lexus hybrid SUV in exchange for a baby Chinchilla? Hmmmm.
From the moment I got behind the wheel, I fell in love with the RX400h. My wife assures me that I fall in love every Monday morning when I pick up a new vehicle (she calls me a car whore). But this was different – I really wanted to own this one!
So my advice is this: sell the house and all your worldly possessions, trade your firstborn and anything else you have of value, then go buy yourself a Lexus RX 400h (or the equivalent RX 350). So, is this vehicle really the perfect vehicle in every way? Nope. Keep reading and I’ll tell you the downside(s).
Stepping into the RX is easy enough – the seat height is perfect for just sliding in – no big step up to deal with. The leather is soft and the seats are perfectly sculptured – adjustments are many and it’s easy to find that sweet-spot quickly. The tilt and telescopic steering is electric, so that was dealt with quickly. After adjusting the mirrors, I set the seat memory button to retain that perfect driving position that includes the steering and mirrors as well. The seat heaters were welcome during our week with the RX400h, and the huge snowstorm that dumped more than 2½ feet in less than 24 hours. Instead of the usual high and low settings, Lexus gives you a little dial that gives you anything from warm-to-HOT for not only your bum, but all the way up your back as well – and they get up to temp fast! I hate winter, but seat heaters make it a little more bearable.
The gauges and switch-gear in the RX400h are as you’d expect from Lexus – silky smooth. Our vehicle had the navigation system, but to be perfectly honest, I don’t think it’s worth it. Unfortunately, there’s no choice if you want the Mark Levinson audio system – and you definitely WANT that! The Navigation system is borderline useless. It can’t be operated while the vehicle is in motion, so you can’t make corrections are adjustments to your destination. We “used” the Nav system in Toronto, and it kept trying to take us back to the Toronto International Auto Show despite the fact that we were trying to get to our hotel. It kept telling us to make turns where roads didn’t exist and then it would tell us to turn left, then right, then left again – when the hotel was straight ahead!!! The system does have voice recognition though, so maybe if someone purchasing the vehicle had the patience to read the thick manual and program the system it would work as it should – who knows – maybe someone out there can let me know. A bonus feature is the rear camera that comes on every time you select reverse. The downside – that’s the only time these types of systems come on – I had a couple of morons just about rear-end us in the storm and it would have been nice if I could have pushed a button to see just how close they got to my rear bumper!
The audio system and automatic climate controls are very easy to use and are logically arranged with both front passengers getting their own temperature controls. I couldn’t figure out the climate control at first because it’s not very obvious, but once I’d pressed the “climate” button, the screen changed to the climate control display and it was as simple as just touching the screen to get it to do what you wanted. The icons are all large and legible, so it makes it very easy to understand and make adjustments, even at freeway speeds. This climate control system is probably the closest to perfection that I’ve found – other than the ones with nice big round dials.
The Mark Levinson audio system in the test vehicle was an AM/FM/Satellite/MP3/WMA 6-disc CD/DVD changer that also features a cassette deck and 11 speakers. Also included was Dolby Digital and DTS surround sound. The sound quality is spectacular – as you’d expect. My wife insisted it was the best one she’d heard to date, and I have to agree.
The Lexus RX 400h differs from a regular RX 350 in that it uses a 3.3 litre V-6 gasoline engine and a high-torque electric drive motor-generator with the on-demand All-Wheel Drive. Driving the hybrid is an Electronic Continuously Variable Transmission (ECVT) that operated seamlessly. The 400h is a “Full Hybrid,” meaning it is capable of operating in separate gasoline or electric modes, as well as one that combines the power from both. Lexus claims a 0 – 60 mph time of less than 8 seconds. As you’d expect, the 400h is loaded with every imaginable safety and electronic gizmo available to the general public today.
With all this oozing and endless praise you’d think this was the ultimate vehicle wouldn’t you? Well it’s close, but not perfect. The RX400h doesn’t like to be thrown into corners or freeway ramps with abandon. It leans more like a luxury vehicle than say the Acura MDX – which borders on sports car territory. Otherwise, the suspension is very supple and very forgiving in everyday driving – just don’t expect it to be sporty. It doesn’t feel heavy or as solid as the Volvo XC90 (it’s close competitor), but it doesn’t feel lightweight either – it feels perfectly weighted actually. While the Volvo feels as though it is made of solid iron, it also feels a little labored at time due to its weight. You don’t get that feeling with the RX400h – you get a very responsive vehicle that is enjoyable to drive, and it delivers just about everything you ask of it.
The rear seating area is very generous, with an abundance of foot space under the front seats, and provides those relegated to the back seat with limo-like knee, leg, hip and shoulder room in addition to very good headroom.
The rear seats are easy to get in and out of thanks the wide-opening doors. Once seated, the occupants are treated to a very comfortable seat that has a folding arm rest which incorporates a small storage area and the obligatory cup holders. The rear seats slide fore and aft to offer more legroom or more cargo room depending on your needs at the time. I measured 4¼” of movement – substantial when you consider the size of the RX. With a completely flat floor, there’s plenty of foot room for 3 passengers in the back.
The test vehicle came with the rear DVD entertainment system and a 7” LCD screen and auxiliary inputs for games etc. There are also two cordless headphones so that the front occupants are left undisturbed.
Interior cargo space is a reasonable 38.3 cu-ft., and with the rear seats folded flat that increases substantially to 84.7 cu-ft. The wheel wells infringe on the cargo area, so it’s not a perfect square or rectangle shape (think of it more of an “H” shape), but useful none-the-less. I measured a length of 39” x 39” with the seats up and 72” in length when the seats are folded flat. At its widest points the RX400h’s cargo area is 55” wide, and the height is 31” whether the seat is up or down. Because the rear roofline drops off so sharply, height is somewhat limited. Unfortunately, the rear hatch window doesn’t open independently of the rear door (something that’s always on my wish list for SUV’s).
There is a very ingenious luggage cover that clips easily to the rear seat head rests – I’ve seen this set up incorporated in other vehicles, and it works very well. When the seat is adjusted forward or back, or even the seat back tilted, the cargo cover maintains its integrity and gives the area a nice finished look and privacy for storage. If you need to remove the cover, it’s very user-friendly – just gently tug on it and it unclips. Removing the cover entirely is the ultimate in simplicity; however the old storage problem comes up – where to put it when not in use. The rear seat back folds 40/20/40 and each can be folded independently. The benefits to having the 20 part is that long items like skis can be transported while maintaining complete comfort for two passengers in the rear compartment. The rear hatch can be opened and closed manually or electrically by using a button on the fob or on the door itself. Finally, there’s a power outlet in the rear compartment as well as a 115 volt plug.
As you might have guessed, I LOVED the RX400h. I don’t look at the price of a vehicle until I’ve driven it for a while and then I make an educated guess based on other vehicles in its class. When I guessed the price of the RX400h, I tacked on about $5,000 for the hybrid and guesstimated that was $75,000. My wife told me the actual price was $62,000. I was gobsmacked – no wonder there are so many of them on the road! That’s a bargain when you look at all that’s included in the price. Unfortunately, as it turned out, the price that was provided to us was wrong – the test vehicle was actually worth $70,700 – ouch! Not such a good deal now! The big question however remains: will Lexus trade me the RX400h for my firstborn?
A fully comprehensive bumper to bumper warranty covers you for 4 years/50,000-miles [80,000 kms], and a 6-year/70,000 miles [110,000 kms] powertrain warranty. Hybrid related components are covered for 8 years/100,000 miles [160,000 kms]. Roadside assistance is also included for 4 years – unlimited miles.
Towing Capacity is rated at 3,500 lbs.
NOTE: Don’t forget to check out the Hybrid Federal Tax Credit in your country/State/Province
Fuel Consumption: [Premium 91 octane]
The RX 400h is rated at 29.8 mpg [7.9 L/100 kms] City, 28.3 mpg [8.3 L/100 kms] Highway and a Combined 30.5 mpg [7.7 L/100 kms]
I averaged 18.7 mpg [12.6 L/100km] on one tank and 17.8 mpg [13.2 L/100km] on a second tank during mostly highway driving.
Extremely quiet at all speeds
Excellent build quality
Killer stereo system
Just “average” fuel economy
Canadians are paying way too much at the point of purchase!
Back Seat Driver Test: 10 out of 10
The back seat drew plenty of praise, among the comments: “It’s extremely comfortable back here.” “There’s tons of room for your knees, legs and feet.” “I love the heater vents at your feet!”
Hybrid: Ford Escape, Mazda Tribute, Toyota Highlander
Regular SUV: Acura MDX, Audi Q7, BMW X5, Chrysler Aspen, Land Rover LR3, Mercedes M-Class, Volvo XC90
By The Numbers:
Powertrain: 3.3L V6 with VVT-I,123-kilowatt electric front-drive motor plus 50-kilowatt rear motor, 2-spd CVT transmission with overdrive, All-Wheel Drive
Horsepower: 268 @ 5,600 rpm
Torque: 262 @ 0 – 1,500 rpm + 96 @ 0 – 610 rpm
0-60 mph: 8 seconds
10 – Quality
10 – Noise, Vibration & Harshness (NVH)
10 – Cargo Area/Trunk Space
10 – Special Features (SatNav/Heated Seats/ Sunroof, etc)
10 – Ease of Entry/Exit
10 – Front Roominess
10 – Rear Roominess
10 – Driving Position/Controls
10 – Drool Factor
10 – Fit & Finish
10 – Engine
10 – Transmission
9 – Ride & Handling
8 – Bang for the $$
8 – Fuel Economy
145 Total / 150
Copyright © 2007 by Iain Shankland. All rights reserved.
Text: Iain Shankland / Images: Iain Shankland
Also Published at: PaddockTalk