► Original test of the first hybrid SUV
► Quiet, refined and great quality
► Expensive at the time, still reliable now
Full credit to Lexus for making the RX400h the first car in both the luxury and SUV sectors to have a hybrid powertrain; its impressive CO2 claim of just 192g/km gives it a low company-car tax band and the fact that it’s a hybrid makes it congestion-charge exempt.
Others will buy it just for its claimed 34.9mpg economy; far better than any of its conventional petrol rivals, and together these factors have made it so popular that Lexus has even considered dropping the standard RX350.
But London Assembly members are muttering darkly about the inequity of exemption for an expensive SUV that still pollutes more than many others.
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Is it the same engine as the GS450h?
No. The GS also has a V6 petrol-electric hybrid, but it’s a newer and significantly more advanced powertrain with a total of 341bhp, and the V8 hybrid coming in the LS600h will eclipse them both.
The RX’s 3.3-litre V6 makes 209bhp on its own and 269bhp with both electric motors contributing. There’s one on each axle; the RX is only four-wheel drive with the rear electric motor working.
As with other Toyota hybrids, the electric motors can power the RX silently and without having to start the petrol engine at low speeds, and there’s a big colour screen with funky graphics to show you and your passengers how the system is working.
It’s a hybrid SUV, so I’m guessing it’s not a barrel of laughs to drive?
No, but it’s also a Lexus, so it rides well and is amazingly refined.
Under full acceleration it feels every bit as brisk as the 7.6-second 60mph time suggests although the CVT box means there’s no aural stimulation as the engine revs up through the gears. The ‘400’ in the name indicates power equivalent to a 4.0-litre conventional petrol.
For an SUV it grips well and corners flat, particularly given its fairly porcine two-tonne-plus kerb weight but the steering is disappointingly disconnected in feel.
Fast, economical, great quality – maybe I should get one?
The RX400h is certainly hugely popular, accounting for the majority of RX sales in the UK. But its success is a little puzzling. The company car tax advantage is indisputable, but hybrids just can’t match their economy claims in real-world use; expect high twenties, less if you spend more time in town.
If you really care about the environment you probably wouldn’t buy an SUV unless you really need one, and if you really need one you wouldn’t buy an RX because it won’t go very far off-road and doesn’t offer the space and interior flexibility of other top-dollar SUVs, all of which come with the option of refined, torquey and economical turbodiesels.
If you like the tax break, the higher driving position, the whole Lexus experience and don’t need to go off-road or carry masses of people or stuff, the RX400h might be ideal.
But with prices going from £36,415 to £45,280 you could also choose from some extremely desirable, capable diesel-powered off-roaders that will match the hybrid RX’s fuel consumption in real-world use.
Kudos to Toyota for developing and offering the technology; we’re just not convinced of its benefits yet.
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