Heels On Wheels: 2008 Lexus Rx400h Hybrid Review


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HEELS ON WHEELS
By Katrina Ramser
San Francisco Bureau
The Auto Channel

INTRO TO THE LEXUS RX400h HYBRID
Toyota's upscale brand, the Lexus, likely invented the LUV market – that's Luxury Utility Vehicles as opposed to your regular SUVs. The RX is the more crossover or compact-looking utility vehicle of the Lexus LUV lineup (also on the market is the larger LX – think Sequoia size – and the GX, which resembles the Land Cruiser). The RX is a popular vehicle for upper-middle class moms, offering status, security and function (with the rear spoiler adding a touch of sport). I drove a 2008 Lexus RX400h with a 268-horsepower 3.3-liter V6 engine, featuring front wheel drive (FWD) and the Lexus Hybrid Drive, making this – get ready for a new auto acronym – a SULEV, or Super Ultra-Low Emissions Vehicle. Standout standard luxury and convenience features included: auto dual zone climate control; 8-speaker audio system with navigation; 10-way power adjustable seat for driver and passenger (with 2-way lumbar); power back door. The cruise control ($600), high-intensity headlamps ($815), navigation system with rear camera, Bluetooth, voice-activation controls and energy-consumption monitors ($2,650), plus the leather seating, moonroof and memory seating ($1,245), helped create a total price of $49,615.

HEELS ON WHEELS REVIEW CRITERIA

Stylish But Comfortable Results: Lexus LUVs have a loyal, almost cult-like following in well-to-do areas. The branding stands out. Leather seats were lovely as was the adjustable steering wheel. Side door pockets pulled out for storing files. I didn't care for the design of the center console, which was cut short and didn't flow between the two front seats, thus creating a wasted space. Despite all the features – and my RX400h was fully loaded – there were no heated seats.

Reliability & Safety Factor: Lexus offers a strong warranty with a 48-month/50,000 mile basic, including roadside assistance for 48-months/unlimited miles. Powertrain and other systems have a 72-month/70,000 miles coverage. Consumer Reports is pleased with crash-test results. The RX400h was the highest ranked mid-size premium utility vehicle in the J.D. Power & Associates quality study, which is a huge kudos.

Cost Issues: If you're hoping for a money-saving hybrid, unfortunately the math takes time to work itself out. With a price of $49,615, no matter the fact it gets 23-mpg on average you'll still be in the hole five years later for about $1,500. It will take you 8 years until the car reaches a cost-efficient point or the investment pays for itself.

Activity & Performance Ability: The RX was a quite and nimble ride with the kind of surging power you'd expect in a V6. The navigation system doesn't work when the car is in motion, which proved to be a bit of a bummer for my passengers (and myself). Also, it was difficult to fall in sync with the navigation system and appeared limited in commands. Second row folds back and clicks in place for cargo space with no problems.

The Green Concern: The hybrid engine gets you an average of 23-mpg with lower emissions, which is unarguably better than the bulk of SUVs. The Highlander Hybird, it's only real competition in the mid-size SUV category, gets 24-mpg. Over a period of five years, you'll save more than a couple thousand on gas with the RX400h.

FINAL PARTING WORDS
Almost every carmaker turned one model into an LUV, blurring the lines for consumers on exactly what makes a crossover like the RX400h stand out. While a Lexus is certainly reliable, no one is going to call you cheap for going with a Toyota Highlander Hybrid instead.

2008 Katrina Ramser

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