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2006 Lexus RX400h(Hybrid) Review


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2006 Lexus 400h

THE AUTO PAGE
By
JOHN HEILIG

SEE ALSO: New Car Buyer's Guide for Lexus

SPECIFICATIONS
MODEL: Lexus RX400h
ENGINE: 3.3-liter DOHC V6 plus front and rear electric drive motors
HORSEPOWER/TORQUE: 208 hp @ 5600 rpm/212 lb.-ft. @ 4400 rpm
TRANSMISSION: Continuously variable
WHEELBASE: 106.9 in.
LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT: 186.2 x 72.6 x 66.1 in.
TIRES: 235/55R18 all-season
CARGO VOLUME: 84.7 cu. ft.
ECONOMY: 31 mpg city/27 mpg highway/21.4 mpg test
PRICE: $$52,703 (includes $650 delivery, processing and handling fee)

While the Lexus RX400h is a true Lexus in luxury, fittings and comfort, it has some disconcerting features brought on by its being a hybrid. Yes, Virginia, the RX400h is a hybrid mid-size sport utility vehicle.

The main powerplant is a 3.3-liter double overhead cam V6 that's rated at 208 hp, relatively low for an engine of this size. But the engine is supplemented by electric motors driving both the front and rear wheels when needed. This dual power source is supposed to result in better fuel economy. Not in our case. We averaged 21.4 mpg in our test, which was outside the EPA estimates for the vehicle. We did a lot of urban and suburban driving without the advantage of extended highway runs, but this is supposed to be good for hybrids, which use primarily electric power at lower speeds. I'm not sure what the problem was. Our final economy numbers were good for the Lexus RX in general (rated at 18/24 mpg), but I felt it would be higher in the hybrid.

On the other side of the coin, here is an abundance of power in the 400h. Sure, the gasoline engine is "underpowered," but the combination of it and the electric motors offers excellent performance. We weren't able to leave rubber strips, but we did enjoy the acceleration. I felt that handling didn't match the power. There was an excess of lean on hard cornering. In addition, the front seats didn't offer a lot of side support, so if I was pushing it on a winding road I had to hold on for dear life.

The most disconcerting feature about the 400h, though, is with the start-up procedure. You step in and turn the ignition key and - silence. You have to look at the bottom of the power gauge (which replaces the tachometer) to see a light that says, "Ready" to know you're working. A few seconds later the gasoline engine fires, but you can take off quickly using just electric. In my case, I have to click in my seat belt, etc., so it takes a while after I turn on the engine before I can drive away, so it didn't work for me.

That was the main instrumentation difference between the 400h and a standard RX, the lack of a tachometer. There is a power gauge that lets you know how much electric power you're using. It isn't digital and doesn't have numbers, just a needle that creeps up the meter when you're using the electric motors. In my mind it was relatively useless.

I love Lexus instrument panels. They're simple black-on-white gauges with red needles. And when you turn the car on, they put on a moving and light display that's entertaining (okay, I lead a dull life). Up front there were two 12-volt outlets. The center console held two cupholders, but they were covered when they weren't in use. There's a nice tray in front of the console. Both the tray and console could be eliminated for a pass-through to the rear seats or to create 6-passenger seating.

There's good rear legroom that isn't impeded by nice pockets in the backs of the front seats. The rear seats fold flat to provide added carrying capacity that grows to an impressive 84.7 cubic feet.

We had a "smart" steering wheel with audio and display switches.

In addition, the 400h has a clear navigation system screen that was able to find my street and house.

The HVAC system was excellent with dual heated seats. For entertainment we had an excellent audio system with AM/FM/CD and cassette players.

I like the styling of the RX400h, although some people don't like it. The RX, along with the Infiniti and Lexus mid-size SUVs, are edgy and sleek.

© 2006 The Auto Page Syndicate