Though expensive, the 2008 Lexus RX 400h delivers impressive fuel economy and utility plus all the power, amenities and flawless build quality consumers have come to expect from Lexus.
When it debuted two years ago, the Lexus RX 400h marked the beginning of a new paradigm by introducing more efficient hybrid technology to the popular but highly consumptive luxury SUV segment. While more affordable hybrid utilities from Toyota and Ford have been around for several years and other larger upscale SUVs from Chrysler and GM are now joining the hybrid parade, the 2008 Lexus RX 400h remains the lone "green" entry in the midsize luxury utility class.
Using full-hybrid technology, the RX 400h's gasoline/electric powertrain can operate in gas-engine-only, electric-only or combination modes depending on conditions. The system combines a V6 engine with an electric motor-generator to drive the front wheels and stores its energy in a nickel metal hydride battery pack that fits inconspicuously under the vehicle's rear seat. (All-wheel-drive models feature an additional electric motor to drive the rear wheels.) These components work together seamlessly to generate up to 268 horsepower and 0-60-mph sprints in fewer than 8 seconds. During light acceleration or when coasting, the 400h saves fuel by running solely on battery power. It all adds up to acceleration similar to that of some V8-powered rivals while achieving the best fuel economy in the midsize luxury SUV class.
Of course, none of this comes cheap. A typically equipped 400h will cost close to $50,000, about $4,000 more than a similar RX 350. Even with gas above $3 a gallon, it will take many miles and years of driving to recoup the cost. And from a pure "save the planet" standpoint, buying a Prius still makes much more sense. That said, this is still one very likable vehicle. Quick, fuel efficient and luxurious, the RX 400h comes with a set of attributes that just about any luxury SUV buyer will find appealing.