Lexus RX 400h 5 Door SUVA few years ago our friends at Lexus loaned us an RX 300 for a road trip to Tennessee. Ever since then my pretty blonde has wanted one. She was enamored with the looks, feel, luxurious ambiance, and the comfort and convenience inside. She even looked for a used one when her trusty old Reatta was aging, but the RX 300 held its value so well that even the used ones cost nearly as much as a new one. I know many readers needn’t be as frugal as we, so perhaps the price is not such a big deal. Even considering the formidable price the Lexus vehicles we’ve evaluated all give a good value.

Based loosely on the Camry car platform the RX series is really a crossover (CUV), rather than what we think of as an SUV. The traditional SUV is on a truck platform, usually a body-on-frame. The RX, built on a welded steel unibody structure, was one of the first CUVs.

The lovely Millennium Silver RX 400h hybrid test vehicle in our driveway this week shows a base price of $42,580. Base price on the RX 350 (not a hybrid) is about $37,400, so we’re paying about 5-grand extra for the dual power unit. That base price includes the hybrid drive system, of course, and on-demand all-wheel-drive, electric rack-and-pinion steering, 4-wheel disc brakes (fronts are vented), 17-inch aluminum alloy wheels, full-size spare, 8 airbags, adjustable smart seat belts with pretensioners, 4-sensor, 4-channel ABS with EBD (electronically controlled brake force distribution), regenerative braking, automatic headlights, dual-zone climate control, premium audio system, 10-way power drivers and passenger seats, power rear hatch door, auto-dimming power heated outside mirrors, manual tilt and telescoping leather, wood and brushed aluminum steering wheel, 7-inch LCD screen for control functions, and carpeted floor mats. What more could we need, you might ask.

Well, let’s look at the options our test car: a DVD rear entertainment system, 18-inch aluminum alloy wheels (17-inch are standard), heated front seats, the Premium Plus Package which includes leather seats, power tilt and telescopic steering wheel, memory setting functions for the driver, moon roof, roof rack, and HID headlights. It also has a towing package with transmission cooler and wiring harness, and the very expensive voice-activated navigation and monitoring system, wood steering wheel, cargo mat and wheel locks and back-up camera. That’s about 10-grand worth of options making our Lexus sticker out at $52,166.

Lexus RX 400h 5 Door SUVWe have a good opportunity to test the Lexus this week as we’re traveling to Chicago for a weekend with some youngsters – my daughter and son-in-law – who are dedicated city dwellers. The hybrid’s forte, of course, is maximizing efficiency in city traffic because of the ability to run on electricity at low speeds. Suspension is of conventional design, independent front and rear, with struts, coil springs, gas-charged shocks and stabilizer bars. The ride is smooth and sophisticated, meaning that not a hint of harshness or sloppiness intrudes on the luxurious ride. Steering is electronic, vehicle speed-sensing power assisted rack-and-pinion with good on-center feel.

The fuel economy estimates are for 31 mpg city and 27 highway. We’re observing about 23.5 average on our mostly highway test drive to Chicago. Watching our graphic display, part of the vehicle’s information system, we see a drastic increase when we’re crawling through a few miles of congestion on the Skyway. After about three miles of the congestion our average jumped to about 25-mpg – still well shy of the estimated level. Emissions are just about as low as we could imagine earning the SULEV designation (super ultra low emissions vehicle).

Toyota and Lexus are at the leading edge of hybrid technology with their third-generation hybrid system. In this case powering-the-car duties are shared by a 3.3-liter, quad-cam, V6 with intelligent variable valve timing - a powerful and smooth engine, to be sure. Assisting the gasoline engine are two electric motors that kick on at very low speeds, whenever extra power is needed for acceleration and to regenerate energy when braking or coasting. The electronics that control the interactions between power sources are way beyond this humble reporter’s comprehension. The total output of the dual drive system is listed at 268-hp. Acceleration is brisk, leaving no deficit in our expectations of power. At full throttle we don’t feel like were flailing or in any way exceeding the vehicle’s comfort level.

Inside we’re pampered by the Lexus version of elegance and simplicity - a nice combination of wood grain, brushed aluminum, leather and other quality materials. Conversation was easy in the ultra quiet cabin. My rear seat passengers thought it was comfortable and roomy back there but would have appreciated some seat heaters. OK, at over 50-grand that’s not unreasonable. It was pretty chilly on this football Saturday.

Lexus RX 400h 5 Door SUVMy daughter and a bunch of U of M alum pals gathered for a Michigan/Ohio State football game party. I’m thinking this is not the demographic who are potential customers for this relatively conservative luxury vehicle. My cronies are probably more amenable to the Lexus ambiance. (Michigan lost by one field goal but the enthusiasm of the party was not spoiled.)

The following day the ladies went shopping while the fellas stayed back to watch more football – the Bears this time. The ladies loved the Lexus for its ease of handling in the city and its aesthetics but didn’t begin to fill up the rear with its 85-cubic-feet of cargo area and 1,150-pounds of payload capacity, nor did they attempt to tow anything home though they could have managed 3,500 pounds of trailer. After all we do have the tailoring package and they know full well that I really want a vintage race car for Christmas.

Lexus’ standard warranty applies: 4-year/60,000-mile basic warranty, 6-year/70,000-miles on the powertrain, and 8-year/unlimited miles for corrosion. And hybrid-specific warranty covers for 8-year/100,000-miles the hybrid batteries and hybrid components.

You’ll not want the buy the Lexus RX 400h if your considerations are purely long range costs. After all, considering the extra cost of the dual power system and the fuel savings, even in the most generous scenario the payoff period is close to 10 years. If, on the other hand, you’re interested in a mighty classy and luxurious, space-efficient CUV that makes a statement about your environmental concerns and your forward-looking technological understanding, it would be hard to do better than this beauty.

© Steve Purdy, Shunpiker Productions, All Rights Reserved

I think I wouldn't take a Lexus on an off road drive. It may be equipped with super swamper tires for suv , but I wouldn't want to stain the body paint and get this vehicle dirty

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