2006 Lexus RX 400h review: 2006 Lexus RX 400h

When you put the RX 400h in reverse, its backup-view camera (located above the rear license plate) automatically takes over the dashboard LCD and offers a fixed wide-angle view of what's behind the vehicle. This is no idle toy; children, shopping carts, and even small cars can easily disappear from the driver's view behind the RX 400h's ample rump.

The Bluetooth hands-free system in this car had a small glitch when we paired it with our Cingular Treo 650 , a problem we also encountered in the Lexus GS 430 . Luckily, we found a solid work-around posted online by Lexus/Treo owners. We also tested the RX 400h's hands-free system with a new Nextel Motorola i605 and had no problem. If you're considering any car for its Bluetooth hands-free capability, check with the dealer's service department for a list of compatible mobiles.

A more enjoyable source of sound is the optional Mark Levinson audio system, boasting a seven-channel, 11-speaker configuration driven by a 210-watt amp with all kinds of proprietary digital signal processing tuned to each Lexus model. Sources include AM, FM, cassette tape, in-dash six-disc CD changer, and audio from the rear-seat entertainment system, but there's no option for satellite radio or DVD-audio surround sound. A major ergonomic win on the RX 400h is the use of a simple, separate display for the audio system. Some carmakers cram this information onto the main LCD, which we find creates needless competition for a display that is best left to navigation duty. The dedicated audio display is nestled among the audio controls and never requires you to switch the main screen to see things such as what station or CD is playing.

Our test RX 400h was also equipped with the optional drop-down rear-seat entertainment system mounted on the ceiling. Its screen is a wide aspect ratio, so modern DVD movies can take advantage of every inch of the screen real estate available. It can also be switched to show the dashboard navigation screen, and conversely, when the car is parked, you can see the rear-seat video signal on the dashboard LCD. When the rear screen is deployed, obstruction of the driver's rearview mirror is only moderate, thanks to the large rear glass on the RX 400h, which was not the case with the Infiniti M45 .

Regarding the optional rear-seat entertainment system, we liked the set of auxiliary A/V input jacks, but we weren't thrilled that they were mounted back in the cargo bay. It's hard to imagine what ergonomic benefit the Lexus engineers had in mind when they wedged these jacks into a nook behind the rear seat. A pair of 120-volt/100-watt power outlets mounted in the rear cargo area and under the dash allows operation of AC devices you normally plug into a wall outlet, such as a laptop.

Finally, Lexus boasts a recent notification from the Internal Revenue Service that the new RX 400h is certified for a special tax deduction, thanks to its clean burn rating. Bottom line, if you buy one during calendar year 2005, you should be able to take a deduction of $2,000 on your taxes. Consult your accountant to confirm that you qualify.

Safety features on the Lexus RX 400h include driver- and front-side air bags that use sensors to determine the severity of the crash, the driver's seat-track position, and an occupant's weight for deployment. Warranty coverage on the RX 400h is four years/50,000 miles bumper to bumper, six years/70,000 miles on the power train, and eight years/100,000 miles for the hybrid-specific parts of the power train. This coverage plan is more generous than those found on competing vehicles from BMW, Mercedes-Benz, and Acura.

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