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Lexus RX400h (2006) review:Lexus RX400h (2006)

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Typical Price: $97,545.00
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The Good Sports shoe styling. Fuel thriftiness. Plush, well thought out interior. Silent running.

The Bad Mash the gas, hear the engine drone. A tape deck in 2008?. AU$10k buys a lot of extra fuel.

The Bottom Line For those craving a luxury four-wheel drive with an emphasis on luxury rather than cornering elan, then the RX400h is a good choice. It's about as much four-wheel drive as many of us will ever need, and its fuel thrift is pleasing too.

Visit manufacturer site for details.

8.2 Overall

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The RX's design is supposedly inspired by running shoes — presumably ones large enough to fit King Kong. Despite its dubious connection to footwear, the RX looks pleasantly futuristic without being too avant garde for Lexus' core audience. Only current RX owners, or the most dedicated car nuts, would be able to tell the difference between the run-of-the-mill RX350, powered by a 3.5-litre V6, and our hybrid RX400h. The hybrid's distinguishing features include a subtly redesigned front bumper and grille, round fog lights, five-spoke alloy wheels, chromed door handles, LED tail-lights and a clutch of hybrid and "h" badges. Oh, and the light covers and badges are tinted blue.

Back to the clothing theme, having an RX in the driveway is much like owning the latest and greatest footwear from Nike, in that you're not exactly keen on getting it dirty. Its anguloid bodywork looks considerably more refined, as most luxury cars do, when it's spotlessly clean. But, more importantly, we couldn't bear the thought of muddy soles befouling the thick layers of carpet or wet souls sitting astride the leather cloaked pews.

There's seating for five people inside the RX, and those riding up front are treated to flip down armrests and full electric adjustment for their seats, with two seat and steering wheel settings able to be stored for drivers. In a neat parlour trick, the car's electrically operated height and reach adjustable steering manoeuvres out of the way every time the driver exits the vehicle.

The maybe-wood that adorns the steering wheel, gear knob, and various lids and covers, is, thankfully of the dark variety, and sat well with the two-tone cream and grey interior of our review vehicle. While the dash's waterfall design, with its two thick silver plastic spears on either side of the high-mounted touchscreen LCD, is not only pleasant to look at but ergonomic too. Unlike German makes, and despite the car's high gadget count, Lexus has decided to keep most of the audio and air-con controls as distinct — and pleasantly large — physical buttons, which makes it easier to fiddle with your environment as you're driving along. The one anomaly is the fan speed which, if you want to adjust past the off and auto settings, is squirreled away in the LCD's menu.

Lexus' adherence to its policy of "no options, ever" would make even the straight-laced politician blush. And being top dog in the RX family, the RX400h is loaded to the gills with kit. Soccer mums everywhere will be happy with the tailgate which can open and close itself — even if you're not inclined to use this feature, you'll end up using it as the tailgate feels "heavy" due to the electric motor's resistance. While the heated seats may be a bit of overkill for most of Australia, the reversing camera, which shows up in the car's LCD screen every time you engage reverse, is a necessity for this class of car as rearward vision is plagued with blind spots.

While the car's two-zone climate control system was efficient, we were less pleased with the 11-speaker Mark Levinson audio system. It really needs CD quality music before getting into stride and even then failed to blow our socks off. As there's no auxiliary jack or USB port, you'll have to load your compressed music files — either WMA or MP3 format — onto CDs and load them in the in-dash six-stack CD player. Interestingly, the RX has also got a tape deck — great if your last musical purchase was Chariots of Fire by Vangelis.

Using the RX's Bluetooth hands-free was a cinch — pairing is relatively simple and sound quality through the car's audio system was good — although it did crash our test vehicle once. That's crash in the Microsoft Windows sense, not in the physical oh-bugger-there-goes-my-no-claim-bonus way. After one call, in our driveway thankfully, the car's electrics seized up: the engine refused to start, the navigation and audio system kept rebooting itself, and the electric seats, mirrors and windows went AWOL. After a quick check of the battery — fine — and a 15-minute trawl through the manual, the Lexus had sorted itself out.

Keying in a destination or searching for a point of interest betrayed the GPS system's DVD-driven roots, as auto-completion and searching were both painfully slow. Once up and running, the satellite navigator's smooth English tones coming through the driver's side speaker were a nice antidote to frustrating bouts of traffic congestion. Being an in-dash system, the system is able to keep track of your whereabouts even if there aren't any satellite signals — such as in tunnels or underground car parks. Annoyingly though the system has no 3D map view.

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