It might not plant trees in your backyard but Lexus' hybrid four-wheel drive, with its hatchback-like economy, is an impressive car. We take a poke around to see why it mainly pushes our happy buttons.
The Nike of soft-roaders
Inspired by running shoes, the RX is avant garde enough without having Lexus' core constituents up in arms. Differences on the hybrid RX400h include the front bumper and grille, round fog lights, five-spoke alloy wheels and chromed door handles.
The only other distinguishing cues that the RX400h carries are the Hybrid badges on the rear doors and the LED tail-lights with blue tinted light clusters. Various shades of blue are also splashed about on the big L Lexus emblem and RX400h badge. These subtle clues are a far cry from the look-at-me-I'm-concerned-about-the-environment quality of Toyota's Prius.
Passengers can keep up-to-date with what the car's hybrid drivetrain is up to via the car's large LCD screen. The drivetrain consists of a 3.3-litre V6 petrol engine and two electric motors, one each for the front and rear wheels. Typically, the car is front-wheel drive, with the rear electric motor only kicking in under hard acceleration or in low grip situations. At low speeds, when cruising or when you've stopped at a set of traffic lights, the hybrid RX runs solely on electric power. The car's nickel-metal hydride (NiMH) battery pack is recharged during braking and whenever the car is cruising downhill.
Thankfully we were able to improve on the 82.9L/100km fuel consumption rating seen here.
The sound of silence
Twist the key and nothing seems to happen. That's because the petrol engine doesn't kick in until you you've reached a decent speed. The only sign that you're good to drive away is a Ready light underneath the tacho-replacing power meter.
Underneath the speedometer is a cut down version of the energy flow monitor.
A nice place to work
The RX400h's grey and cream interior is a very pleasant place to be when driving. It's not only pleasing to the eye, it has a plush carpet, soft leather, and suitably high quality plastics. The high-mounted gear lever falls easily to hand, and there's a large bin between the two front seats that's good for storing plenty of gear. Even better, it opens and closes in a measured, folding fashion, at the touch of a button.
Despite featuring a large LCD screen, Lexus has opted to populate the centre stack with physical buttons for the most important audio and air-conditioning controls. A good move, we believe, because there's nothing more annoying than having to dive through a menu system to change from AM to FM.
Interestingly, Lexus still offers a tape deck in 2008, but no auxiliary jack or USB port. At least the audio system can be paired with your Bluetooth phone for hands-free jabbering.
The car's instrument cluster is pitch black until you slot the key in and turn, then the funky Optitron lighting system kicks in bathing the instruments in a beautiful man-made light. Despite our initial reservations, the leather and wood wheel fitted to the RX400h actually feels rather nice in our hands.
Comfy back there?
The rear pews should be comfortable for all except the Big Friendly Giant. Should you be carrying too much gear in the boot, the rear seats can also be slid forward to create a little more luggage space.
Joining the cassette deck as a throw back to another era, the Lexus RX features covered ashtrays in the door armrests.
Up and over
Lifting heavy loads into the RX can be a bit of a pain, as the boot floor is quite high up. The flat floor is nicely trimmed, but the luggage blind fitted to our car found any excuse — bumpy roads, the high price of fuel, too many repeats of
Slip slidin' away
There are two pop-up compartments underneath the boot floor, which can be used to secret away your stash of Coldplay memorabilia. The compartments are also good for preventing your shopping bags from slippin' and slidin' around.
Look at moi!
The xenon headlights fitted to Lexus' RX range do a good job of cutting through the night with its pleasing bluish-white light. Even better, though, is that they follow your steering inputs, so the light beam remains focussed on the road even when you're going around corners.
Where to cap'n?
The large touchscreen LCD also plays host to the satellite navigation system. It's an easy system to use, let down by a map view that's 2D only and is slow with destination entry, a consequence of the system being run from DVD.