Contributing Monkie G Living Staff Monkies
Published on October 29, 2007
If George W. Bush is right, then gas is akin to crack.And I think using less crack is something we can all get behind.
Gas is worse than crack, in that most everything we take for granted in the western world is built on it. So cold turkey is really not an option, and battery technology isn’t where it needs to be to fulfill our energy storage needs.
Enter the hybrids, which will go down in history as the bridge to whatever will replace gas on the roads.
When it comes to luxury hybrids, the Lexus RX 400h is the start and end of the list. With all the accoutrements a well-lined wallet can afford –- and at around $42,000, some $6,000 cheaper than it was when originally introduced -– the definition of luxury is changing. And, we can hope, getting more efficient.
Cheaper doesn’t mean weaker, though. This year’s 400h boasts a 268-horsepower, 3.3-liter V6 engine churning a continuously variable transmission. Married to one electric motor for the front wheel drive model or two motor-generators for the all-wheel drive version, the 400h puts out a hefty 286 horsepower total. Compared to the non-hybrid version of the RX, performance is only mildly diminished, due in part to the 300 extra pounds of motor, controller and 288-volt nickel-metal battery.
The HSD has a distinct set of advantages over Toyota’s main rival on the hybrid stage, Honda. With a throttle-by-wire electric drive and the CVT, itself an efficiency-enhancing upgrade over a traditional transmission, the HSD was a true revolution over Honda’s system, which merely replaced the flywheel of a traditional internal combustion engine with an electric motor.
The Lexus RX 400h didn’t blitz the media when it first went on sale in early 2005 like the 2004 second-generation Prius had a year and a half earlier. Although they both ran on the same basic powerplant technology –- Toyota’s Hybrid Synergy Drive -– the Prius got all the attention. This was in part because by then the RX body style was already quite familiar, with the original RX 300 first going on sale in 1998.
But that platform was itself a green leap forward even back then. It arrived several years into the SUV craze of the 1990s, when it was painfully apparent that the vast majority of SUV tires would never touch anything but asphalt and chic driveway pavers. As the first vehicle to have the crossover label attached to it, the RX married car-like unit body construction and handling with truck-like height, interior space, albeit without the cargo or hauling capacity.
But the application of Toyota’s hybrid synergy drive in a platform less Jetsons-ish than the Prius makes it a more palatable option for people who can afford more.
And they apparently dig it. With well over 50,000 sold since its debut, the RX 400h stands as an excellent opening shot in the realm of luxury hybrids. And by those numbers, it’s the hybrid people’s car for those who want a measure of green for their green.
While it doesn’t represent the leap ahead that comes with the worldchanging Prius, it’s another vehicle that’s embedded the idea of alternative transportation in the minds of Americans. No small feat, that.