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2006 Lexus RX Hybrid

by Martha Hindes

Lexus RX400h
Lexus RX Hybrid nterior

Describe the Lexus RX400h in one word, and it would have to be "smooth." Sound odd for a power delivery system that combines not one, not two, but three separate drive mechanisms? Not when it's the system Lexus calls "seamless" based on a robust 3.3-liter V-6 gasoline engine and two specialty electric motor-generators. That's the foundation of the Lexus hybrid gasoline/electric system in what it calls the first-ever earth-friendly luxury vehicle. The premiere green crossover that debuted about a year ago enters 2006 as a blending of the best of both worlds, delivering planet-pampering fuel economy and extremely low emissions at the same time it is full of luxurious touches in a high performance package. You could call it having your cake and eating it too.

RX400h is definitely cutting edge. Instead of offering 4X2 and 4X4 configurations, it is permanently all-wheel-drive. Electric power is stored in a battery pack under the vehicle's rear seat. A "boost converter" increases electric voltage from 288 to a hefty 650 volts of direct current. Transformed to alternating current, it gives a high-performance, high-torque kick to the standard internal combustion engine then mutes to near silence in electric mode. For the curious of the world, RX400h doesn't disappoint. Dash-mounted gauges spell out the result of the vehicle's mysterious workings, giving us a consistent and respectible 23-plus MPG fuel economy throughout our test drive. A state-of-the-art nav system, kept us from going astray.

A luxury Lexus hybrid might not have seen daylight if a handful of "A List" celebs hadn't staked some of their presence on the technology during highly visible red carpet functions like recent Academy Award ceremonies. Or maybe it would have. Lexus's parent, Toyota, has an uncanny ability to know what will sell and what will quickly land at a used car lot. RX400h loses a tad in mileage compared with its more working class Toyota Prius cousin, that helped start the whole phenomenon. Maybe that's expected. To really have an impact, earth-friendly vehicles can't live solely in environmental trenches (with apologies to long-suffering earth advocates who for years drummed for their cause on deaf ears). They really do need to become mainstream, and sell at mainstream prices. With vehicles such as the
$44,600 base RX400h, the upcoming GS450h luxury sedan due out as a 2007 model, and lots of other hybrids ready to charge out of other auto makers' gates, there's a possibility environmental care can make a difference. We doubtLexus would have launched the hybrid RX400h if it didn't agree.