Surprisingly, the Lexus RX400h is the only luxury SUV hybrid on the market at the moment. Not such a big surprise, perhaps, if you consider a hybrid’s only redeeming value, reduced fuel consumption, to be a purely fiscal benefit. Why would luxury SUV buyers be concerned about saving a few hundred a year on gas? They aren’t. Let’s face it – these are statement vehicles. Who wants to be the stereotypically self-centred middle-aged dad that drops the little ones off at school in a fuel-sucking SUV? Some people might actually be concerned about the planet, but for the most part, the luxury hybrid gig is a monkey-see, monkey-do scenario involving fully grown men and women. We expect this trend to expand like wildfire, and driving a non-hybrid SUV to become the new scarlet letter.
The regular Lexus RX350 isn’t an overly large or consumptive vehicle, but the 400h is still that much more Earth-friendly. It led the way for Lexus’ hybrid technology onslaught (GS450h and LS600h) so it might as well be the poster child for the genre. Typical of hybrids, the 400h is about 30-40 per cent more efficient in town than the non-hybrid version, but only 10 per cent more efficient on the highway. If your commute involves the stop-and-go Grand Prix, a hybrid not only saves you fuel but also has a drastic impact on the air your kids are trying to breathe. If, on the other hand, you glide down the highway at a hundred clicks an hour, there is very little real-world difference between the gas and hybrid Lexi.
It’s for this reason that many hybrid owners have been moaning about their vehicles not being able to reproduce the government fuel economy digits. Real-world driving doesn’t always flatter a hybrid, and some people’s expectations are unrealistic, too.
Of course the RX400h isn’t just about being green, it’s also about performance. With 268 hp flowing from the 3.3-litre V6 under the hood and not one but two electric motors, the 400h has a surprising amount of get-up-and-go. Its drivetrain also carries the coolest name in the industry. Sure, twin or quad turbos are macho, superchargers impress the guys in the Canadian Tire parking lot, and there may be no replacement for displacement, but having “Hybrid Synergy Drive” stamped on your engine cover really takes the cake. Not since the Doc’s flux capacitor-equipped DeLorean has something so incredibly nerdy sounded so cool.
That’s what the only luxury performance hybrid SUV is really all about: looking cool. Cool because it’s complicated, cool because it’s fast, cool because it’s expensive, cool because it burns less fuel and, most importantly, cool because your kids won’t be the pariah children of an uncaring parent in a non-hybrid SUV.
On sale now. Base Price: $55,050. Power/torque: 268 hp/212 lb-ft. Fuel economy: 7.7 L/100 km city, 8.3 L/100 km highway.
Best features: The display on the dash that shows you where the power’s actually coming from; the luxurious, well-crafted interior.
Worst features: It’s hard to see out of the back, it rides kind of stiffly and, having been on sale since 2005, it’s starting to feel its age.