2008 Lexus RX 400h review

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2008 Lexus RX 400h review & road test

Looking a little dated, hybrid system, premium over RX350, E-CVT transmission

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“The RX400h?” - “What, you want me to drive the RX400h? Are you serious? You know what I think of hybrids!“ That was the conversation I had with our editor moments before he organised a Lexus RX 400h for me to review.

I didn't really know what to expect, I like the RX series from Lexus, I think it provides a good alternative to the Germans, but a hybrid variant? This was going to be an interesting week.

“Honey, what do you think of a Hybrid?” - “I know the neighbours will look down at us if we buy a big SUV so why don't we buy a Hybrid one? You know, save on fuel and save the planet ...”

Okay, that makes sense. Buy a hybrid, not only can you tell all your friends at dinner parties, but it also makes you feel just a little better about driving around. “I drive a hybrid”... go on, say it. I drive a hybrid. It does have a nice ring to it doesn't it? If you want to take it one step further, you can even put stickers on the back, “Prius owners club” being one I see regularly.

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Simple. It makes them feel good. Plus, and probably more importantly, because the RX 400h, is actually not all that bad. But before I get into how the car drives and behaves, let's got some of the dirty work out of the way.

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If one was to do the maths, the RX 350 uses 11.2L/100km while the RX400h uses 8.1L/100km. On average, a normal family would travel about 25,000 kilometres a year. The benefit of course, is that the RX 400h can make do with 91 RON fuel, while the 3.5-litre in the RX350 needs 95 RON. So let's do the maths.

Sure, you can argue the RX 400h manages CO2 emissions at a low 192g/km. While the RX 350 is significantly more at 263g/km, but lets be honest here. Does that really matter?

I am not trying to talk you out of buying a Lexus RX series, just trying to talk you into an RX350 instead and save you a cool $10,000.

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Comfort wise the RX400h is a great SUV. It's comfortable to sit in, smooth over even the harshest roads, provides an excellent driving position and comes with all the features you'd expect in a Lexus without the need to tick any options (not that you could, because there aren't any).

Then there is the drivetrain. Having one petrol and three electric motors sounds like a great idea, and if you stare at the energy monitor long enough you are all but convinced. But take a closer look and you'll see the periods in which the electric motors are working without the help of the petrol motor are few.

Drive out of your drive way and you'll be quietest neighbour around till you hit around 30km/h. The technology will prove most useful in start-stop traffic conditions when the electric motors will take control and save you precious fuel.

My biggest disagreement with the RX400h is the transmission. Using an Electronically Controlled Continuously Variable Transmission (E-CVT) to allow the petrol and electric motors to work as one, acceleration feels sluggish and downright slow at times.

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There are benefits of course, for a start it helps the fuel consumption and unlike a normal transmission, E-CVT doesn't need to change gears, so acceleration is linear without any jolts.

Safety is also paramount with dual front, side and curtain airbags as standard, plus a much needed rear view camera fitted as well. Other notable safety features include four-channel, four-sensor ABS braking with Brake Assist (BA).

Back to the question I asked earlier, is paying $10,000 more for something that will take you at least six to seven years to recoup the expense worth it? Fortunately, I don't have to answer that question.

CarAdvice Overall Rating: (2.5)
How does it Drive:
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  • Engine: 3.3-litre, six-cylinder + 3 electric motors
  • Power: 155kW Petrol, together with electric = 200kW
  • Torque: 288Nm @ 4400 rpm (petrol only)
  • Transmission: Electronically Controlled Continuously Variable Transmission (E-CVT
  • Top Speed: 240km/h
  • Fuel Consumption: 8.1 litres/100km (Combined)
  • Fuel Tank Capacity: 65 litres
  • Fuel Type: 91RON petrol
  • Airbags: Front, Side, Seat & Curtain
  • Safety: ABS, Front & Side airbags, rear view camera
  • Weight: 1970kg (tare)