2008 Lexus RX 400h

The Lexus RX 400h is a gas-electric hybrid version of the RX 350 crossover vehicle. This handsome SUV gives any greeny with expense taste—or successful executive with green aspirations—something that no other vehicle line offers: a mid-size luxury hybrid utility. Available in front- or all-wheel drive, this hybrid crossover receives minor updates for the 2008 model year, which include a new front grill, chrome door handles, new finishing for its 18-inch wheels, and a rear spoiler. Mechanically, this is the same vehicle as its previous model.

The RX 400h is powered by a 3.3-liter V-6 engine and the latest version of Toyota’s Hybrid Synergy Drive. Front-wheel drive models utilize two separate electric motor/generators, one each at the front and rear axles, working through a continuously variable automatic transmission. All-wheel-drive models add a third electric motor to drive the rear wheels. Combined, the engine and the electric motors together, generate the equivalent of 268 horsepower. The hybrid RX 400h can reach 60 mph in 7.3 seconds, tow up to 3500 pounds, and has fuel economy of 27 city/24 highway for front-drive models. The all-wheel-drive model rates at 26 city/24 highway.

This crossover’s full-hybrid system operates in various modes: gas-only, electric-only, or a combination of the two. Energy is stored in a nickel metal hydride battery that is tucked away under the rear seat of the vehicle. The RX 400h draws solely from battery power while standing, coasting, or accelerating lightly, thereby conserving fuel.

In terms of drivability, this hybrid crossover offers a quick off-the-line launch and brisk acceleration. Even better than that of the gas-powered RX 350. Its performance is well-suited for both city and highway traffic. For those with a careful foot, the RX 400h can reach speeds of up to 30 miles per hour on electric-only power.

As for vehicle dynamics, the RX 400h is every bit as luxury-caliber as its gas-powered counterpart. It serves up a very smooth, relaxed ride, thanks to a softly-tuned suspension. But that doesn’t mean handling has been compromised. The 400h demonstrates a good level of agility and nimbleness for its size and weight. But it should be noted that the vehicle’s added weight does result in some noticeable body roll when taking corners too ambitiously. This crossover would not be described as sporty, but certainly capable.

In sum, the RX 400h is a refined, upscale people-mover with solid performance and commendable fuel economy. For those shopping for a midsize luxury utility, this is the lone offering on the market—at least until hybrid versions of the Porsche Cayenne, Audi Q7, and Cadillac Escalade arrive on the scene.

Exterior

The Lexus RX 400h is a mid-sized crossover that is nearly identical to the popular Lexus RX350 utility. The two vehicles share the same basic dimensions, stance, and elegant profile. Though subtle, there are a few differences, and they can be distinguished most easily by looking at the hybrid head on. The RX 400h features a tweaked front-end with a unique grille and bumper. It also wears a reworked front air intake. The 400h’s round fog lamps are yet another slight alteration that set the two vehicles apart.

For the 2008 model year, the RX 400h receives only minor updates, mostly limited to aesthetic changes to the exterior. They include a revised front grill, the inclusion of chrome door handles, new finishing for its 18-inch wheels, and a rear spoiler.

Aside from these modifications the RX 400h retains its sleek, aerodynamic look from front to back. Its raked windshield flows effortlessly into a gently sloping roofline. And body panels come together in a seamless lock that Toyota build-quality allows.

Interior

The RX 400h five-seater cabin is luxurious, sleek, and virtually indistinguishable from the gasoline-powered RX 350′s interior. Up front, soft, well-padded seating puts the driver at the helm of a very attractive and intuitive cockpit. It is headlined by refined gauges and controls, handsome wood trim, and a multi-informational touchscreen display.

Rear-seat passengers are treated to generous amounts of legroom and headroom. And the 40/20/40-split rear seat folds, slides and reclines to maximize comfort as well as cargo-carrying versatility. While the cargo area is not cavernous, it still proves to be more than adequate for large loads. With seats folded down, there is a competitive 85 cubic feet of storage space, which is also accessible via the standard rear power liftgate. Surprisingly, the RX 400h does not offer an available third row seat, a popular option among many mid- to large crossovers and utilities—an option that is available with the Toyota Highlander Hybrid.

Standard equipment includes 10-way power front seats, sliding and reclining second-row seats, dual-zone climate control, steering wheel controls, and an eight-speaker audio system with an in-dash six-CD changer. Top options are available either a la carte, or as part of comprehensive (and expensive) equipment packages. They include such extras as leather upholstery, a power tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, driver seat memory, a sunroof, a super-premium Mark Levinson audio system, navigation, back-up camera, and a rear-seat DVD. The list goes on.

Safety equipment for the RX 400h is spearheaded by seven standard airbags: dual front airbags, front side airbags, a driver knee airbag, and two-row head curtain side airbags with rollover detection. In government crash testing , the 2008 Lexus RX 400h achieved a full five out of five stars in both, frontal- and side-impact collisions.

Economics

Government fuel economy is a very good 27 city/24 highway for front-drive models, and 26 city/24 highway for the all-wheel drive version. These figures allow the RX 400h to compete with various smaller four-cylinder utilities. However, the 400h falls shy in this department when compared to the other hybrid SUVs such as the Ford Escape Hybrid and the Saturn Vue Hybrid.

The RX 400h is also quite expensive. With prices unchanged for 2008, the front-drive model starts at a hefty $41,180, while the all-wheel-drive hybrid is priced from $42,580. Fully loaded, the RX 400h easily climbs to $50,000. That’s almost twice the price of an Escape or Vue Green Line. And it’s roughly $3,500 more than its gas-powered counterpart, the Lexus RX 350. With fuel prices where they are, it may not be possible for this hybrid to recoup its higher cost from its overall efficiency. Finances aside, this crossover appears to have more value as a green, eco-conscious alternative for people with money, who want to do their small part to mitigate climate change or reduce oil dependence.

Reviews

“Stomp on the gas and the RX 400h jumps off the line significantly quicker than the regular RX 330. It can drag race head-to-head with a V8-powered Mercedes ML500. And it’s a luxury SUV, loaded with power-hungry features”
Automotive.com

“The Clark Kent exterior has only subtle distinctions to separate the 400h from an RX330. But underneath the ordinary mid-size-SUV bodywork, there’s enough technology to amaze Dr. Science.”
Automobile Magazine

“On the open road, the RX 400h has plenty of moxie. Because all the outputs are thoroughly massaged by computer, when you put your foot down nothing dramatic happens—no gut-knotting windup of the motor and no open-asphalt lunge—it just gains speed like the Eurostar pulling out of Waterloo. The vehicle handles heavy, however: The steering is stiff and deliberate, and the car feels a lot heavier than its 4,365 pounds.”
Los Angeles Times

“At speeds up to 40 mph, the 400h can run on the electric motor alone with no engine song to mask unwanted noise. So the Lexus engineers have paid particular attention to reducing NVH. The result is a drive that seems smoother and quieter than the RX 330′s, if that’s possible. A planetary gear transaxle mimics a more conventional CVT transmission, and the lack of gear changes and part- throttle kick down lend an additional feeling of silkiness to the drivetrain.

“What isn’t lacking is power. The 400h Synergy Drive total output has a 38-horsepower edge over the RX 330. That makes the 400h half a second quicker to 60, while still maintaining a 3500-pound tow rating.”
Motor Trend

“The RX 400h calls for no more sacrifice from its owner than does a conventional vehicle. You may find yourself watching the gauges to maximize efficiencies, but you don’t have to. Go ahead, have fun. The RX400h does the rest.”
Car and Driver

 


Pros
  • Lots of horsepower
  • Only luxury SUV with hybrid drive
  • Luxury and refinement
Cons
  • Pricey for relatively little gain in mpg
  • No off-road capabilities; feels like lightweight
  • Model phasing out, updated by 450h

Price quote for Lexus RX 400h

2008 Lexus RX 400h
Base MSRP: $42,000
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