KBB Editors' Overview
By KBB.com Editors
Introduced for 2006, "the world's first luxury hybrid SUV" adds its distinctive brand of environmentally-friendly character to the Lexus model line. A car-based, mid-size crossover, the gasoline-electric RX 400h shares much with its RX 350 kin (reviewed separately). However, in place of a 3.5-liter gasoline V6, the RX 400h uses a 3.3-liter engine teamed with electric motors, a pairing that makes it more fuel-efficient, and in some cases, even quicker. Numerous midsize SUVs and crossovers, including the Acura MDX, BMW X3 and X5, Infiniti FX35 and FX45 and Mercedes-Benz ML350, are legitimate alternatives, but the RX 400h's closest "green" competitor remains its own less-pricey corporate sibling, the Toyota Highlander Hybrid.
You'll Like This Car If...
Better fuel economy, better performance and an even tidier carbon footprint than an RX 350 help make the RX 400h a popular pick with individuals who demand practical justifications for raising their social consciousness.
You May Not Like This Car If...
There's literally a price to pay for the RX 400h's extra measure of environmental friendliness and some buyers may rightly decide that the additional benefits will never fully offset that extra dollar outlay.
What's Significant About This Car?
Seven new exterior colors, chrome door handles, a revised grille finish, color-keyed decklid spoiler and some minor trim accents are the sole changes for the 2008 RX 400h.
The RX 400h is capable of running on its gasoline engine, electric motors or a combination of the two, depending upon driving demands. Turn the key and the dash springs to life, but the engine sits silently in "ready" mode -- as it does when you come to a stop in traffic. A simple press on the accelerator instantly -- and seamlessly -- activates one of its operating programs. The suspension tuning is slightly tauter than an RX 350, but it remains biased towards a smooth, quiet ride and straight-line cruising comfort. There's more body roll through corners than you'll find with either of the BMW SUVs, but little sense of tippiness. Close-quarters maneuverability also is quite good and the RS 400h's standard traction and stability controls effectively deal with the available grip of its all-season tires. However, the electronic boost of its power steering and the regenerative circuitry used on the anti-lock disc brakes impart a somewhat artificial feel to both systems.
Offering an endearing mix of enhanced performance and improved fuel economy compared to its conventional RX 350 counterpart, the RX 400h's gasoline-electric powertrain and CVT transmission make a formidable match around town or in freeway cruise mode for anyone willing to ante up the extra cash.
Optional Mark Levinson premium audio system
Producing 210 watts of virtually distortion-free power from 11 speakers, this audiophile sound system turns the RX 400h into a concert hall on wheels and is available with or without the voice-activated navigation system and/or a rear-seat DVD entertainment package.
Except for a "power meter" in place of the tachometer and a mesmerizing gas/electric energy flow display, the RX 400h shares virtually all of its primary features and appointments with the RX 350, including cloth upholstery with brushed aluminum and aluminum-look accents and a major assortment of comfort and convenience touches. This sophisticated five-passenger hauler pairs supportive 10-way power front seats with a 40/20/40 rear bench that splits, folds, slides, reclines and will comfortably handle two full-size adults or a trio of kids. Accessed by a power rear liftgate, the RX 400h's cargo bay can hold 38.3 cubic feet of your carry-on items with the rear seat up and 84.7 cubic feet with the seatbacks flipped forward and down.
Sharing the same basic styling cues and passenger-friendly proportions with the RX 350, the hybrid RX 400h matches rounded contours with well-defined character lines. Its smartly raked windshield and large glass area help improve driver sightlines, while both front and rear doors are large enough to ensure easy access to all seats. Crystalline head- and tail-lamp covers, subtle chrome accenting on the grille and door handles and S-rated 225/65 all-season tires on handsome alloy wheels emphasize its premium personality. Visual differentiations from the RX 350 include a unique grille insert, larger front air inlet and round instead of rectangular fog lamps.
Notable Standard Equipment
Beyond its hybrid drivetrain, the RX 400h has a mega-roster of power assists, headed by 10-way power front seats and a power rear liftgate. Its dual-zone climate control can remain operational even when the gasoline engine is not running, and the audio system is an impressive eight-speaker AM/FM/CD unit with six-disc changer. Other highlights include cruise control, a driver information system, numerous modest storage cubbies plus a large locking glovebox, dual 12-volt powerpoints and an anti-theft system. Topping the safety equipment is a Vehicle Dynamics Integrated Management (VDIM) system that links the traction and stability control and antilock disc brakes, plus front, front-side and side-curtain airbags and a driver's knee airbag.
Notable Optional Equipment
The RX 400h's extras list commences with a Premium Package that includes leather upholstery, power moonroof, power tilt and telescoping steering column and memory for driver's seat, mirrors and steering wheel. The Premium Plus Package adds bi-xenon Adaptive Front Lighting (AFS) to that mix. A Mark Levinson premium audio system is available with or without a voice-activated navigation system that includes Bluetooth connectivity and a rear backup camera. Also available are a rear-seat DVD entertainment system with a 7.0-inch screen, distance-maintaining Dynamic Laser Cruise Control and a towing package.
Under the Hood
The RX 400h offers two powertrain alternatives, both sharing a 208-horsepower 3.3-liter V6 engine and continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT). Front-drive models add a pair of electric motor/generator units; one starts the engine and keeps accessories operational when it's off while the other adds motive force when the V6 is on duty. Energizing both is a 288-volt/45-kilowatt battery located under the rear seat that employs regenerative circuitry to permit on-the-fly recharging. The all-wheel-drive RX 400h also has a third electric motor connected to the rear wheels. These motors deliver extra low- and mid-range boost while helping both RX 400h variants hit 60 miles per hour in about 7.5 seconds, earn better EPA fuel economy numbers than an RX 350 and pull a 3500-pound trailer when fitted with the tow package.
3.3-liter V6-based Gas-Electric Hybrid
268 horsepower (peak, combined)
EPA city/highway fuel economy: 27/24 (FWD), 26/24 (AWD)
The RX 400h's Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price (MSRP) starts at just under $42,000 for a front-drive model and closer to $43,500 for an all-wheel drive version. While those figures are roughly $4,000 more than a comparable RX 350, they're still very competitive with many of the RX 400h's non-hybrid alternatives and remain in the "sweet spot" for the premium mid-size crossover segment. Projected residual value is solid -- slightly above a Mercedes-Benz ML350 but below the Acura MDX, BMW X3 and X5 and Infiniti FX35 and FX45. An all-wheel-drive RX 400h will do better than the front-drive model over time, but neither matches an RX 350, which also tops all of the aforementioned rivals except the Acura.