So Lexus should be worried about unveiling a 3.3-litre petrol V6 model in the UK. But ‘greenies’ can calm down and put the paint away, because the new RX400h uses Lexus’ clever petrol-electric hybrid technology to cut emissions and boost fuel economy. It can also produce zero emissions when running solely on electric power. Not surprisingly, Lexus sees corporate business as a key market for this car.
Speaking at the car’s launch in Athens, Lexus GB director Steve Settle said: ‘The RX300 has been a strong performer over the past two years even though it has not been available in diesel form.
‘But the RX400h is poised to open new doors with business buyers. It represents a great opportunity for us in the corporate sector and I’m confident it will lead to a substantial amount of incremental registrations.’
‘The 175bhp 2.2-litre turbodiesel version of the next-generation IS range will make us a serious contender in the market for medium-sized passenger cars when it arrives next year, but there’s no doubt the RX400h will be seen as most significant as hybrid technology starts to play a fundamental role in the development of our brand.’
Lexus already has 1,000 deposits for the car, out of the 1,625 which are coming to the UK this year. Settle plans to reach 3,850 sales next year, with annual registrations of around 4,000 by 2008.
He added: ‘Because low emissions and keen pricing will put us in such a good position with regard to benefit-in-kind tax, I believe business motorists will account for at least 65% of sales.’
In the 400h, the Hybrid Synergy Drive (HSD) system offers a 3.3-litre V6 petrol engine with a 165bhp electric motor, a high voltage battery and a generator. There’s also a second electric motor which introduces all-wheel drive when the car determines extra traction is needed.
Essentially a development of the breakthrough electric ‘helping hand’ technology launched seven years ago on the Toyota Prius, HSD selects power from the engine, the electric motors or a combination of both to provide acceleration from 0-62mph in 7.6 seconds with combined economy of 34.9mpg – a performance which betters any premium petrol SUV rival.
When running solely on its electric motors during initial acceleration and at low to mid-range speeds, the car is able to return zero exhaust emissions.
In normal driving, a power split device apportions output from the engine between driving the front wheels and powering the generator, which keeps the battery topped up so you don’t need to charge it up.
Priced from £35,845, the RX400h sits on 18-inch alloy wheels and has a comprehensive specification including nine airbags, cruise control, electric power steering, multi-zone air conditioning, electric front seats and privacy glass.
The SE version costs £39,540 and adds leather trim with heated front seats, sunroof, adaptive headlamps, power tailgate and rain-sensing wipers, while the top SE-L model, costing £44,350, includes satellite navigation, Bluetooth connectivity, a DVD entertainment system with twin rear monitors, 11-speaker hi-fi and parking sensors.
Behind the wheel
GEOGRAPHICAL features mean the air climate in Athens is the worst of any capital city in Europe and chronic traffic congestion only adds to the woes of car ownership in and around the venue for last year’s Olympic games.
But London mayor Ken Livingstone should take note that even chunky SUV models can provide suitable transport in crowded city centres – especially if they have hybrid technology under their bonnets.
A decision on congestion charge exemption for the new Lexus has yet to be taken, but there’s no doubt the RX400h has exemplary credentials in eco-friendliness, despite the fact that its engine delivers 272bhp and has to carry a heavy four-wheel drive system around.
A sophisticated electronically-controlled continuously variable transmission allows the power to flow in a seamless, super-smooth fashion.
Without having to use the traditional starter motor as the electric motor is used, there’s no noise at the start of a journey – and hardly any sound as the engine cuts in and out according to need. It means making progress in the RX is remarkably hushed, irrespective of speed.
Large, roomy and comfortable, it feels as refined through the bends as it does when cruising along motorways.
This Lexus is an impressive piece of engineering which successfully challenges the rationale that a high performance SUV is by nature anti-social and a gas-guzzler.
THE world’s first performance hybrid SUV is a genuine ‘have your cake and eat it’ model which provides V8 power with the kind of economy you’d expect from a four-cylinder car.
Very few of its rivals are faster and none are kinder to the environment – so it’s hardly surprising that Lexus expects its radical newcomer to provide stiff competition for Land Rover and BMW as it mounts a new drive into the corporate sector.
Engine (cc): 3,311 petrol V6 and two electric motors
Max power (bhp/rpm): 272/5,600
Max torque (lb-ft/rpm): 250/4,400
Max speed (mph): 124
0-62mph (sec): 7.6
Fuel consumption (mpg): 34.9
CO2 emissions (g/km): 192
Fuel tank capacity (l/gal): 65/14.2
On sale: June 15
Price (OTR): £35,845–£44,350