It sounds like an impossible dream, and in most cases it still is. However, if you narrow down the parameters to cars, things start to look more promising. And if you want to drive a big, luxurious premium SUV, but don’t want to choke the planet with your noxious exhaust emissions, then the answer is staring you (literally) in the face.
Lexus’ new RX400h is the ‘have your cake and eat it’ SUV. You get all of the traditional SUV attributes – high seating position, premium badge and ‘out of my way’ styling, yet you also get a petrol engine with an additonal electric motor. This means you get petrol performance with diesel economy. Perfect.
But the best thing is that this is alternative fuel technology which isn’t intimidating or time-consuming.
Unlike a pure electric car, you haven’t got to recharge it at night and, unlike a dual-fuel car, you haven’t got to hunt around for a petrol station which has got an LPG tank.
Simply fill the Lexus with unleaded fuel and off you go. When you’re starting off or travelling slowly, only the electric motor is used, with the petrol engine chiming in as more power is required to boost acceleration. Brake or take your foot off the accelerator and the engine shuts down to save fuel. At the same time, generators use braking energy to recharge the batteries.
But the only way you notice you’re driving a hybrid is by looking at the various digital read-outs which monitor which power plant is turning the wheels and tell you how much energy you have regenerated. You just need to resist the temptation to keep looking at these readouts and focus on the road instead.
Other than that, it’s just like driving the petrol RX300, which means you’re at the wheel of one of the best-handling SUVs, although the angular styling isn’t to everyone’s taste. Body roll is well contained and the RX turns in to corners very sharply for such a car. The ride can get a bit bouncy, but that’s the downside to having a car with such long suspension travel.
And bizarrely for a car with such environmentally-friendly pretensions, the RX400h is quicker than the RX300. With 208bhp, it has 7bhp more, but the headline figures don’t tell the whole story.
When you really stand on the RX400’s accelerator the 165bhp electric motor joins in, offering a surge of acceleration. It acts like a diesel engine, with the electric boost replacing diesel’s wall of torque.
It’s also diesel-like in its fuel consumption, returning a claimed average of 34.9mpg and CO2 emissions of just 192g/km (the same as a Vauxhall Astra 1.8 SRi). And that’s the beauty of this Lexus. It is a car of the future, available today, which requires no compromises. With the RX400h, you really can have your cake and eat it.
Delivered price, standard car (P11D value): £35,257
CO2 emissions (g/km): 192
BIK % of P11D in 2005: 23%
Graduated VED rate: £160
Insurance group: 16
Combined mpg: 34.9
CAP Monitor residual value: £14,425/41%
Depreciation 34.72 pence per mile x 60,000: £20,832
Maintenance 4.16 pence per mile x 60,000: £2,496
Fuel 12.30 pence per mile x 60,000: £7,380
Wholelife cost 51.18 pence per mile x 60,000: £30,708
Typical contract hire rate: £741
At a glance
We don’t like
Three rivals to consider
AS Lexus and parent company Toyota plough a fairly lonely furrow in terms of hybrid technology, there are no natural rivals for the RX400h. Instead, we’ve chosen entry-level diesel-engined SUVs to compare it with as they are the most likely to be bought with company cash. Despite all the electric motor technology, the Lexus proves competitive on price, although you have to spend about £4,000 more for an SE version which adds niceties such as leather seats.
Range Rover £34,792
THERE is an awful lot of technology on board the Lexus such as additional electric motors and power regeneration units (all of which are maintenance-free), but that doesn’t seem to faze the wholelife cost industry. Perhaps because of the marque’s legendary reliability, the RX400h is competitive with its rivals on maintenance costs. The BMW leads the way, with a likely garage bill of £2,196 over three years/60,000 miles, but the Lexus is just £300 behind.
Range Rover 4.79ppm
A 3.3-litre V6 petrol engine shouldn’t be that economical, but Lexus’ clever hybrid technology sees it win the fuel costs section. With the battery and electric motor providing a power boost, and also regenerating itself when the brakes are applied, allows the RX400h to return a claimed 34.9mpg, equating to a likely fuel bill of £7,380 over three years/60,000 miles. Its closest challenger is the BMW, whose 3.0-litre diesel returns 32.8mpg for a cost of £7,854. The Volkswagen is off the pace, returning a lowly 25.9mpg for a bill of £9,948.
Range Rover 15.56ppm
THE Range Rover is the newest kid on the SUV block, and leads the depreciation costs table. CAP estimates it will retain 50% of its cost new after three years/60,000 miles for a cash lost figure of £17,575. The BMW has a better RV prediction of 51%, but its higher front-end price sees it lose more money. The Lexus is one of the more expensive cars here, but it has the lowest RV prediction of 41%, leaving a cash lost figure of £21,030. The Volkswagen loses £20,090.
Range Rover 27.77ppm
THE BMW X5 takes a convincing running costs victory, costing nearly 2.5 pence per mile less than the second-placed Range Rover. The Lexus finishes a distant third, more than five pence per mile more expensive than the BMW. While the RX400h leads the way on fuel costs, its low residual value prediction sees its challenge drop away. The Volkswagen Touareg loses out due to its poor fuel economy.
Range Rover 48.12ppm
EMISSIONS AND BIK TAX RATES
THANKS to its hybrid set-up, the Lexus offers low CO2 emissions and becomes even more competitive when the 2% benefit-in-kind reduction is taken into account. A 40% taxpayer would pay £270 a month to have the Lexus in their company car park spot, which is miles ahead of the BMW on £424, the Range Rover on £406 and the Volkswagen on £404. Choosing the RX400h over the BMW would save a driver more than £1,800 in company car tax in 2005/06.
Range Rover 271g/km/35%
DECISIONS at this level come down to driver preference – some will consider the BMW the premium choice, while others will welcome being able to get Range Rover cred at a much lower price with the Sport. The Volkswagen is outclassed. Which leaves the Lexus – it’s clean and green and will save drivers a fortune in tax, but its running costs are high.