- The Washington Times - Friday, April 24, 2009

Which automaker comes to mind with the words “luxury hybrid?”

It should be Lexus. Along with its counterpart Toyota, these two automakers are responsible for more than 1 million hybrid vehicles sold around the world.

Lexus has the established credentials to attract discerning buyers who want an automobile heavy on luxury but light on the carbon footprint.

This summer Lexus will introduce the all-new 2010 RX 450h luxury utility vehicle. Pricing as of this spring reporting on the 2010 RX 450h have not been announced. The current generation RX hybrid starts at $41,280. The all-new model that I drove was a prototype, and not available for sale.

The big deal big news from Lexus on the 2010 RX 450h is the updated version of the Lexus Hybrid Drive system, which produces 27 more horsepower over the current model and 20 percent better fuel economy.

Many automakers are now boasting of more horsepower while simultaneously getting improved gas mileage, which is the result mostly of better fuel-directed engine/transmission technologies. It seems that everybody’s getting in on it, so consumers can expect that these kinds of announcements of more performance and gas mileage are going to be the norm going forward.

What’s really pretty impressive about the fuel economy of the Lexus luxury hybrid crossover utility vehicle is how the comparison of these numbers is drawn out. The V-6 engine electric motor system delivers the performance of a V-8 engine, while the fuel economy of this V-6 acting like a V-8 is on par with a four-cylinder. Lexus says the early EPA estimates for the 2010 RX 450h front-wheel drive are coming in at 32 miles per gallon in the city and 28 mph on the highway, similar to those of a midsize sedan.

The RX 450h seats five people and has a base curb weight of 4,520 pounds. The all-wheel drive model is capable of towing with a capability rating of 3,500 pounds.

For the 2010 model year, the 3.5-liter V-6 Atkinson-cycle engine has a horsepower rating of 245 (up from 208 horses in the outgoing RX hybrid). The torque is 234 pound-foot (compared to 212 in the outgoing version). Combined with the Lexus Hybrid Drive electric motor, the total horsepower output is 295.

Though the RX has a V-6 engine, Lexus calls the 450h a full-hybrid since it can operate in extended electric-only mode in stop-and-go traffic and during low-speed driving. I found that turning the engine over took some getting used to, but in a delightful way that will surely impress light-carbon seekers.

Starting the Lexus isn’t about turning over the engine: it’s more like walking into a room and turning on the light switch - you turned on the power source, but you didn’t hear it go on. After letting the car sit for a few minutes the engine will hum, but that’s about it.

The 2010 RX has a new driver-selectable EV drive mode that allows the RX to be driven in electric-vehicle mode only. This feature is good for short distances.

This all-new Lexus features all the usual suspects of luxury ladder-climbing characters: keyless entry with push-button start and puddle lamps that illuminate when the driver and key approach; soft, gradual, fade-in instrumentation lighting when the car door opens; leather and wood appointments; 10-way power front seats, not to mention the segment-leading 10 standard airbags. The Organic Light Emitting Diode instrumentation was brilliantly engineered.

For luxury hybrid car buyers, the RX 450h is probably the most important introduction to take place this year.


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