The new trend in hybrid vehicles is simple: all of the power, all of the luxury, none of the guilt.Just eyeballing the RX 400h from Lexus would leave you swearing that you were looking at a twin of the automaker's luxury SUV, the RX 330. Same humpback shape. Gymnastic seats. Trip computer. Power everything.
Slipping into the leather driver's seat, you check your position on the navigation system. Adjust the moon roof. Your seven-year-old associate announces that the back seat is as comfortable as the front. "It's so soft back here," she says, curling her legs up, "you could take a nap." You rev the engine a bit.
That's your first sign of something different: There's no revving to be had.
To find out what makes the 400h really different, you have to forgo the comfy confines of the interior and go where drivers rarely venture: under the hood. You'll find two electric-drive motor-generators, which start the car, power the components, and drive it at low speeds. A 288-volt DC nickel metal hydride battery pack lies nestled under that soft rear seat, with a "boost converter" that spikes the voltage for more oomph in the uptake. So much oomph, the 400h shaves a half-second off the 330's zero-to-60 launch time.
It does this with less gas, posting an average of 30 miles per gallon in an urban commute.
That's because the combustion engine doesn't take over until the 400h reaches a higher, more fuel-efficient speed. So, in a reverse of the usual fuel-efficiency rule, the 400h - and other hybridized spitting images of favored brands now hitting the roads - gets better mileage in the city than it does on the open road.