All-new for 2006, the Lexus RX 400h is the world’s first luxury-brand SUV gasoline/electric hybrid.

Based on the RX 330, the RX 400h uses a Hybrid Synergy Drive (HSD) powertrain with a 3.3-litre V6 engine and a high-torque electric-drive motor-generator, along with a rear electric-drive motor-generator and an electronically-controlled, continuously-variable transmission (CVT). This gives the RX 400h the combined equivalent of 268 horsepower, and a capability of zero to 100 km/h acceleration in under eight seconds. It has the fuel efficiency of an average compact sedan, and meets Super Ultra Low Emission Vehicle (SULEV) standards. It’s a “full hybrid”, meaning that it is capable of operating on gasoline or battery exclusively, as well as a combination of both. The switch is seamless and the driver does not feel the modes changing; the only indication is a power meter and notification on the touch panel display screen.

The RX 400h also includes on-demand electronic all-wheel-drive, and Vehicle Dynamics Integrated Management (VDIM), which uses a variety of sensors to anticipate vehicle stability control problems and correct them through brake and throttle applications.

The RX 400h comes in a Premium Package, which includes power tilt and telescopic wheel, dual-zone automatic climate control, six-CD/cassette premium stereo with wheel-mounted controls, heated leather seats with eight-way power driver and passenger adjust, two driver memory positions, 40/20/40 split middle seats, auto up/down on all windows, power locks, auto-dimming rearview mirror, leather-wrapped wheel, cargo cover, premium illuminated entry system, 18-inch alloy wheels, water-repellent door glass, rear bumper protector, power sunroof, spoiler, heated self-dimming mirrors, rain-sensing wipers, high intensity discharge headlamps with washers and auto-levelling, adaptive front lighting system, LED taillamps, driver’s knee airbag, tire pressure monitoring system, power liftgate, integrated garage door opener and engine immobilizer.

An Ultra Premium Package adds Mark Levinson audio system with eleven speakers, rear DVD entertainment system with wireless headphones, remote control and joystick controls, rear monitor and DVD-based navigation system.

The RX 400h is “green” luxury; it’s a big, comfortable vehicle, with superb interior appointments, plenty of stretch-out room, considerable cargo space and handling and performance that’s quite good, considering its size. Still, while the RX 400h consumes less fuel than similarly-sized SUVs, the cynic can’t help but think of low-fat potato chips: yes, they’re better for you than the regular kind, but they’re still not the healthiest thing you can eat.

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