Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Wanna Know What I Like to Do? This:

2010 Lexus RX 450h
Need a conversation starter? Drive a hybrid.

Forty-four bucks. That’s what it cost me to put 820+ miles on the little Lexus SUV. Is that a bargain? Well, at nearly $3.00 per gallon for premium unleaded, I’d say so.
With the double opportunity of spending spring break in Arizona and test driving a really great car, I was given the double escape of leaving behind the snow and 23 kindergartners. Having spent the last several years living in the mountains, I found the straight, flat freeways of Arizona almost relaxing (if only it weren’t for the photo radar equipment standing guard every 500 yards). Combine that with a Lexus and driving gets downright pleasant. In true Lexus style, the RX is an easy road-tripper. It handles with comfort, ease, and refinement. As the driver, I very nearly felt like I could have reclined back with both hands behind my head and let the car drive itself… if only it weren’t for the aforementioned photo radar cameras. The RX, one of the original cross-overs, is more car-like than ever, with a lower profile and a sleeker exterior. It rides on smooth MacPherson struts up front and a double-wishbone suspension in the back – all of which combine to absorb even the biggest bumps quicker than you can say “heated and ventilated front seats.” (A real plus, by the way, after hiking Camelback Mountain in 90-degree weather).
The rear seat offered plenty of space for my two kids, who couldn’t seem to quit fighting over the center armrest. They do the same thing in our Tahoe and our Imprezza, so this was nothing new. My seven-year-old liked that he could reach the exterior door handle and could get in without the use of a step-ladder. In contrast, I really liked the zero-plop factor. Open door. Sit down. Ah.
The rear cargo area was deceptively spacious. We fit several pieces of luggage, a couple of duffle bags, plus at times a couple of boxes – and still had some room to spare.
But where the RX 450h really shines is up front. The 3.5-liter V6, coupled with two electric motors, delivers a solid 295 horses of refined power. EPA fuel economy is listed at 32 mpg in the city and 28 mpg on the highway. Its non-hybrid counterpart (with the same 3.5-liter engine) gets 18 mpg in the city and 25 mpg on the highway. Acceleration was responsive and quick; braking delivered the same results. However, when braking at low speeds, such as when pulling into a parking stall, the touchiness of the regenerative brakes came into play.
The RX hybrid also delivers when it comes to the driver’s seat. Little luxuries like a 15-speaker Mark Levinson sound system, voice-activated navigation, and dual-zone climate control make the road trip a true vacation. A true testament to my love of all things bright and shiny: high beams that automatically dim for you. No more drivers angrily flashing their headlights at me. My one complaint would be that the GPS wasn’t always quite as accurate or user-friendly as I remember it being in the past. Operator error? Quite likely. But at one point, it told me I had arrived at my destination about a block too soon. When I stopped to ask a guy where the building was I was looking for, he pointed about a block up the road, and then proceeded to ask me about the car. Need a conversation starter? Drive a hybrid. He was impressed with its silence as I crept through his dental office’s parking lot. He also liked “the whole luxury-hybrid thing” it had going on.
Overall, the RX 450h seemingly does it all. In the city, on the highway, and yes, even on a farm road or two, it handles with all the finesse you expect from a Lexus. With roughly $10,000 in optional features, my test vehicle totaled out at $52,160. But if it’s going to cost you about forty bucks every 800 miles, you can opt for the features.

On a side note, several people have asked me my opinion on all of the recent recalls made by Toyota/Lexus. Remember, this is my opinion. I say look at their history. They have a long-standing reputation for building high-quality, reliable vehicles. Call me a cynic, but I also believe that today’s media tends to over-sensationalize stories, hoping to get your attention. I think that Toyota/Lexus is doing what they can to make things right while taking a good look to make sure future (and foreseeable) problems might be prevented. A local news station recently asked: “Do you trust Toyota?” My answer: Absolutely.

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