Hybrid technology has begun to find its way into a wider variety of automobile types than when it initially hit the scene in the late 1990's. Once the exclusive province of tiny compact cars, hybrid drivetrains eventually spread out to encompass first small sport-utilities, then mid-size sedans and finally even full-size pickup trucks in an effort to both reduce the fuel consumption of these vehicles and simultaneously lower the overall environmental footprint of an automaker.
It was clear then that it was only a matter of time before hybrid luxury cars began to make an appearance on the scene. Given that hybrid vehicles are typically sold at a premium to begin with, due to the extra cost of the technology involved in their design, their inclusion in a luxury car lineup certainly wouldn't raise any eyebrows in terms of a higher sticker price. What's more, it had become quite fashionable to jump on the green bandwagon, leading many trendsetters to drive hybrid cars priced much lower than they can afford in order to live out their ideals. The availability of high-feature hybrid cars caterd to a market that was pre-existing and underserved.
Toyota has been one of the pioneers of hybrid car development, and their Hybrid Synergy Drive is one of the most advanced gasoline / electric systems in the world. It was only natural that their Lexus luxury division be allowed to benefit from the extensive research and development that has been poured into vehicles like the Toyota Prius. In 2006, the first Lexus hybrid vehicle was released, the RX 400h crossover, followed by the GS 450h sport sedan the year after. Each of these automobiles carried on the company's tradition of technological innovation and uncompromising luxury, with the added bonus of an ecologically-friendly drivetrain that allowed buyers to feel better about their conspicuous consumption.
Both the Lexus vehicles adopted the Hybrid Synergy Drive system in unique ways, and while each sees better fuel economy than their standard gasoline equivalents, they also provide a substantial performance boost, especially in the case of the RX. This is because the hybrid system is designed to provide additional power during heavy acceleration that trumps the thrust of a simple internal combustion engine.
This article takes a look at the two best used hybrids available from Lexus, the RX 400h and the GS 450h and discusses the different qualities exhibited by these vehicles that set them apart from other hybrid vehicles on the market.
2006 - 2007 Lexus RX 400h
With the success of Ford's compact Escape Hybrid SUV, the eyes of several manufacturers were opened to the possibilities presented by this new eco-conscious market. Adding a gasoline / electric engine to an SUV or crossover seemed like a great way to allay concerns regarding the over-consumption of fuel that had dogged many of these vehicles, and Lexus was quick to jump on the bandwagon, releasing the 2006 - 2007 RX 400h. Visually, there is little difference between the hybrid edition of the RX and its standard gasoline sibling, but observant buyers will notice the larger openings in the former's front bumper in order to provide better cooling for what sits under the hood, as well as special wheels to help give the vehicle a little more zest.
The hybrid system installed in the RX 400h is quite a piece of work. In addition to 208 horsepower 3.3-liter V-6 engine borrowed from the RX 330, the 400h features two electric motors, one set up to drive the front wheels and the other reserved exclusively for the rear wheels. A separate generator is used to power electrical accessories, and regenerative braking helps to keep the battery charged. During normal driving, the vehicle relies on either the gasoline engine or the front electric motor for pure battery operation, but when the accelerator pedal is mashed to the floor both electric motors rise to the occasion and increase the overall horsepower to just over 270. The instantaneous torque production of an electric motor means that the all-wheel drive 400h is actually quicker than the RX 330 it is based on, and it can keep up with even V8 powered SUV's from its German and American competitors. A front-wheel drive version of the RX 400h is available that eliminates the rear-focused electrical engine, with fuel economy that approaches 28 miles per gallon on the highway and 33 miles per gallon in city driving.
The 2006 - 2007 RX 400h is an astounding feat of engineering that is both elegant and environmental, making it one of the most appealing used hybrids available to well-heeled green-thinking drivers who can appreciate its design.
2007 Lexus GS 450h
The Lexus GS has long been the company's flagship sports sedan, and while such a platform might seem like an odd candidate for the installation of a gasoline / electric hybrid, Lexus has demonstrated that they refuse to kowtow to convention by building the 2007 GS 450h. The GS 450h is built upon the latest generation chassis used by the standard GS sedan, and it features all of the same driving dynamics associated with Lexus performance: excellent throttle response, confident cornering and a complete lack of drama even when the car is pushed to the limit.
What is perhaps most impressive about the 2007 Lexus GS 450h is the fact that even though it tips the scales at over 4,000 lbs it represents the quickest version of the GS available for its model year. The 292 horsepower, 3.5-liter V-6 located between vehicle's front fenders is matched with an electric motor that boosts total power to more than 330 horsepower. This is good enough to launch the GS 450h to 60 miles per hour from a standing start in only 5.2 seconds, faster than even its 8-cylinder GS 460 stable mate. The vehicle makes use of a 6-speed automatic transmission and electric power steering and brake boost. Fuel economy is 25 miles per gallon in the city and 28 miles per gallon on the highway, exceptional numbers for such a heavy, luxury-laden vehicle.
It is important to understand that the 2007 Lexus GS 450h, in addition to be lightning quick, is also a fully-featured automobile with all of the comfort options that high end car buyers have come to expect. This Lexus IS certainly no economy stripper like the Prius, and its spacious interior is replete with tasteful leather and wood accents, along with an optional surround-sound audio system and DVD navigation.
The 2007 Lexus GS 450h is the future of hybrid technology, a vehicle that not only saves money at the pump but also provides an enhanced driving experience when compared to its gasoline powered competitors. As a used hybrid sedan, it certainly has no peer in terms of performance or luxury.