The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus


Lexus RX 400h the first luxury car or SUV available as a hybrid

The Lexus RX 400h is the first luxury car or luxury SUV to use hybrid technology. What’s the big deal about a hybrid? Will people pay more for the hybrid model of a best seller? Will it sell in truck-happy Texas?

The hybrid-powered automobile is ready for its close-up.

After being tucked away in the supremely undesirable economy car segment of the automotive world, a hybrid has been unveiled in a luxury sport utility vehicle.

On April 15, the Lexus RX 400h will be the first luxury car or sport utility vehicle to use hybrid power. The Ford Escape was the first SUV to offer a hybrid when it was released just a few months ago.

The Lexus is the real newsmaker though. In the recent past, solidified luxury car brands have showed little interest, if any, in pursuing hybrid power for their cars and SUVs. BMW, Mercedes-Benz and Audi have all stayed away from hybrid power. Concerned with their customer’s ever-growing need to have a car that is not only luxurious, but also powerful, the big three from Germany have ruled out the use of conventionally slow hybrids. Though BMW is currently pursuing hydrogen powered cars, it is at least 10 years away from full-scale production.

What makes the Lexus RX 400h an even bigger deal is its gas-powered twin, the RX 330. The RX 330 is not your average mediocre, overpriced luxury SUV; it is the best-seller in its class and has been for the last six years.

For Lexus, adding the hybrid model meant spending a whole lot of money on and adding a few hundred pounds to one of the most well received cars on the road today.

The bulk of the extra weight comes from the batteries and other newly found electrical components of the hybrid. The batteries have been placed underneath the seating area in an attempt to maintain better weight distribution for the entire car.

There is an LCD screen that allows you to use the navigation system and doubles as a rear view monitor when the car is in reverse. The back lift-gate opens and closes with the press of a button on the key fob, and the back seats heat and recline. These options are all also available on the RX 330, and have been since its introduction just over two years ago.

The RX 400h takes all the luxuries of the RX 330 and breaks new ground. It is more powerful and faster than its gas-powered sibling, despite the extra weight. That is right, the hybrid is faster than the gas version.

All this technology comes at a price. The RX 400h will carry a hefty $4,000 – $5,000 extra on its window sticker compared to the RX 330. That extra chunk of change puts the RX 400h’s new price right on the heels of the far more powerful BMW X5 4.4i.

The RX 400h is not as capable off-road as the RX 330 or the aforementioned BMW and can only tow about 3500 lbs. Though to its credit, the RX 400h does get nearly double the gas mileage of the BMW and its big V8.

The RX 330 is a wildly innovative SUV, and the RX 400h has taken innovation a step further and will take its passengers a lot farther on the same amount of gas. However, in the luxury car world this is the first hybrid and that makes it somewhat of a risk. The question must be asked, will people really pay the extra $5,000 for the hybrid?

Katie Danza, who will begin her freshman year at SMU next fall, currently drives an RX 330, and was a bit skeptical of the hybrid RX 400h. “I’m not sure if I would consider the hybrid. I love my RX 330 and don’t really care about the extra speed. Sure, the better mileage is great, but you also have to pay five grand more for it.”

However, judging by figures coming from Lexus, Danza’s opinion is not shared by all.

Lexus has pre-sold over 11,000 RX 400h’s and in the next eight years will offer a hybrid version of every one of its models.

The RX 400h is making its impact right here in the metroplex as well. Bobby Whitney, a salesman at Sewell Lexus in Plano, said that Sewell alone has sold a few hundred of the RX 400h’s.

Whitney added, “We are pre-sold for at least a year or a year and a half. The $4,000 extra is for the right kind of driver… Porsche has even been rumored to be buying the technology off of Lexus for a hybrid version of its Cayenne SUV.”

The future of the Lexus brand as a whole appears to be largely dependent on hybrid technology. Whitney mentioned future plans for blindingly fast sports cars from Lexus that will cater to the enthusiast more than to the economist.

Whitney said, “There is much excitement over the new hybrid technologies here at Sewell Lexus.”

Current SMU student Andrea Gulley (‘07) pilots a 2004 RX 330 around town when she’s at home in St. Louis, Missouri. When asked if she would consider the hybrid RX 400h, she replied, “I think so, especially considering the improved mileage. My car annoys me sometimes, always having to fill up. Plus, I guess it could use some extra power as well.”

Road and Track magazine calls the RX 400h “ingenious” and confirms it will be hitting dealerships, complete with $5000 extra on the price tag, this April.

More than a month before it officially goes on sale, the world’s first Luxury hybrid is already making waves.

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