2008 Lexus RX 400h Review

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Marty Padgett Marty Padgett Editorial Director
July 6, 2008

With the carbon footprint of a small car and all the comforts and technologies of a luxury SUV, the 2008 Lexus RX 400h is a green family’s dream.

In putting together this comprehensive review of the 2008 Lexus RX 400h, TheCarConnection.com’s car experts included information from a variety of reviews. Then TheCarConnection.com editors added their observations and firsthand experience with the RX 400h.

The RX 400h is a gasoline-electric hybrid version of the RX 350 crossover vehicle. Available in front- or all-wheel drive, the 2008 Lexus RX 400h receives a few minor updates this year, including a new front grille, chrome door handles, a new finish for its 18-inch wheels, and a rear spoiler.

The 2008 Lexus RX 400h is powered by a 3.3-liter V-6 engine and the latest version of Toyota's Hybrid Synergy Drive, which includes two separate electric motor/generators. In the all-wheel-drive version, there's one each at the front and rear axles, working through a continuously variable automatic transmission. It's a so-called full-hybrid system, meaning that it can operate solely on its electric motors for limited distances at low speed, such as when crawling along in gridlock traffic. The electric motor system is the only power source for the rear wheels, with the sophisticated hybrid management system allowing smooth power delivery even on slippery surfaces.

Combined, the two power sources generate the equivalent of 268 horsepower. The 2008 Lexus RX 400h can reach 60 mph in 7.3 seconds, tow up to 3,500 pounds, and achieve up to 27 mpg city/24 mpg highway (for front-drive models).

Review continues below

The 2008 Lexus RX 400h doesn't handle quite as well as the standard RX 350, due to its heavier weight--it has an all-electric power steering system--but it rides about as well, and the hybrid system feels much more settled on the highway; it's easier to maintain a steady speed than in the Toyota Prius. The overall driving experience is nearly as refined as that of the standard RX 350--though a full-throttle pass yields a little more noise due to the CVT.

A very attractive interior design, with rich materials and very comfortable seating for five, distinguishes the RX from more plainly styled rivals. The 2008 Lexus RX 400h also comes as well equipped as most luxury vehicles, but the options list is especially lengthy and interesting. A DVD navigation system, laser-guided cruise control, heated seats, adaptive front lighting, rear-seat DVD entertainment system, and a Mark Levinson premium audio system are optional.

The 2008 Lexus RX 400h has done very well in most crash tests, with straight five-star results in the federal tests for frontal and side impact, and top Good results from the IIHS, though the insurance group gave the RX a Poor rating for rear impact. Lexus's sophisticated VDIM (Vehicle Dynamics Integrated Management), a more sophisticated form of electronic stability control, is standard on the RX 400h, along with anti-lock brakes, front side airbags, side curtain airbags, and a driver's knee bag.

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2008 Lexus RX 400h

Styling

The 2008 Lexus RX 400h offers a familiar, passenger-friendly design that pleases most and offers subtle cues to differentiate it from the RX 350.

Introduced in 2004 by Lexus, 2008 RX 400h models receive several new colors, chrome door handles, and other minor styling updates. Otherwise, the shape hasn’t changed much in a few years.

The 2008 Lexus RX 400h is Lexus's smallest car-based crossover, and it's very similar to the RX 350, save for a few styling differences. The hybrid RX 400h is an inch longer; other distinguishing features include a "unique front grille and bumper, integrated fog lamps, and LED taillights," reports ForbesAutos. There is an additional opening on the front bumper "for cooling powertrain components," says Cars.com, which adds, "Few onlookers will be able to distinguish it from last year's RX 400h." Two of the seven new colors include Desert Sage Metallic and Brandy Wine Mica. From the reviews read of Lexus's 2008 RX design, TheCarConnection.com staff found no negative opinions, save for MyRide.com, who call it "dated." A new Lexus RX is due to arrive in the 2009 model year.

A very attractive interior design, with rich materials and very comfortable seating for five, distinguishes the RX from more plainly styled rivals. "The Lexus RX 400h is as sleek inside as it is outside," says Edmunds, which adds it is "a streamlined and high-tech interior that boasts aluminum or wood trim." Detroit News has similar feelings: "The interior is very Lexus-like: Clean, luxurious and simple." The 2008 Lexus RX 400h has a hybrid-power meter on the instrument instead of a tachometer. Lexus RX 400h gauges are "large and legible," finds Consumer Guide, and "most controls are handy and intuitive."

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2008 Lexus RX 400h

Performance

The 2008 Lexus RX400h's combination of power, fuel economy, and a smooth, quiet ride helps make this hybrid a perennial favorite among buyers, but handling is somewhat hampered by its extra weight.

The 2008 Lexus RX 400h delivers V-8 performance with V-6 fuel economy, a compliant ride, and fairly precise handling.

The Lexus 2008 RX 400h's powertrain combination of a V-6 engine, two (2WD) or three (AWD) electric motors, and a potent battery pack result in "acceleration similar to that of some V8-powered rivals while achieving the best fuel economy in the midsize luxury class," says Edmunds. A Lexus RX 400h AWD did 0-60 mph in 7.3 seconds in ConsumerGuide testing. And, true to its utility designation, the 2008 Lexus RX 400h can tow 3,500 pounds. Cars.com reports, "Lexus says...the transition between power sources [is hard] to discern," but ConsumerGuide finds the powertrain "is prone to subtle but annoying surging and bogging in cruising conditions."

Unique to Lexus's 2008 RX 400h AWD models is that the rear wheels are not driven by the engine but by an electric motor (Cars.com). Both the Lexus RX 400h AWD and 2WD models "can run for short distances on electric power alone...cutting emissions to zero," finds The Auto Channel. Powering the front wheels, a continuously variable transmission (CVT) "provides smooth and steady acceleration," reports ForbesAutos, though they add that it transmits "odd drivetrain noises, especially when coming to a stop."

Fueleconomy.gov gives fuel mileage ratings of 26 mpg city/24 mpg highway for the 2008 Lexus RX 400h AWD and 27 mpg city/24 mpg highway for the 2008 Lexus RX 400h 2WD. ConsumerGuide tested an AWD Lexus RX 400h and "averaged 23.5 mpg in mostly highway driving, and 22.7 mpg with gas-eating performance runs and lots of city driving." They point out that both Lexus 2008 RXs "require premium-grade gas."

The Lexus RX 400h's hybrid components (battery and electric motors) add 300 pounds over the RX 350's weight, and "you can definitely feel that extra weight in faster corners and quick transitions," reports Edmunds. They say the ride is "soft and compliant, yet the handling is also generally tight and precise." ConsumerGuide calls the ride "firm but absorbent and controlled...though a bit harsher over sharp bumps."

A few reviews read by TheCarConnection.com disliked the feel of the brakes. ConsumerGuide says that the "brakes are strong, but the pedal feels slightly mushy"; Kelley Blue Book writes, "the electronic boost of its power steering...and brakes impart a somewhat artificial feel"; and Edmunds states, "many drivers find the RX 400h's brakes grabby and difficult to modulate."

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2008 Lexus RX 400h

Comfort & Quality

The 2008 Lexus RX 400h offers drivers and passengers comfortable, spacious accommodation in a modern, luxurious cabin, with a touch of unique hybrid-drivetrain noise.

Comfort, ergonomics, fit, and finish are the hallmarks of the 2008 Lexus RX 400h, but TheCarConnection.com found that noise intrusion and limited cargo space may put some buyers off.

Most reviews read by TheCarConnection.com praised the driver's seat for its ability to comfortably adjust to different body types. ConsumerGuide says the Lexus RX 400h has "a good basic driving stance [that] is abetted by plenty of adjustments." ForbesAutos notes the Lexus 2008 RX 400h's "electronically adjustable driver's seat and steering wheel ensure that a wide variety of builds can find a comfortable driving position." Now standard is a power lumbar adjustment for the front passenger's seat, and both seats are "shaped and padded for long-haul comfort," reports ConsumerGuide.

Rear seat passengers in the 2008 Lexus RX 400h sit on a 40/20/40 bench that "splits, folds, slides, reclines and will comfortably handle two adults or a trio of kids," writes Kelley Blue Book. In the Lexus 2008 RX 400h, sliding the rear bench backward "affords generous legroom, even behind a tall front-seat occupant," says ConsumerGuide. Standard upholstery is now cloth instead of leather in a bid by Lexus to lower the entry price of the 2008 Lexus RX 400h.

A power-operated rear liftgate is standard on the Lexus RX 400h, which helps to mitigate its height-challenged cargo area. Kelley Blue Book claims the Lexus 2008 RX's cargo bay "can hold 38.4 cubic feet...with the rear seat up and 84.7 cubic feet with the seatbacks flipped forward and down." The sloped roof will necessitate tall items being shipped on their sides. For smaller items, ConsumerGuide reports, "Bountiful small-item storage includes a nifty sliding front console and two full-width wells under the cargo floor."

Kelley Blue Book notes that "the RX 400h shares virtually all of its...appointments with the RX 350, including...brushed aluminum and aluminum accents"; ConsumerGuide calls cabin materials and workmanship "exemplary." Cars.com reports "noise from the V-6 is more pronounced than expected from a Lexus [but] it quiets down properly at speed." Edmunds's editors "noticed a good deal of engine noise entering the cabin under hard acceleration," while ForbesAutos notes "extra drivetrain noises here and there, especially when coming to a stop." In contrast, ConsumerGuide feels "the pleasingly low overall noise levels approach those of some premium cars."

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2008 Lexus RX 400h

Safety

The 2008 Lexus RX 400h's standard safety equipment helps it earn the highest ratings in government crash tests.

With a full complement of safety features, the 2008 Lexus RX 400h leaves little to be desired by way of occupant protection.

According to TheCarConnection.com's research, the Lexus 2008 RX 400h gets top honors for those crash tests that it was subjected to by the government. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) gives it five stars for front and side impact protection; the RX 400h was not tested for rollover resistance, however. Similarly, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) awarded the 2008 Lexus its best rating of "good" for frontal offset impact, but did not test the vehicle for side impact protection; Lexus RXs in general scored a "poor" rating on rear impact crash protection. It should be noted that the IIHS did not test the hybrid model but rather a gasoline-powered 2004 Lexus RX 330.

Car and Driver, in its review of the Lexus 2008 RX models, notes, "RX safety features are identical across the board, and there are no optional features." Those features on the Lexus RX 400h, according to Car and Driver, include: ABS and stability control, two-stage front airbags with crash severity and passenger weight sensors, front-seat-mounted side airbags, a driver's knee airbag, curtain airbags (for both rows) with rollover sensors, automatic seatbelt locking retractors, and collision-activated fuel cutoff.

In contrast, Cars.com claims an optional feature with safety benefits on Lexus's 2008 RX is the "Adaptive Front-lighting System...[that] can swivel in accord with the front wheels to better [illuminate] curves in the road." They note it is available as a stand-alone option on the 2008 Lexus RX 400h. Kelley Blue Book writes, "Topping the safety equipment is a Vehicle Dynamics Integrated Management (VDIM) system that links the traction and stability control and ABS with [the airbags]."

Visibility is good to the front and not so good to the rear on the Lexus RX 400h. The Detroit News writes, "the higher driving position allowed me to look over cars in front...without feeling as if I was in a big SUV." Kelley Blue Book thinks the 2008 Lexus RX 400h's "smartly raked windshield and large glass area help improve driver sightlines." The Lexus 2008 RX's thick rear pillars leave large blind spots in the rearward view, feels ConsumerGuide, which writes that the "bulky rear-roof pillars and narrowish tailgate window impede vision astern."

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2008 Lexus RX 400h

Features

The 2008 Lexus RX 400h commands a high price for a vehicle with cloth seats as standard equipment, but myriad features are available in sometimes confusing packages.

TheCarConnection.com finds that the 2008 Lexus RX 400h offers a dizzying array of options packages to choose from and that stand-alone options all require the fitment of at least one package. Break out the spreadsheet, because this is where it gets confusing.

Lexus 2008 RXs come in a single trim level with either 2WD or AWD. Standard features, according to Edmunds, include cloth seats, 10-way power front seats, dual-zone climate control, second-row sliding/reclining seats, 17-inch wheels, and a six-disc CD player. Kelley Blue Book notes, "Its dual-zone climate control can remain operational even when the gasoline is not running and the audio system is an impressive eight-speaker...unit." Other highlights of the 2008 Lexus RX 400h, adds Kelley Blue Book, are "cruise control, a driver information system, numerous modest storage cubbies plus a large locking glovebox, dual 12-volt power points and an anti-theft system."

Edmunds states popular options on the Lexus RX 400h include "leather trim, a power tilt and telescopic steering wheel, a moonroof, a navigations system with back-up camera and 18-inch wheels." ForbesAutos points out that the "optional navigation system also includes a graphic display that illustrates the flow of power to and from the hybrid powertrain's various sources." Most reviews read by TheCarConnection.com liked the display, though ConsumerGuide complains, "its touch screen shows fingerprints and can wash out in some light conditions." The 2008 Lexus RX 400h rear seat is a bit different from the RX 350 nonhybrid's, in that the former's is raised 0.7 inch to accommodate the hybrid battery pack underneath.

Also popular is an audio package with a Mark Levinson DVD audio system. This optional audio system for the 2008 Lexus RX 400h produces "210 watts of virtually distortion-free power from 11 speakers [and] turns the RX 400h into a concert hall on wheels," writes Kelley Blue Book. It is available with or without the voice-activated navigation system. Kelley Blue Book indicates there are two main options packages available for Lexus 2008 RX 400h models: Premium and Premium Plus.

The Premium Package includes leather trim; a power moonroof; a power tilt and telescoping steering column and memory for driver's seat, mirrors, and steering wheel; a roof rack with rails; and an illuminated entry system. The Premium Plus Package adds bi-xenon Adaptive Front Lighting. A Towing Prep package picks up a transmission oil cooler and heavier-duty alternator and radiator. A voice-activated navigation package includes Bluetooth connectivity and a rear backup camera. Also available are a rear-seat DVD entertainment system with a 9-inch screen, distance-maintaining Dynamic Laser Cruise Control, and a towing package, all according to Kelley Blue Book and Car and Driver.

Some packages can only be ordered with others. For example, Car and Driver notes, "if you want the Rear-Seat Entertainment package...you'll have to also order the Premium or Premium Plus package." And if this isn't confusing enough, Lexus offers various Special Value packages in different areas of the country. Your Lexus dealer should be able to assist you in customizing a 2008 RX 400h to your specification.

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