Electric Company

2008 Lexus RX 400h

In a time of four-dollar-a-gallon gas, nothing primes the pump of personal satisfaction quite like driving a hybrid. You can sigh with self-important relief as you cruise along under the power of your own electrically-assisted engine and gaze with pity upon all those poor souls who bought big, honking SUVs back in the days when $3 gas seemed an outrage.

You know, back in 2007.

2008 Lexus RX 400h
2008 Lexus RX 400h

But while you may crave the cultural significance of driving an eco-mobile, you may not be quite ready to give up your SUV-loving ways.

Enter the Lexus RX 400h.

Powered by the same technology behind Toyota’s blockbuster green machine, the Prius, the RX 400h near seamlessly blends the distinctive style and design of the Lexus mid-size SUV with the near frugality of a hybrid.

Note that second ”near.”

As an SUV, the RX 400h delivers exactly what we’ve come to expect from a Lexus: a nicely appointed interior that doesn’t cross the line into extravagant; a roomy interior that still feels a touch cozy; and a smooth driving experience that slots directly between a car and a fuller-sized SUV.

As a hybrid, the RX 400h delivers a taste of what new technology offers in terms of greener autos and reduced dependence on fossil fuels. But it’s helpful to remember that there are two overlapping, but distinct, reasons for buying a hybrid.

One, you want to save yourself money by reducing the amount of gas you use.

2008 Lexus RX 400h
MSRP: $42,580 MSRP; $49,975 as tested
Gas mileage: 26 city/24 highway
Highlights: Drives, rides and carries lots of baggage just like a regular SUV.
Lowlights: Lower gas mileage numbers make it more of a statement and less of a savings.

Two, you want to save the environment by reducing the amount of gas you use.

If you can afford about fifty grand for a spanking new hybrid SUV, then you’re likely focused on reason number two. While the RX 400h improves on the mileage of its gas-only brethren, it’s a far cry from the mileage you would wring out of the far thriftier — and cheaper — Prius.

That’s not a bad thing — the continuing growth and popularity of hybrid technology in the American market is truly welcome. Just be clear with yourself about your goals, and you’ll be happy with your pick.

Sean Bugg is Editor Emeritus for Metro Weekly.

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