By on February 20, 2006

Blind we are if creation of this new genre we did not see.While it's often said you can't be all things to all people, someone forgot to tell Toy Yoda. While GM, Ford and The Dodge Boys are still trying to gentrify their rough-and-ready SUV's into cultured outdoorsmen (before urbanites abandon their automotive Wellingtons), the Japanese automaker took a light saber to traditional SUV demographics, sliced them into pieces and built a vehicle appealing to every single [up]market segment at the same time. No question: the force is with this one. Powerful it is too.

Ironically, the RX 400h is not Lexus' most cohesive design. From head-on it resembles a baby elephant: all legs and a tiny, short body. From the side, the strangely kinked C-pillars and double quarter-windows are a self-conscious attempt to give the standard SUV box some sedan-like horizontality. The blacked-out rear roof spoiler proclaims sport, while the nanodetailed LED taillights say insect. The RX 400h's aesthetic appeal resides in the details, like the gorgeously crafted adaptive headlights and backlit company emblems in all four doorsills. And, lest we forget, there's the ultimate badge of honor: the little 'h' on the boot badge proclaiming your intention to use less fossil fuel, keep the globe cool and avoid red meat (providing there's a suitable salad option).

To Infiniti-- and beyond!Inside, the SUV's interior has been Feng Shui'd to Infiniti– and beyond! Call it contemporary classic: a sophisticated blend of supple leather, soft touch plastics and precise touch switchgear. Give the RX' double-door piano wood console lid button a tiny push; watch it glide open with all the silky importance of a US Treasury vault. Have a fiddle with the precisely dampened switchgear. Notice the heated seat controls are infinitely adjustable– with dials. It's easy to obsess about Lexus' attention to detail; they have. From the RX 400h's eerie electroluminescent gauges, to the way the rear seats gently whir into repose, everything that could be done to comfort its occupants has. And, blissfully, nothing more.

The first thing you notice when you turn the RX 400h's key is— silence. All the electrics are at attention, awaiting orders. The gasoline engine lays dormant. You select Drive, put your foot down and golf cart away– without the slightest judder to rattle the clubs. At some point (approximately 25mph), internal combustion occurs and… you continue. Now I could explain that the RX 400h combines a 3.3-liter V6 with two high-torque electric drive motor-generators (mounted near the front and rear wheels) and a battery pack, using a planetary gear set and generator to route power from/back to the motors to discharge power/recharge the batteries. But all you really need to know is that Lexus' clean burning SUV has a powerplant (or three) that's as smooth and seamless as a Hollywood evening gown.

99 mpg? Pr chutzpah, Lexus styleJust be careful where you aim the thing. The RX 400h's electric power steering is lighter than diet popcorn– to the point where the big L embossed on the helm is as good a guide to your intended direction as any tactile information filtering though the speed-sensitive steering system. By the same token, the RX 400h's suspension set-up is aimed squarely at Hovercraft commuters; as a lateral G-force generator, the RX 400h makes a terrific highway cruiser. Saying that, thanks to its low-ish ride height, the RX 400h has less of the traditional SUV's deep-sea fishing feel around corners and over undulations. Sports-oriented environmentally conscious drivers (did I just say that?) can console themselves with plenty of tri-powered oomph. The RX 400h sprints from 0 to 60mph in 6.9 seconds– not bad for a 4365-pound soft roader.

Which is what, exactly? As the official Lexus website admits, RX 400h drivers are best advised to avoid any unseemly mud plugging ("Batteries are no match for boulders"). Which still leaves the RX 400h with enough personalities to challenge Sybil's therapist. Gas guilt? Ease up and enjoy double the mileage of virtually all your SUV driving peers. Feeling frisky? Whip all the assorted motors into one cohesive accelerative effort. Dinner at eight? Wash off the dirt and sashay in style. Boss dropping in for a meeting? Stack the rear cargo bay with business fireboxes. Surprise snowstorm? Keep on keeping on with all-wheel-drive and stability control (with snow tires 'natch). Perfect day? Simply relax in the comfort and silence of your luxury whip. The RX 400h does it all, and does it well.

Where Lexus leads, the competition follows. In short, the RX 400h is a too-good-to-be-true-mobile that is. The domestic manufacturers who once dismissed hybrid technology as unsafe, unproven and unnecessary are busy trying to catch up with their own range of hybrid-powered SUV's. If only they'd listened to Toy Yoda five years ago: "Do or do not! No try!" Meanwhile, the RX 400h is done.

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