by J.T. Hills -
SGN Contributing Writer
A couple of weeks ago, I attended the Lexus Hybrid Living Tour in San Francisco and Napa. In last week’s article I wrote about the first day-and-a-half of the event and my impressions of the Lexus LS 600h L, and left off with a stop over at Point Reyes Station north of San Francisco. Point Reyes marked the second leg of the road tour and a switch of vehicles. My companion and I had to give up the keys to the LS 600h L for a Brandy Wine Mica-colored Lexus RX 400h. The Lexus RX 400h gas-electric hybrid is the first midsize luxury SUV on the market. The 400h is the sister to the top trim level gas-powered Lexus RX 350.
The 3.3-liter V-6 gas electric engine in the RX 400h produces 268 hp with 212 lb-ft of torque at 4,400 rpms with a 0-60 acceleration of 7.3 seconds in the AWD model. The 400h AWD has a sticker price of $48,410… not a small sum. Although it was really hard to give up the LS 600h L – priced around $120,000 – the differences in the two vehicles become extremely noticeable, with a bitchy Gay edge to it.
The RX 400h did have some nice luxury touches to it, though. It has standard features like a power rear lift gate, heated outside mirrors, 10-way power driver’s and front passenger seat. The test vehicle also came with the premium package that added a leather-trimmed interior, power tilt-telescope steering wheel, and a one-touch open/close moonroof. Also there was the rear seat entertainment system with a nine-inch screen. In addition there was a DVD navigation system, back-up camera and the premium audio package with the Mark Levinson 2210-watt 11-speaker sound system. It’s not like we were really slumming. We just really really, really liked the LS 600h L.
After picking up the RX 400h at Point Reyes Station we took a little detour off the map and headed up Highway 1 to a cute little oyster fishing village on the coast called Marshall to take some pictures. Then it was off to Sonoma for lunch. The drive between Marshall and Sonoma is extremely beautiful, along roadways that are perfect for testing out a vehicle. The RX 400h’s 3.3-liter V-6 gas electric engine is fun. It accelerates strongly for an SUV, and the electronically controlled continuously variable transmission (ECVT) is extremely smooth. Along the windy roads of the Northern California Coast it did feel a bit top-heavy at times. My traveling companion mentioned that if the seats were set a little lower it wouldn’t be as noticeable – he was delicate and getting a little carsick. I think he just missed the LS 600h L (meaning he kept on mentioning how much he missed the LS 600h L). I found the RX 400h to be an impeccably balanced ride that was nice and tight in the cornering.
The interior of the RX is nice and spacious up front; we’re both over six feet tall, and it was comfortable. For those who might be sitting in the back seat, space-wise I’d feel bad for them, but you could always plug in a movie and tell them to shut up. The second-generation RX was last updated for the 2003 model year. It’s starting to show its age. The main advantage of the RX 400h AWD is the hybrid engine that gets 26 mpg city and 24 mpg highway. For a mid-sized luxury SUV, these are excellent numbers – especially when you factor in the all-wheel-drive component. It’s luxury with an eco-conscious mind.
After some road construction slowdowns and a couple of wrong turns, we finally ended up in Sonoma to be late for the Lexus lunch and, I think, a presentation on handmade cheeses. After getting in a quick bite, we took off for Napa and up the Silverado Trail to the Silverado Resort. The Silverado Resort is FABULOUS (www.silveradoresort.com). It’s a full-service resort with world-class accommodations, spa, and a tennis and golf club. Best of all, it’s in close proximity to literally hundreds of wineries.
After checking into the hotel, we got ready to meet the limo-bus for a tour and dinner at Far Niente Winery (www.FarNiente.com). What makes Far Niente Winery so interesting, in addition to an excellent selection of wines and amazing food, is that the winery is completely green. All of the power used at Far Niente is derived from a 1,000 solar panels mounted to 130 pontoons in an irrigation pond. Also all of the vehicles used on the property are either electric or use bio-diesel. It’s really made for a beautiful setting and an excellent way to end a day of driving.
Next week, part three of the Lexus Hybrid Living Tour, and the Lexus GS 450h.