As the ocean floor continues to bleed black gold into the Gulf of Mexico, governments all around the world seem to be pressuring the average consumer to take shorter showers, use fluorescent light bulbs and spend less time in our cars. It would seem, then, that buying a hybrid makes sense now more than ever. But is it really worth it? Sure, the crowd over at Rodeo Drive seems to find some value in the publicity stunt commonly referred to as "going green," but what about the rest of us, the common folk, the proletariat? Will purchasing a hybrid make our wallets a bit greener?
The simple answer to this is no. I'll admit, as those of you who've read a few of my previous writeups should know by now, I'm not exactly objective on this issue. Let's just say "reducing my carbon footprint" isn't exactly one of my top priorities or interests. Cars, however, do tend to hold my attention, and Lexus can, on occasion, make a mighty fine car.
The original RX is a prime example. It comes with a creamy 3.5 liter Toyota V6 that purrs ever so softly in the lower RPM range and whisks you along highways in silent comfort and style. The ride is exactly what you would expect from a 40-something thousand dollar SUV and it's available with snazzy modern features like radar-guided cruise control, voice recognition, glass that repels water and headlights that dim themselves when oncoming traffic is detected. Noyce.
The hybrid model is much of the same, but contrary to what you might assume, the addition of Toyota's standard hybrid system hasn't exactly bogged the car down; in fact, it's 20 horses more powerful. Essentially all they've really done is taken a slightly modified version of the standard V6, bolted a few minuscule electric motors to it and stamped it with all of the right eco-status symbols; you know, words like "synergy" and the letter "h" in general.
Unfortunately though, they've ruined the feel of the car. Whereas the standard V6 is silky-smooth and delivers power and torque in spades all throughout the rev band, the hybrid model...doesn't. It's fidgety. It doesn't seem to want to make up its mind about where to power the wheels from: the batteries or the engine. Because of this, you get a lot of hesitation from the car when you put your foot down; the extra 20 horsepower seems to be wasted. The car seems to say, "You want full throttle? That's not very green of you. I think I'll fry some eggs instead."
It's not even really all that economical. Sure, for a 2 ton SUV the 25-ish miles per gallon you'll average is great, but compared to other cars that can transport just as many people (5) in just as much comfort, the RX just doesn't make sense. An Audi A4 with all-wheel drive has almost all the same toys as the RX, superior fuel economy and costs almost 10 grand less.
It seems this car isn't really about saving the planet, or saving money for that matter. It's big and heavy and the driving position is way high up above the rest of the world, like a throne. It's glitzy and beautiful and covered in bits of shiny chrome. The back windows have limo tints so your 2.2 kids can avoid the paparazzi. The amount of attention to detail in both the powertrain and the interior is just astonishing. As a work of engineering and as a statement of style, this car is without any doubt, truly epic.
And that's really what hybrids in America are all about: style. It's just another badge to wear and show off, like Louis Vuitton or Gucci. This is a car for someone who wants all the comfort, reliability and presence of a Lexus RX, but also wants the smugness of a Toyota Prius. This is for someone who wants to look down at passing cars with a slight grin and a shake of his head, despite the fact that those cars are probably getting more miles per gallon than he is. The hybrid badge, in fact the entire "Green Movement" in general, isn't really about saving polar bears and penguins. It's about feeling good about yourself. And that's okay; if you're going to spend $40,000 on a car, it should make you feel good about yourself. Just don't act like I should worship the ground you walk on because you drive a hybrid.