2013 Lexus RX450h

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Hybrids are, without question, the future.

Not because they necessarily make the most sense from an economic – or even “green” – point of view. But because they’re a way for the car companies to continue building vehicles that they’d otherwise probably be unable to build – or which would be much less profitable for them to build – given the federal government’s draconian fuel-efficiency requirements (and attendant fines for not meeting them).

Nothing that’s not very small-engined – or (somehow) very fuel efficient – is going to satisfy the federal requirement that all new cars average 35.5 MPG by 2016.

Hybrid powertrains are fuel efficient. But, they’re also expensive. Which, when you think about it, is a study in contrasts. You pay less at the pump.

But you pay more for the vehicle.

In the end, you may end up paying more, overall.

But at least, hybrid powertrains will make it possible for the car companies to continue selling certain kinds of vehicles – including medium-large crossover SUVs like the Lexus RX, which might otherwise face government-mandated early retirement.

WHAT IT IS

The RX is Lexus’ popular crossover SUV, one of the very first – and most successful such vehicles. The RX450h is the hybrid version of this big-selling crossover. Prices start at $45,910 for the FWD version and $47,310 for the AWD-equipped version.

WHAT’S NEW

Changes for 2013 include a redesigned front clip as well as a new Sport mode that changes several operating parameters – including steering effort (an advantage of electric-assist steering) as well as throttle response and transmission shifting characteristics. The formerly optional power rear liftgate is now standard equipment, too – and a USB port for hooking up external devices such as iPods is likewise included at no extra cost.

There’s also a neat little pigtail for the 12V accessory power point that’s much more user friendly than the hard-mounted (and sometimes, hard to reach) 12V power point that’s typical in other cars.

WHAT’S GOOD 

An absolute steal relative to a Porsche Cayenne hybrid ($69,000 to start) one of the few currently-available hybrid crossover SUVs sold by competitors – or a Benz ML350 BlueTec diesel ($50,490 to start) which isn’t nearly as fuel efficient – and also several thousand bucks more expensive to buy.

Operates on electricity up to about 40 MPH – and can coast on electricity-only at much higher speeds for short intervals.

32 city, 28 highway with FWD – much better than the non-hybrid RX’s 18 city, 25 highway. And the Porsche hybrid’s dismal 20 city, 24 highway.

Brilliantly ergonomic (fits your right hand) input controller on the console

WHAT’S NOT SO GOOD

$6k price bump to get into one vs. non-hybrid RX350.

EPA says it’ll take about eight years to work off the price differential in fuel savings, assuming gas prices stay about the same.

Input controller may not be the hot ticket for left-handed people.

UNDER THE HOOD

There’s a 3.5 liter V-6 under the RX hybrid’s hood – but farther back, there’s also several electric motors – two in FWD models, three in AWD models.

In the FWD model, there’s an electric motor to provide supplemental power during acceleration, plus a high-torque starter/generator to turn the gas engine off and on as you go and also to capture and convert the energy of the vehicle’s momentum back into electricity to feed the batteries and keep them charged up. AWD RXs have an additional motor to provide power to the rear wheels when low traction up front warrants it.

The combo produces a total of 295 hp – more power than the non-hybrid RX (270) and virtual dead heat acceleration: Zero to 60 in about 7.5 seconds vs. 7.1 for the non-hybrid RX.

It also delivers almost CAFE-compliant fuel economy: 32 city, 28 highway for the FWD version. (The AWD version comes in just behind this with a 30 city, 28 highway score.) This is within spitting distance of the 35.5 MPG edict that goes into effect just three short model years from now – which amounts to just two short calendar years from now. All Lexus has to do between now and then is eke another 3-5 MPGs out of the thing and they’re ok. At least, until CAFE goes up to 54.5 MPG – but that’s still a few years off (2020).

The non-hybrid RX, though, is in trouble.

The FWD version only rates 18 city, 25 highway; with AWD this drops slightly to 18 city/24 highway. Both stats fall well short of the 35.5 MPG CAFE cut. That means the non-hybrid RX – and all models like it – are in the government’s gunsights. Lexus – and everyone else – will be faced with the Hobson’s choice of either continuing to build non-compliant (non-hybrid) vehicles – and pass the government fines onto consumers in the form of higher sticker prices. Or, they can build CAFE-compliant vehicles – and hope that people can still afford to buy these necessarily more expensive vehicles.

Either way, we’ll all be paying for “fuel efficient” vehicles in the near future.

ON THE ROAD

The hybrid RX drives beautifully. It is a masterpiece of engineering. The operation of the hybrid powertrain is subtle – and seamless. Once you’re moving, it’s hard to know when the gas engine has been turned off – or when the electric motors are working – unless you’re looking at the LCD display that shows you what’s doing what. The display graphically charts the flow of power from the engine – and to the batteries – and from the batteries to the electric motors. You can use this real-time display to modulate how you drive – maximizing the amount of driving you do using just the batteries and motors – in order to achieve the highest possible economy – minimizing the amount of driving you do using the power of the gas engine.

It is possible to drive the RX on electric-only at speeds up to 40 MPH or so – just like a Prius. And you can coast for awhile on just the electric side of the powertain at speeds as high as 70 MPH – or even faster. The gas engine cuts in whenever it’s needed and you won’t know unless you’re looking – or listening. At low speeds, with the windows rolled down, you’ll be dead silent – just like an electric car. Because when you’re running on just the batteries and motors, that’s exactly what you are – an electric vehicle.

But, here’s the surprise: This thing is also right quick! Especially when you slide the shift lever to the left and engage Sport mode, which sharpens up the shifting action of the CVT automatic transmission and throttle response curve. Mid sevens to 60 is quicker than a new FR-S sports car (and several others, too). Truth be told, the RX probably has more power than it needs – or rather, more power than most buyers will probably ever need. Lexus could have made it to the 2016 35.5 MPG CAFE cut with the current model just by dialing back the output of the big V-6 by 30 hp or so (or making the V-6 a bit less big, say 3.0 liters rather than 3.5). Most buyers would never have noticed the difference. This de-rating and down-scaling is inevitable, regardless. Might as well get used to it.

Handling is also surprisingly tight. The ride is still cush – but you don’t bounce when the road dips. Or (and this is the really impressive thing) lean when you throw it hard into a curve. This is pat-worthy – given the RX hybrid weighs a beefy 400 lbs. more than the standard RX (4,520 lbs. vs. 4,178 lbs.). Cinching down all that unsprung mass – 5,000 lbs. with two large adults on board – is no easy trick, but Lexus pulled it off.

There’s no driving downside to the RX hybrid.

The Benz ML350 BlueTec diesel is only slightly quicker – zero to 60 in about 7 seconds flat – but far less economical to operate (20 city, 27 highway) as well as to buy ($50,490 to start – though AWD is standard in all ML models). The Porsche Cayenne hybrid – at $69,850 to start – is very quick (zero to 60 in 6 flat) but it’s also in another orbit, price-wise. And it’s shockingly fuel inefficient: 20 city, 24 highway. The non-hybrid RX does better – for half the cost!

The Cayenne diesel is arguably the better choice – efficiency-wise, at least. It rates 20 city and 28 highway – and starts out at a more reasonable (and RX competitive) $55,750. Its zero to 60 time of 7.4 seconds is dead-heat even with the RX, too.

AT THE CURB 

The side profile is pretty much the same as last year but Lexus has tweaked the beak – with the most obvious difference, ’12 vs. ’13, being the new-design grille. It has horizontal rather than vertical slats – as well as an hourglass shape, with a center bar in between the upper and lower sections. Headlamp assemblies have also been redesigned and include LED under-brows now. They’re slimmer and taper more, too. The end result is a slightly more aggressive face – but still very recognizably RX.

The hybrid RX gets a few unique exterior trim bits – including cobalt-blue background “hybrid” sill plates and “L” Lexus badges in the grille and on the rear liftgate. Inside, the hybrid RX also gets its own hybrid-specific gauge package. Instead of a tachometer to the left of the speedometer – as in the standard RX – the hybrid RX has dial gauge with three positions: Charge, ECO and Power. When you’re running electric (including regenerative braking, during deceleration) the needle will show Charge – in blue. Accelerate rapidly enough to kick the gas engine to life and you’ll be in the red – Power, on the dial. Eco is the transition in-between, as when coasting – or when the gas engine is operating intermittently.

Beyond the special gauge package, the hybrid RX is laid out exactly like the regular RX.

This includes the unique “hand mouse” on the console. It is shaped to fit the natural curve of the human hand. Your main digits operate the little toggle switch located toward the front of the unit, to highlight whatever function you’d like to access – such as satellite radio, or the GPs. Then use your thumb to select by depressing the pad on the left side of the controller. I’m a righty – and for me, the system was among the easiest of these high-tech input devices to use by feel – without having to look at what I was doing. This made the system much easier (and arguably, safer) to use while I was driving.

However – lefties may not like it at all. Some righties, too. It’s one of those things you’ve got to try out for yourself to know for sure – either way.

Space-wise, the RX has 80.3 total cubic feet of capacity with the second row folded down (power-folded, naturally). This is a good bit more than the Benz ML (71 cubic feet) and substantially more than the Porsche Cayenne hybrid (59.7 cubic feet).

Passenger space is top-drawer as well: 43.1 inches of front seat legroom and 39 inches of front seat headroom; 37.1 inches of rear seat legroom and 37.7 inches of rear seat headroom. The Benz ML’s a much tighter squeeze: Just 40.3 inches of front seat legroom (almost three full inches less!) and 38.9 inches of headroom. The Benz does have slightly more backseat leg and headroom – 38.4 inches and 38.5 inches, respectively. But that three extra inches up front – where you, as driver, spend most of your time – makes the RX feel a lot more spacious than the Benz.

As far as trim/equipment: The RX hybrid comes loaded – the major options being bundled together in Premium, Navigation and Luxury Packages – the latter including individual LCD monitors for the second row occupants and a 15 speaker ultra-premium Mark Levinson audio system. You can order automatic parking assist, adaptive cruise control and heated/cooled front seats. Lexus also offers its Enform technology suite, which  gives you real-time stock market and weather updates as well as Lexus news updates.

Order all this stuff and your RX can top $62,000 out the door.

But it’s not necessary to order all that stuff to have a very nicely equipped RX. 

THE REST

One RX weak point – relative to its sort-of (because so much more pricey) competition is tow capacity. The RX hybrid can only pull up to 3,500 lbs. – about what a typical mid-sized sedan can. The Porsche Cayenne hybrid,  on the other hand, can pull 7,716 lbs. – comparable to mid-sized, truck-based SUVs with V-8 engines. Ditto the diesel Benz, which can haul 7,200 lbs.

There is also the issue of long-haul durability. Lexus – that is, Toyota – has more experience with hybrids than any other automaker. And its hybrids have proved to be very durable and reliable. But the laws of physics cannot be negated – and eventually, every battery – or at least, every battery developed to date – becomes less and less efficient. That is, less and less able to store a charge. At some point down the line, the RX’s batteries will need to be “tuned up.” And there is also the issue of the – in effect – multiple engines in this thing. One gas engine, subject to all the wear and tear and maintenance issues you’d expect. Plus a set of electric motors on top of that. More stuff equals more stuff that may – and probably will – eventually need fixing. Or replacing.

The diesel Benz, on the other hand, is a diesel – and ought to be capable of going 300k-plus with decent treatment – and you’ve got no other engines (or motors) to worry about. Or batteries, either – other than the normal 12V deal that starts the car up, at least .

It’s food for thought – especially if you’re looking to drive whatever you buy for for the next 12-15 years or more.

THE BOTTOM LINE

This is a very nice ride – and a pretty fuel-efficient ride. But it’s also a more expensive ride. And it’s the sort of ride we’ll all be taking soon, like it or not – courtesy of our “friends” in Washington.

Throw it in the Woods?

 

 

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27 COMMENTS

  1. I know what you mean BrentP. There’s the abstract conceptual aspect of a post. AND AT THE SAME TIME THE CONCRETE OBJECTIVE REALITY of cellphone design and production. Certainly our little gadgets can withstand incredible abuse thanks to guys like you.
    A HARD DROP WHILE IN MOTION CAN and has scratched and has broken phones. Seems like the 3rd big drop is when the battery door goes lose.
    The extra case with the screen film breaks even easier. But its cheaper to replace and stops the scratches.
    But you are absolutely right the little buggers are tough with lots of crashworthiness.

  2. I’d like to see the states–Texas first of course–exercising more nullification. The doctrine of interposition–where the states protect their citizens from the ravages of the Leviathan Fed Gov–is still alive, and making a comeback.

    Several states including Montana, Tennessee, and four or five others have passed laws nullifying federal gun control laws within their state. Montana’s, for instance, allows any kind of gun manufactured in Montana and sold to a Montana citizen regardless of federal regulation.

    How about a similar law for cars?

    There’s something I’d like to see. This car (protagonist points to delicious example in driveway), made in Texas, for sale to Texans, is fucking exempt from Federal meddling. It weighs 2600 pounds, has a 420hp Mustang engine, handling and brakes that would make an Elise whimper in submission…and costs $30K.

    Oh you want airbags? Extra $2K. Traction control? $1K. Replace the Lexan rear and side windows with safety glass? $1K.

    Pick and choose. It’s your choice. If you’re Texan.

    • I heard some people have a Montana LLC so things like RV tags don’t skin you alive. Texas has the dummy address service so you can keep an American personal address no matter what state or country you actually reside in.
      Financial stuff you do as an LLC or with cash.
      Medical and dental is better and cheaper just a mile south of the rio grande. I think a lot of us want to be federal expats while still residing in the USSA ON THE DOWN LOW.
      Guess you could call us drybacks?

  3. First impression:

    The front-shot of the Lexus at the head of the article looks like the SUX-2000 from Robocop.

    Are we permanently doomed to ugly hoods, now that that ridiculous EU regulation is in force?

    Yeah–that’s the one that forces us to have hoods that look like a cruise ship’s prow, to protect the idiot who steps in front of your moving car.

    For his saaaaaaaaafety. So your big, mean, hard engine doesn’t hurt his widdle hippies and widdle headie.

  4. I think every school every post office and all the public parks could be safety factories. Full employment to make a Nascar cage for every car. A tiny parachute for every can of soup so your toes have equal safety your hands enjoy.
    DEVELOP A FIREPROOF COATING FOR to envelop homes in areas prone to wildfires.
    Free spraying stations so the 17% of us with pinworms no longer need to itch when they come out and lay their eggs near our sphincters at night.
    Gov could end most flooding. When a flood warning is issued a giant house sized plastic watertight tub could be attached until the waters abate.

    The safety squads could cover every inch of America with warning sickers and safety rails. Reconfigure all the roads into one ways that only circle counterclockwise.

    Perpendicular junctions at the same elevation are the most dangerous of all possible flow configurations. Roundabouts at every junction until. Less than 1000 people die each year on the roads.

    Any idiot can build and create things. That’s just exploiting nature.

    The real work begins in the aftermarket. MAKING EVERYTHING SAFE AND USEABLE BY EVERY CLUELESS IDIOT WHO NEED NOT HAVE ANY RESPONSIBILITY WHATEVER.

  5. Actually, if there is a NEW car available anywhere on Earth which you wish to have (VW Up!, English spec. Porsche GT2, etc.), there is a way to get it into the US if you’re resourceful, quiet about it and can pay cash. Just don’t expect to Title it in the US. I had two non-complying cars there (a First Generation Audi S3 and a Trabant) before I got the Hell out.

    • True – but without a title, it’s damn hard to use the thing! At least, not regularly, in areas patrolled by America’s Swinest.

      I stopped re-upping the registration on a few of my little-used vehicles because I just got sick and tired of tithing to the god-damned government for the privilege of hanging their plate on my vehicle. I still insure the vehicles, so they big bust is no threat. The worst that can happen is that they notice I have expired tags – and ticket me for that. It’s a small risk because these are units that don’t see much road time and when they do, it’s mostly within a 15 mile orbit of our place – which is literally out in the middle of nowhere, so few piggies to fret.

      But, if you drive a not-titled car (and so, not insured – how can you title a car that’s not technically your property under their definition/laws?) and they catch you, it’ll be a big bust. They may even seize the car, if it is in the country “illegally” – and without EPA/DOT permission.

      Would I do it for a Ferris Bueller-like car that’s parked inside my house, just to look at? Sure. But for a car I needed to use… ?

      Not me!

      • I would do like Garth Yeaman did. Get a vanity plate saying “EATTHE”. Then get the plates that say: Kids First on the bottom. The guys a genius.

        I’m thinking of getting “I11II1OOO0OO good luck writing down a plate # with zeros Oh’s 1s and I’s Copper Jonny Law.

  6. Good points, all. Agree about the size/weight – I remember the first “new” car I bought – a 1979 Corolla with a 1.2 liter four and a five speed manual transmission – it probably weighed about 2100 lbs or so, and was a blast to drive – great handling, 35 mpg all day, etc. And I think it cost around 5K out the door, a real bargain, if I recall correctly. I think we’re going to see more vehicles like the Prius C, as well, and some even better. And, as battery technology improves and the costs for hybrid technology get lower overall, I think it will eventually seem kind of archaic to see non-hybrid tech being driven, other than for sport or pure pleasure. (I’m hanging onto my sports car, by the way!)

    • Weight is the main reason for the relative inefficiency of all modern cars. It’s pretty startling that despite advancements such as dual-clutch automatics with 6-8 gears (and steep overdrive gearing), CVTs, direct gas injection, low rolling resistance bearings, tires (and so on), generally very favorable aerodynamics, etc., new cars (even economy-type cars) are only moderately fuel-efficient, when put into context – relative to what cars without all this technology were achieving 25-plus years ago.

      If the typical new car could be made say 20 percent lighter – the efficiency gains would be just as startling. You could maintain the same performance with less engine. And if you’d be willing to accept a bit less performance (no issue, in my view, given how over-powered most new cars are) there’d be another tremendous improvement.

      This doesn’t even get into hybrids, of course….

      • Eric, When I read your rants against vehicle weight, I’m thinking that you only want to reduce crashworthiness. Delete airbags, and reinforcement of passenger areas. That is fine…as long as you don’t FORCE me to buy a car that is more dangerous than a moderate increase in weight can offset. I’m all for choice, and letting buyers decide for themselves. Their choices should NOT be dictated by either the FEDGOV….or YOUR personal opinion.

        So here is my question for you……Is there ANY area beyond crashworthiness and safety where you think automakers could realistically save significant weight? (And please keep it reasonable. No railing against seat padding, heaters, radios, air conditioning or power windows. Even you beloved 1960s cars had those.)

        • If you drop an Iphone on concrete the screen might crack and the whole thing may shatter because so far the free shit douchebags don’t get to demand all smart phones include a mini airbag and a 5 pound cage to comply with Federal Phone crash safety regulations.
          Papa Serf can buy a hard shell crash proof case from a separate manufacturer if he wishes. Or not and take the risk.
          Car manufacturers should be free to make cars. Not have to worry about Ralph Nader bruising his hymen because the drivers seat is too hard.
          If President Lil Mao Mao wants 4 more years why doesn’t he build his own safety gear with his own 47% Free Shit Teers? Its a fuck of a lot easier make safety at a institution devoted to safety, right?

          • So you agree that the only way to make modern cars lighter is to make them less crashworthy?

            I support your right to buy ultra light cars made out of paper mache if that is your desire. But retrofitting a hard shell on a flimsy framed car is not particularly cost efficient. And that manufacturing approach should not be DICTATED by influences other than the market. You wouldn’t want to FORCE your choice on me……or would you???

            My question for Eric remains unanswered.

            • Mike,

              I just now replied, in detail (see above).

              The issue isn’t whether cars should – or should not be – lighter (or heavier). Or more – or less – “crashworthy.”

              The issue, as I see it, is: Free people should be able to decide what mix of attributes (and so on) meets their needs, as they define them.

              The problem – as I see it – is that force is being used to decide for others (by others) what mix of attributes each of us “should have.”

              It wasn’t until fairly recently (1960s) that the automakers had to meet much, if any, criteria beyond those made evident to them by buyers, expressed in the form of demand – willingness to buy vehicles.

              Now, you may state – correctly – that the cars of the pre-government era were less “safe” (and so on). But that is not the question – or the point.

              The question is: Do we prefer to decide for ourselves – for good and bad? Or do we prefer to be as little children, and told what to do by other people – who have arrogated to themselves the authority to act as our parents?

          • I know the point you’re making, but the customer does want his phone to survive being dropped to concrete. I used to do mechanical design for cell phones. They were dropped and dropped and dropped some more.

            If an iphone can’t do a reasonable drop to concrete they didn’t learn the mechanicals from their failed venture with motorola. (where they learned to make phones)

        • Hi Mike,

          No one appointed (or elected) me Fuhrer of anything – other than what gets posted here, of course! – and I would not want the job if they did. The last thing I’d do is presume to dictate the type of car people should be driving. That’s precisely my point: I support free choice. The problem is, we don’t have free choice. We are forced – if we wish to buy a new (or even remotely late model) car – to buy air bags and several hundred pounds of deadweight in the name of “safety.”

          I’d rather have less curb weight – and superior fuel efficiency (as well as performance) rather than the hypothetical improvement in crashworthiness – hypothetical, because it only becomes real if I have a crash – and I may never have a crash. Whereas I will – for sure – enjoy the advantages of light weight every single time I drive.

          Shouldn’t it be my choice to make? Shouldn’t the automakers be free to cater to what their customers ask for – as opposed to what the government decrees?

          We used to be able to buy a 1,600 lb. VW Beetle (and accept the reduced impact resistance in exchange for the super mileage and simplicity of design) or buy a larger, much heavier car, with superior impact resistance – by dint of it being larger.

          Air bags were once optional – freely available to those who were willing to pay for them – rather than force everyone to buy them (and subsidize them against their will).

          I’d like to have such choices again.

          We now have “compacts” that weigh as much as many mid-sized cars once did – and which deliver far worse gas mileage than they’d otherwise be capable of – because of the forced imposition of federal “safety” standards. Because some people decided their preferences matter more than the preferences of other people. And rather than let each decide for himself – these Clovers inside and outside of government have imposed their preferences on everyone else, at gunpoint.

          That’s my gripe – and the motivation for my rants.

          • Exactly, Eric, and when I CHOSE to buy a one ton 79 Corolla, it was with the knowledge that I might not fare so well in a crash involving larger vehicles. As a matter of fact, a semi driver actually tried to run me off the road on I-81. Fortunately, the more nimble car was able to go off road and I survived.

            The point is I am no longer given the choice to purchase a car like this, partly because big brother/sister has arrogated the free market in the interests of “public safety.”

            Ironic, isn’t it, that I can still take to the roads on a cycle, which has much less survivability built in. But there’s just not as much money to be made by somebody, you see, so they slip by. But the big makers, having to all toe the same lines, need to be protected. That’s the bottom line – one hand washes the other in big money statist corporate fascism.

          • Well Eric, you and I agree that consumers should have the choice to buy safety equipment or not…as they decide. Clearly, I want it, and you do not. But neither of us represent the entire market.

            My question was…. beside safety equipment, are there any other areas where significant reductions in the weight of modern cars could be made?

            If I read your answers above correctly, the answer is…..(except for smaller engines,) “no.”

            • Hi Mike,

              The major weight adder is safety equipment. Not so much air bags (they’re merely expensive) but the additional metal that’s needed to pass impact-resistance muster.

              Do you remember when 5 MPH bumpers came online in the ’70s? This alone added a couple hundred pounds of deadweight to every car.

              My ’76 Trans-Am has these. It is much heavier than the essentially the same 1970 Trans-Am. It also has an uglier nose – the “make-up” necessary to hide the huge bumpers mandated by Uncle.

              I have owned this car for more than 20 years. The bumpers have never done anything for me except make my car heavier – and slower and thirstier – than it otherwise would be.

              The mandates imposed since that time have resulted in more and more weight… and expense, too. Several manufacturers now use aluminum and other alloys extensively to shave weight while still complying with the edicts of Uncle. But that’s not free, either. Aluminum/alloy is much more expensive than steel. Composites also offer a way to comply with federal edicts without massively fattening up the vehicle. But again – not cheap.

              The thing is, we – car buyers – never got the opportunity to choose. We were told.

              And when we were offered a choice – air bags, for example – and our decision – not enough of us bought them – did not comport with the desires of our Masters – they decided for us.

              I owned a VW Thing once upon a time. It had plastic side windows. Shaved a lot of weight off the car. Illegal now. Saaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaafety.

              A basic economy car should not cost more than about $7,000 – brand new. But the least expensive new economy car you can buy costs about $11k (Nissan Versa 1.6) because of the add-on bullshit demanded at gunpoint by Uncle.

              There is no reason – no technical/engineering reason – why a new compact car shouldn’t be capable of 50-plus MPG. But the best they do is low 40s… because of Uncle.

        • Mike,

          Take a look at the Mazda2 vs. the Ford Fiesta. These cars are based on the same platform and similar in most regards. However, the Mazda2 is more than 200 lbs lighter than the Fiesta due to Mazda’s obsessive weight cutting measures. If I recall correctly, they used intelligent wire routing to reduce the total amount of wiring used in the car and even went as far as reducing the weight of the magnets in the speakers.

          Despite having a smaller engine (1.5L vs. 1.6L) and being down 20hp on the Fiesta, the Mazda is quicker to 60 than the fiesta and has an identical quarter mile time.

          However, the Mazda2 gets worse gas mileage in automatic trim due to being saddled with an antiquated automatic transmission vs. the modern DSG in the Fiesta. The mileage of the manual versions are nearly identical.

          Also to note, the American Fiesta carries an additional 120 lbs of weight over the identical model sold in Europe due to DOT compliance. I imagine it is a similar situation for the Mazda2.

          • Mazda makes their wiring exactly to length with no slack for service. They’ve been doing it since the 1980s at least. It’s part of what makes working on a mazda a pain. No slack to get connectors out, no slack to fiddle with with things or get test probes in, no slack to get something assembled for the way it can be reached, etc and so on.

            Ford at least usually makes things serviceable in a practical way.

  7. Nice review, and really points up what they’ve been able to accomplish with hybrid technology in recent years. I had a VW Toureg (basically a Cayenne for much less $$) some years back, equipped with the nice V8 package, that was really a blast to drive. I sold it after a year, as it just didn’t really fit the family’s needs as well as we’d thought, but I do recall its gas mileage was around 15 mpg on a “good” tank. That seems to be about average for SUVs, in my experience; even V6-equipped models, like the Isuzu Rodeos we drove a lot in the nineties only got about 17. It’s just a lot of mass, wind profile, etc. to move down the road. So getting around 30 in town, in a luxury yacht like this, really shows what the (true) hybrid design can offer with these larger platforms and it’s very impressive to me.
    My takeaway from the advent of this luxury SUV hybrid is that the technology to get 30 mpg from larger vehicles will likely become available going forward at price points that actually begin to make sense. It should be possible for Toyota and other makers to put out a true (and by that I mean using motor-generators at the wheels to provide regenerative braking, etc.) hybrid design for most other models they market, given the demand. And, that’s what’s going to be needed, not only to meet CAFE requirements, but to meet eventual free market demands for more fuel efficient vehicles.

    When I made the decision to add a Prius II (entry level for US market) to the stable here, it was due to some stubby pencil work around the projections for gasoline costs in this “new era” of the declining oil age. So far (two-plus years of ownership) those cost estimates and savings have been largely borne out. The almost doubling of average mpg as compared with a mid-sized, comparable capability sedan like the Camry generates a lifetime fuels savings in the 10K dollar-plus range – more than enough to justify the additional MSRP, especially when considering the number of ways a true hybrid design can actually INCREASE component longevity, such as reducing wear on brakes, eliminating the pulley systems for AC and other accessories, etc. Sure, the electric/electronic components add some additional complexity, per se, but, in all, electric motor/generators, and their associated circuits tend to be fairly robust. Batteries remain an issue, but many Priuses from five or more years ago, and with well over 100K, are still using their original batteries. There just isn’t that much evidence yet to form a negative cost-benefit analysis for overall expense of hybrids, in my estimation. With fuel costs likely to increase going forward, it’s likely they will be considerable bargains.
    So, taking an SUV prices like the Ford Escape Hybrid as an example, to fit the needs of a less style-oriented, or more cost conscious family, it becomes a much easier decision to justify spending, say 31K for the hybrid, versus say 24K for a comparable non-hybrid, when you can point to 30mpg vs. around 18 actual mpg that most SUVs get for overall driving. That’s a 60 per cent saving in fuel alone, and if we assume we’re probably in an era where gas prices will be rising over the years, on average, rather than falling, this decision becomes even easier.
    I think we’ll begin seeing true hybrid designs on most cars going forward, not only to meet the onerous CAFE standards, but as a free market response to the demand for vehicles that are more economical to drive in an age where the cheap oil is just not there anymore. How do people continue to justify driving huge, inefficient vehicles as their daily vehicles when the pump price finally settles permanently above 4.00? It will, most likely, given the big picture. What about 5.00? 6.00? Such a time is arguably coming within the next few years, and very probably within the useful life of a vehicle made right now.
    CAFE may just happen to align with what market forces call for, which doesn’t make big .gov “right,” any more than it makes a “stopped clock right twice a day.” People are, and should remain, free to spend as much as they wish to drive whatever they want to, but it’s definitely true that fuel economy is going to enter into many folks’ decision process for what they buy, and how they drive it. Just my .02

    • Thanks, DR!

      My big gripe with these hybrids is their missed potential – due to their excessive weight – which to a great extent is the result of their excessive equipment and power (from the standpoint of economical operation).

      The Prius C is a step in the right direction. It’s several hundred pounds lighter than the regular Prius – and costs less to buy, too.

      If they could get the curb weight down to 2,200 lbs. (or less) the MPGs could probably be pushed up to 70 in city-type driving and a solid 50-plus on the highway. I believe this could be done while still delivering acceptable real-world, “a to b” performance (zero to 60 in 10-11 seconds and the ability to cruise comfortably at 75 MPH). The problem is that PR/marketing has convinced people they “need” 7 second to 60 (and 130 MPH-plus) performance, even though nine out of ten drivers never make use of it.

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