This isn’t a profoundly exciting machine – it’s no Jaguar, or Porsche, or even a Lexus sedan. What it is, is a comfort-mobile, like all SUVs: a big, soft vehicle that makes you feel powerful, in control and safe. For most SUV drivers, performance, while important, is incidental to the feeling of being way up above traffic and in control of enough muscle to do your own thing, with no interference from the little guys. However, this is a Lexus, and even sitting in traffic in Podil, we got a sense of the car’s silent, smooth power. Just a mere touch on the gas, and you’re moving, the 3.3 litre V6 engine doing its quietly powerful thing. Waiting in afternoon traffic along the shore highway, we grooved along to music blasting out of the Mark Levinson Premium Surround Sound System, and checked out the interior. Again, nothing especially original, just standard luxury SUV surroundings, and there’s nothing wrong with that. We took a look at the Electric Multi-Vision display system, which is to say a fairly large-sized screen that functions as the vehicle’s information centre. The colour touch-screen lets you control, and view, a bunch of systems including air-conditioning and audio, and there is satellite navigation. (Many systems can also be voice activated, for that special 2001: A Space Odyssey touch.) The rear screen is also where you watch the images provided by your handy rear parking camera, which came in handy when we heaved this big SUV up on the sidewalk on Sahaidachnovo to buy some tarts at the bakery. Between the tarts, the killer sound system and the silence that you get inside this Lexus, the traffic jam was bearable.
Among other cool perks, this car offers Bluetooth phone connectivity, which means that you don’t have to use your cellphone as you drive anymore. That’s helpful, first because it might save your life or someone else’s, and second because the police will supposedly start cracking down on cell-using drivers. The use of space in this Lexus, by the way, is ingenious. Little storage areas are tucked everywhere, making it a very well-designed little car. Heading out to the mountains this winter and need to shove all your skies in? Never fear, they’ll slip right in. So will a mountain bike or two. There’s even a large concealed compartment providing additional storage under the luggage compartment floor.
Out on the Highway
Then we got out on the open road. What can we say? An SUV isn’t going to hug the curves like a Formula One car, but the RX 400 was a much better performer than other similar vehicles with which we’ve been acquainted. Taking turns fairly fast, we found that there was comparably little drift, and you had almost none of that queasy feeling of maybe tipping over that you sometimes get in SUVs – there’s a nice low centre of gravity. You can feel the suspension hugging the road – there’s a cool feeling of floating around turns. And again, while this isn’t a race car, it does accelerate effortlessly. We’re not sure you’ll hit 100 kilometers per hour in under eight seconds, like you can with the similar but non-hybrid RX 350 model, but don’t worry, you’ll be moving fast, and fast enough.
As for this being a hybrid, the twin electric motors of the Lexus Hybrid Drive system kicked in nicely once we got up to speed. We felt very virtuous given how few pollutants we were pumping into the air. As for this car’s off-road capabilities, we only took a short drive on a dirt track, but were impressed by how well the E-FOUR four-wheel-drive system switched from two-wheel to four-wheel drive to adapt to conditions.
In all, this is another typical luxury SUV, which is to say, it’s comfortable and powerful. Exciting? Not especially. But driving in this city is exciting enough. At least you’ll hop the curb easily, which is always useful. And you’ll fit right in.
Some other notes we jotted down. First of all, both pedestrians and other drivers get out of your way fast when they see you coming in this car. Of course, they’d get out even faster were you driving a Hummer, so whatever. Second, one of us found the driver’s seat a bit uncomfortable, especially the process of switching gears - he had to kind of twist up his arm. Third, the button controls to adjust the seat can be hard to reach. Fourth, the dashboard is wonderfully designed: everything is crisply and cleanly designed, so it’s a joy to use. Fifth, the rearview mirrors come combined with a significant blind spot, so get ready to turn your head. But the sum-up? This is a solid and respectable Kyiv car.
Alexey Karas and Mark Sabchuk