New York Times columnist and Middle East expert Thomas L. Friedman recently laid out his "geo-green" strategy for saving the world, which aims to wean our nation's cars off the go-go juice they slurp with reckless abandon. Altruistic automobiling is all well and good, but can't we ride the road to good intentions in something cooler than a Prius? Yes, thanks again to our Japanese allies. The 2006 Lexus RX 400h, the first luxury SUV gas-electric hybrid, is based on (and looks just like) the popular RX 330. Considering the national average for a gallon of unleaded is about $2, the vehicle's 27/31 mpg makes the 400h very attractive. It would be all the more appealing if we adopted Friedman's suggested perk for all hybrid drivers: free parking anywhere.
Sticker price: $48,535.
Vital stats: 268-hp 3.3-liter V-6 that hits 80 mph smoothly and has passing power to pin your ears back.
Nice touches: Zero to 60 in 7.3 seconds, noise-reduction features like an acoustic glass windshield -- and did we mention 31 mpg? In an SUV?
Drawbacks: Acquiring one could prove difficult, since Lexus presold about 10,000 of the 15,000 units it made.
What you think it says about you: "I care about God's green earth."
What it really says: "You wouldn't care so much if the planet's salvation came in the form of a Pontiac Aztek." Second opinion: "The 400h is a stealth hybrid," says Gary Vasilash, editor in chief at Automotive Design & Production. "The power train is so good that you stop paying attention to how well you're doing miles per gallonwise."
The RX 400h is a complete hybrid. It can run on gasoline, electricity, or both. Two battery-powered motors run the car when it's first fired up or is crawling in traffic. Other times it runs on gas. Hitting the brakes sends energy to the electric motor, where it's stored for later.