I’d sharpened my pencil for the Lexus RX450h hybrid SUV, ready to pop the eco-bubble of a car that makes the extraordinary twin claims of having as much power as a sports car but lower emissions than a supermini. But then Lexus gave me a Pope-white one, with some mellow Coldplay loaded onto the 40-gigabyte hard drive of the 15-speaker Mark Levinson stereo, and sent me off for a drive. And as the virginal white Lexus whistled and sighed through fields of tall grass, brushed like green suede by a soft warm wind under deep blue skies, I started to lose all journalistic cynicism. I started to think I was in some sort of car ad: I could picture butterflies fluttering from my tailpipe, tiny hedgerow creatures rushing to the roadside to catch a glimpse of my friendly, silent car, and children, eyes closed, breathing deeply and smiling as I passed…
Stop, stop, stop. The RX450h is not the Messiah; but it’s still quite a naughty boy. It uses two electric motors to help the main petrol engine, drawing energy from the brakes which would otherwise be lost, and able to power the car silently and emission-free with the petrol engine stopped for short distances and at low speeds. The driver need do absolutely nothing; the car switches automatically and seamlessly between power sources for the greatest efficiency.
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