Cerebral Gibberish

What's on my mind, might just blow yours.

A Hybrid Experience

Posted by heymoe on November 26th, 2007

While visiting my Mom in Atlanta for Thanksgiving, I was able to drive her new Lexus RX Hybrid that she got almost a year ago. In general I’m not a big fan of SUVs or other vehicles that I can not see around or through while in my car since they block my ability to see whats ahead. This means I have to hope the guy in front of me is not busy talking on the cell phone or dealing with some other distraction that will cause them to slam on the brakes at the last minute thus making me have to slam on my brakes and hope I don’t rear end them. If I could see around or through the vehicle in front of me I would be able to notice traffic ahead slowing down make the necessary decisions on my own. Being that my mom is driving one now, I’ll make an exception for her.

The RX is not overly large and is designed to be driving on the road most of the time unlike the many uber SUVs that are really designed for the off road but are driven by soccer moms or purchased as a status symbol and will never see a dirt road in their life. On the outside I don’t think you could tell the difference between the Hybrid and non-Hybrid version of the Lexus RX if not for the different model identifier on the back. On the inside everything looks normal. Prior to starting the car the only thing I noticed was that instead of an RPM gauge there was a kW/h gauge. The big surprise for me was when I went to start the vehicle for the first time. The ignition system is the traditional “insert key and turn” and not the newer “push the start button” type. The inserting of the key and turning was as to be expected but not having the rumble of an engine starting was new. So new that I pulled the key out and tried again a few times thinking I did something wrong. It was not until my mom told me that if the “Ready” message was displayed you are good to go. So I put the vehicle into drive and released the brakes and we started to move forward. It was not until I started to accelerate that the gas engine came to life to help out. The next big surprise for me was when I came to a stop at a stop light. Upon stopping the gas engine turned off and everything was dead quite. I thought I stalled it or something but when the light turned green and I pushed down on the accelerator, the gas engine started again and away we went.

The information panel, which is also used for the navigation system and rear backup camera when purchased with that option, provides all sorts of information on the vehicle. It’s a touch screen which I admit is a nice feature that I wish my car’s navigation screen had and it did not take me to long to figure out where things are and how to navigate the menus. There is a Hybrid information screen, which I doubt the average owner would use all that much, that shows how power is being provided to the wheels (IE: gas engine or electric motor or both), when the batteries are being recharged (IE: by the gas engine which turns the electric motor into a generator or by the electric motor by itself when you are coasting or braking). Another screen shows your average MPG over the last 30 minutes of drive time as well as how much energy has been regenerated (IE: from braking and coasting) to recharge the batteries. In my mom’s case, she has an over all average MPG of 26.3 which seems low to me but better then the typical SUV or my car even. It looks like this Hybrid system really shines with city driving which I did not really do that much of. On the highway, the gas engine seems to be used the most to maintain highway speeds.

Over all I think I expected more from a Hybrid car in the form of MPG. 26.3 MPG does not seem to be all that special compared to newer gas or diesel non-Hybrid vehicles. Cost wise, it seems that any savings that one would gain from the purchase of gas over the life of the vehicles does not offset the additional cost of paying for the Hybrid technology over the non-Hybrid counter part. At least over the typical life time of ownership of a vehicle. On top of that I’m sure the maintenance cost of a Hybrid would also tap into any gains as well since it is new technology which tends to have higher costs in the form of parts or labor due to the mechanics needing specialized training, etc..

I guess for me after all is said in done, if my mom is happy I’m happy and its a good start to breaking us from having to depend on foreign oil. I personally will consider an alternatively powered vehicle in the future so if my luck with cars continue, that will be another 6-8 years which will hopefully see mass improvements over the currently available alternatives.

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