Saturday, October 15, 2005

Alexis 2 - Electric Boogaloo

For the past 4 years, I've been driving a Lexus RX 300 with the navigation system. The nav system has a feature where it will talk to you telling you which way to turn, how far to go, when you've reached your destination, etc. It spoke in a soothing woman's voice and since my car was talking to me, it was only reasonable that she have a name so of course I named her Alexis (I mean really -- what else would you call her?)

Alexis was a great car but as her lease was coming to an end I needed to do something. I could either pay off the lease or update to newer technology. The latest version of the RX 300 is the hybrid RX 400h though there were lots of other cars to look at. Now I really like the idea of a hybrid car. With gas prices well over $3.00 a gallon and my love for geeky gadgets hybrid looked like the way to go. I needed enough space for me, and 4WD or AWD for driving up to Whistler so that pretty much pushed me to one of the hybrid SUVs and really limited it to 3 choices. The Lexus RX 400h, the Toyota Highlander hybrid and the Ford Escape hybrid.

I started with driving the Lexus and liked it from the moment I turned the key and heard --- nothing. You know that sound when the battery on your car is dead and you turn the key but nothing happens? That is what happens when you turn the key on the 400h. The only difference is that the car is actually on. Slide it into drive and start off slowly and you're just running on batteries in a totally luxe ninja car. Step on the gas and it takes off fast! The hybrid synergy engine (the same one that's in the Toyota Highlander) uses the electric engine to give you instant power and the gas engine follows instantly with the power needed to keep rolling along. The performance difference between the RX 300 and the RX 400h is really remarkable, all the more so when you realize you get nearly 70% better fuel economy at the same time. Lexus has also updated all of the extras in the past 4 years as well. Updated navigation system (same Alexis voice though), bluetooth phone support, backup camera, adaptive headlights that turn as the car is turning, even a drink holder in front of the air conditioning vent to keep the drink cool in the summer (um... really).

But I'm not gonna just buy the first car I drive so I went to look at the Toyota version. The Toyota dealership is only a mile from the Lexus one, but they are owned by different people and apparently they don't like each other - or so says the Toyota sales guy. They didn't have a new Highlander in stock but they did have a slightly used demo version with 6000 miles on it. Worth looking it until I found out they were still charging an $8000 premium over the MSRP for the USED one. WTF?! This put it within $1000 of the brand new Lexus car and while the Toyota had the same engine, the Lexus had a ton more really nice features and trying to get that much extra for the Toyota seemed insane. I asked the sales guy and he said that Lexus charges a premium as well on the RX 400h though I knew for a fact they weren't. When I told him this, he said "Oh. We don't like them". I suspect I know why.

With the Toyota off the list, I had only one other option. The Ford Escape hybrid is still a full hybrid but at something like $17,000 cheaper, it was totally worth a look. I went a drove it and do you know what? It got me from here to there. It's nav system was totally lame and it felt like driving a truck instead of a car, but it was still hybrid and the price difference was huge. So I spent several week doing my geek side proud by building weighted and prioritized lists of features and comparisons between the two cars. I was careful to not look at the results so that the weighting would not be swayed by some subconscious preference one way or another. After a full day of tweaking the list I finally looked at the results. Lexus 89, Ford 88. Well within whatever margin of error there might be. Crap. A tie. So much for math saving me.

I went back and drove both of them again. First the Lexus, then on to Ford. When I got to the Ford dealership I figured I was ready to go with the Escape. Leslie was with me for these drives and I started the Escape to show her how it starts off on the battery, only it didn't. Apparently it needed to charge so we drove for a bit but it never really kicked in to electric mode. Hmmm.... Then I really started noticing things from my RX 300 that were not there. Not the big luxury things like the smoothness of the seat adjustments or the nice wood but little things that honestly every car made today should do since they are so simple and basic. Chief among them is that when I turn off the car, after some delay, the headlights should turn themselves off. It's a switch - maybe on a timer. Can't cost more than a quarter. Nope - not on the Escape hybrid. Auto dimming mirrors? Nope - gotta flip it up. I can deal with not having all of the cool new things like bluetooth support, adaptive headlights or air conditioned drink holders but it would grate on me every time I turned the car off if I had to flip that switch. A lot. Huh. Attention to detail and elegance are really big things for me and worth a fair amount of money, it turns out.

So last Monday, I picked up my Lexus RX 400h and I've been ninja driving ever since. Better watch out behind you cuz you won't hear Alexis 2, me and my well cooled drink coming.



Anonymous said...

nice write up/ story/ review on your car buying saga :) We have an RX400h too. and we love it. lol alexis and "ninja" anywys see you around in your h.
P.S. what colour h is it?

Duffergeek said...

It's just like in the picture -- only bigger and 3 dimensional.

Leslie Irish Evans said...

Alexis....clever. WHO could have thought of something THAT clever, I wonder?