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Lexus RX400h SE-L

Off-roaders are big news these days. School-run mums are targeted as irresponsible killers of the planet, while Greenpeace protesters recently chained themselves to the Land Rover production line. And now, here is something else to grab the headlines - the world's first hybrid SUV, the Lexus RX400h.

The RX400h goes on sale from 15 June, and with 1,000 UK deposits taken already, Lexus bosses are delighted. Who can blame them, when it is predicted that half of all RXs sold by the end of next year will be hybrid? The downside is a six-month wait for the car, but it will be worthwhile: the world's first hybrid SUV is an impressive piece of kit.

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Off-roaders are big news these days. School-run mums are targeted as irresponsible killers of the planet, while Greenpeace protesters recently chained themselves to the Land Rover production line. And now, here is something else to grab the headlines - the world's first hybrid SUV, the Lexus RX400h.

Promising to right the environ-mental wrongs of regular 4x4s, it is a full-size off-roader that delivers the acceleration of a hot hatch and the economy of a family car, with low emissions to match. But does the hybrid combination of engine and electric motors work on the road? We got behind the wheel to find out.

Visually, nothing bar the badging differentiates the RX400h from the RX300. The interior is identical, too, although a power meter replaces the rev counter. But when you turn the key, there is no roar from the 3.3-litre V6 - just a beep to say the car is running.

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It takes a little getting used to. Simply select Drive from the auto box, and the electric motor gently hums and moves you off. The engine kicks in at around 10mph and then, depending on how you are driving, works in tandem with the electric motor to boost economy. During our fast motorway and twisty mountain road route, we got close to the official 34.9mpg figure.

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Lexus knows a bit about hybrid technology - or at least, parent firm Toyota does. Its second-generation Prius is the current European Car of the Year. So is the RX400h simply an SUV with Prius technology? Well, it is the same basic hybrid system, but bosses are keen to point out they have moved the game on.

There are now two electric units, one each front and rear. Petrol still provides most of the power, but the motors play a bigger role than ever. As you would expect, the ride is smooth and refined - although if you are looking for a model packed with character, this is not it.

Prices start at £35,485 for the entry-level car, rising to £44,350 for our top-spec SE-L. That's roughly £5,000 more than the standard RX, but bosses say it is not the right comparison. They claim this is a V6 model with V8 power, and the price is favourable compared with eight-cylinder rivals such as the BMW X5 and Mercedes M-Class.

They have also admitted the newcomer will not be marketed as the 'the eco-friendly one' or 'the technical one', but as 'the fast one' - the flagship sprints from 0-60mph in 7.6 seconds, compared to 9.0 for the RX300. What's more, with emissions of only 192g/km against the X5 4.4's 317g/km, this is a car school-run mums can be proud of. Let's hope Land Rover is taking note.

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