How does Lexus Hybrid Drive work?

Since its introduction in 2006, Lexus owners have enjoyed premium levels of comfort and refinement twinned with low running costs and excellent fuel economy thanks to Lexus Hybrid Drive technology. But how does this highly beneficial hybrid technology work in practice?

To help you to have a better understanding of the technology in a Lexus hybrid vehicle, this post clearly explains clearly what Lexus Hybrid Drive is, how it works, and how it brings benefits to the environment and your wallet.

What is a hybrid vehicle?

Vehicles with two or more power sources are usually described as being ‘hybrid’. In most hybrid cars on the road today, the dual power sources are a traditional internal combustion engine and an electric motor. However, the way that the two sources combine to power the car usually follows one of three distinct variations of hybrid arrangements.

Lexus Hybrid Drive is known as a full hybrid system, meaning that its two power sources – a battery-powered electric motor and a petrol-driven combustion engine – are entirely separate from one another. Either of them can power the car on their own, or the power from both units can be combined.

Lexus Hybrid Drive is derived from its parent company Toyota’s pioneering Hybrid Synergy Drive technology, which is the world’s most popular hybrid system, having sold in excess of ten million units since its launch in Japan in August 1997.

The second hybrid variation is described as being parallel. In this set-up, primary power comes from a normal combustion engine, but it is directly aided by an electric motor fitted between the engine block and gearbox. By the nature of its configuration, the electric motor has to squeeze into a small space in the engine bay between engine and gearbox, limiting the amount of power it can provide and the range of the vehicle when operating in all-electric, or EV, mode. For this reason, parallel hybrids usually offer less functionality than a full hybrid vehicle.

Lastly, the third kind of hybrid is the series type. While this type of hybrid still has two power sources, the vehicle is driven by the electric motor alone. The combustion engine isn’t directly connected to the transmission, so it only serves as a generator to provide electrical power for the electric motor. A particular challenge for series hybrids is maintaining efficiency once the battery power is depleted. For this reason, cars with series type hybrid set-ups are rare.

How does Lexus Hybrid Drive work?

All Lexus Hybrid Drive vehicles use six main components: a petrol engine, an electric motor, an electric generator, a battery, a power control unit, and a power split device. The power split device uses a special planetary gearbox to distribute power between the engine, motor and generator.

Through this clever combination of technology, Lexus Hybrid Drive can be described as a smart, fuel-saving technology that switches seamlessly and automatically between the electric motor and petrol engine. By monitoring driving conditions, it intelligently manages the flow of power from both sources and can also detect when to combine the two for maximum efficiency and on-road performance.

Close-up of Lexus Hybrid Drive

The Lexus Hybrid Drive system’s ‘intelligence’ allows the two power sources to operate with a wonderful synergy. When the petrol engine is running, it drives the generator to charge the battery. And when conditions allow it, such as in low-speed urban environments, the generator shuts down the petrol engine and lets the electric motor take over. This means that the car can operate with zero emissions.

The sophisticated engine management system also recognises when the car comes to a halt and switches the engine off to conserve power and cut emissions, automatically firing it up again when necessary.

Lexus CT 200h technical Hybrid Synergy Drive

Because of this arrangement, there is never any need to charge the batteries of a Lexus Hybrid through any other means, such as by plugging it into a mains supply. Sufficient charge is always supplied to and held within this battery via the petrol engine.

How are the hybrid batteries charged?

The hybrid battery can be charged in two ways. As well as using energy from the engine for charging, Lexus Hybrid Drive also charges the battery through regenerative braking, a system which recovers energy that would otherwise be wasted during braking.

Every time the brake pedal is pressed or the driver releases the accelerator pedal to lose momentum, the electric motor goes into reverse, in effect becoming an electric brake and thereby generating electricity. This is then diverted to the battery for recycling.

Lexus CT 200h technical Hybrid Synergy Drive

In other words, the braking energy that is usually lost as heat and noise, or simply wasted altogether, is captured and used to power the electric motor later on. In continuous stop/start traffic, a significant amount of energy is recaptured and stored this way, improving the overall efficiency of the Lexus hybrid and maximising the amount of time it can stay in zero emission, all-electric mode within towns and cities.

Lexus hybrid battery life: How long do they last?

Lexus Hybrid Synergy Drive battery

The battery is designed to last the life of the vehicle. In any case, your battery is warranted for five years. The batteries are much larger than regular car batteries as they need to generate and deliver sufficient voltage to power the car at low-speeds without any support from the petrol engine. Their production does have a small, additional impact on the environment, but this is more than compensated for by the environmental benefits of driving a hybrid car.

Procedures are also in place so that each battery can be recycled, arranged through Lexus dealerships.

Is the engine in a Lexus hybrid different to that of a conventional car?

In a manner of speaking, yes. Unlike conventional four-stroke engines, the internal combustion engine used in vehicles with Lexus Hybrid Drive uses a slightly different cycle that produces less heat. This Atkinson cycle also reintroduces cooled exhaust gases into the combustion chambers to make an additional contribution to reduced engine temperatures.

Lexus IS hybrid engine

A conventional four-stroke engine sometimes has to inject more fuel than necessary in order to cool the combustion chamber and stop the catalytic converters from overheating. This is a useful way of preserving components but it also uses more fuel. The Lexus Hybrid Drive solution, however, is more fuel-efficient and has proved to be phenomenally reliable.

Do I have to drive differently to make the most of hybrid technology?

No. Lexus Hybrid Drive is fully automatic and designed to optimise the use of precious fossil fuel for each driver. All you have to do is enjoy the road ahead!

Lexus ES 300h Takumi driving on the road

Is the hybrid system in the Lexus LC 500h the same as in other Lexus models?

No. The Lexus LC 500h features a new Multi Stage Hybrid System, delivering the sharpest and most refined drive from a full hybrid yet, with much stronger and direct acceleration.

The new Multi Stage Hybrid System was developed with ostensibly opposing goals in mind. It wanted to create a hybrid with a more sporting and engaging driving experience, with a closer alignment between engine speed and throttle inputs, while at the same time achieving the best balance of power and fuel consumption.

It features all the elements of a traditional full hybrid powertrain, including a 3.5-litre V6 petrol engine, a powerful electric motor and a lithium-ion battery, together with a four-speed automatic gearbox mounted at the rear of the hybrid transmission.

The electric motor generates better acceleration feel than a conventional engine, and the introduction of physical gears allows for engine revs to be more closely matched to the driver’s use of the accelerator. The result is a much more direct connection between accelerator pedal inputs and vehicle acceleration, with nought to 62mph brought well into the sub-five-second range.

The Multi Stage Hybrid Drive System is the first Lexus full hybrid system to provide an ‘M’ transmission mode, allowing the driver to make direct and responsive gear changes and enjoy the most sporting and engaging drive yet from a Lexus hybrid.

A new, lightweight and compact electric motor and lithium-ion battery offset the weight of the added automatic transmission, so the new system weighs the same as the current Lexus full hybrid system – an exceptional feat of engineering.

110 comments

  1. I HAVE HAD MY NEW RX450H NOW FOR 4 WEEKS (FROM BOLTON LEXUS) AND I AM
    DELIGHTED WITH IT. HOWEVER MY READING OF THE WARRANTY DOCUMENT
    INDICATES THAT THE HYBRID BATTERY IS ONLY WARRANTED FOR THREE YEARS.

    THE DEALER TOLD ME IT IS WARRANTED FOR FIVE YEARS AND YOUR OWN WEBSITE WOULD APPEAR TO INDICATE LIKEWISE.

    COULD YOU PLEASE TELL ME CATAGORICALLY THE PERIOD OF WARRANTY WITH
    RESPECT TO THE TRACTION BATTERY.

    MANY THANKS

    1. Hi Alan,
      Thank you for taking the time to contact us.
      We’ve spoken with our Customer Relations team and your RX450h hybrid components have a 5 year/60,000 mile warranty. We would like to point out that this does include the hybrid battery but not the 12v battery. We suggest contacting your local Lexus Centre where the vehicle was purchased as they’ll be able to provide you with a warranty document which states the correct 5 years, not 3 years.
      Hope this helps.

      1. I’m not sure how to post questions so apologies in advance.
        Questions about RX450H sport:
        Is the CVT based on the usual belt/friction drive or is the electric machine used to provide the CVT?
        What type of battery is used in the 2017/2018 model from Japan?

  2. I have just purchased a second hand RX400H SE on a 57 plate and have heard something about the lexus warranty on the hybrid battery. My vehicle has only done 44,000 miles, does the warranty cover this vehicle?

    1. Hi Will
      Your ’57 plate suggests your Lexus was first registered between September 2007 and February 2008. Every new Lexus comes with a three-year/60,000-mile warranty cover, whichever comes first, with no mileage limitation for the first year, while the hybrid components, including the battery, are provided with a five-year/60,000-mile warranty. Any defect that is attributable to a manufacturing or assembly defect under normal use is covered by the warranty. If you have any other questions about Lexus and Hybrid the following link may be of use : http://www.lexus.co.uk/hybrid/#/AboutHybridQA
      Thanks for getting in touch.
      Lexus UK

  3. I am very happy with my CT, I constantly get over 50 mpg, often on the motorway this rises to 61 to 63, so mpg is not a problem.
    What I am not so keen on is the CVT when at times, for example hill climbing, the engine works extremely hard to keep the car moving and is very very intrusive, I often feel that a 2ltr engine would be better suited.
    However, as the car is 2 years old this year, I will change it for another CT as I have read that this issue has been resolved and now the “gearbox” behaves more like a conventional automatic.
    Having said all this, as an everyday car the CT suits me very well.

  4. I have found this article the most informative of any site including my owner’s manual.
    Thank you
    John H

    1. Hi Hetherington
      Thanks for your comments and we do appreciate your feedback regarding this post.

  5. I love my CT but I would suggest you do need to change your driving style to better suit the advantages of the hybrid drive. Indeed the included driving tips are all useful – even the best hybrid system in the world cannot overcome the laws of physics!!

  6. Hi I have a 2013 RX450h FSport. I am getting on with it very well I have toured Europe towing a Caravn without issue.
    I have a question, when my Hybrid indicator dial shows that the system is charging when is the greater charge? At the very bottom of the dial or the top just under the Eco section, or is there no relevance.
    Cheers
    Chris

    1. Hi Chris,

      Glad you’re enjoying your RX 450h. To answer your question, the hybrid system does recover more charge the further into the Eco section of the dial the needle goes. For example, you would recover slightly more charge by braking hard a few times than by coasting in Eco mode for a short period. That said, using the Eco mode is always good!

      Hope that helps,

      Will

      1. Hi will
        I wonder if you can help me with this
        Iam planning to buy ES300h but I notice that the rev gauge is different , it include charge , eco and power , can to please explain to me each one ?
        Best regards

        1. Hi Rashed,

          Thank you for your interest in the ES 300h. This is a hybrid vehicle, which combines a petrol engine with an electric motor and battery. It uses an e-CVT transmission to get the most of the hybrid system, and uses the engine revolutions differently to a traditional petrol or diesel car. A CVT transmission does not have a fixed set of gear ratios. It has infinite gear ratios and will select the most efficient for any demand from the driver. This is reflected in the car’s instrument binnacle. Simply put, when the car indicates that it is in ‘charge’ this means the vehicle is recharging its hybrid battery, so it can use the electricity later. If the car indicates ‘eco’, it means the car is not using much energy, and will be more efficient. The car will indicate ‘power’ when you demand hard acceleration, which uses more energy from the petrol engine and battery. The best way to understand how this works is to experience the car in action. WE’d be honoured to arrange an appointment with your nearest Lexus centre. Is this something you’d be interested in?

          For now, you can learn more about Lexus hybrids, and how they work here: https://www.lexus.co.uk/hybrid/

    2. I just bought a 2014 450h and was told by Lexus I cant have a hitch topull a seedoo. How can Chris pull a caravan?

      1. Hi Steve,
        Thanks for getting in touch. We do not offer a tow bar as an official Lexus accessory and we do not recommend towing a trailer/caravan with your vehicle. We do not recommend the installation of a tow hitch or the use of a tow hitch carrier for a wheelchair, scooter, bicycle, etc. Your vehicle is not designed for trailer towing or for the use of tow hitch mounted carriers. You may be able to fit a tow bar as a third party accessory, but if something was to happen to your vehicle due to the use of a third party accessory, your warranty may be voided. We hope this clears things up for you.

        1. Hi, I have owned from the RX300 to the present day RX450h and have always towed with them all and as I remember it there has always been a towbar available for each one via the Lexus accessories brochure. The present one is actually labelled Lexus. Am I still to believe that this may void my warranty ?
          There also seems to be mention of a setting on my present day 450H for a stability program when towing.
          I know that these cars are inteligent but surely you must be wrong here.
          The car itself is brilliant in every way and I would also recomend it as a tow car

          Richard.

          1. Hi Richard,
            Thank you for getting in touch. Please can you confirm that you own a RX 450h?
            Please could you also confirm if you have purchased a tow bar as part of the accessory pack from Lexus? Many thanks.

  7. I have a 57 plate RX400 on 90,000 miles and I notice that the battery indicator on the central display never reaches full. I have not seen it go higher than 2/3.

    Does this mean the rechargeable part of the system has degraded to a point where the battery will never reach full?

    Also is that the reason why sometimes when I start the car, the petrol engine comes on straight away even though it is hardly doing 5mph. It feels like there is no charge in the battery and that’s why the petrol engine is on, even though display is showing 1/3 battery life left.

    1. Hello SA
      Thanks for your post.
      Just to reassure you this does not mean the battery has degraded. The battery is designed to work in conjunction with the petrol engine so it operates at its most fuel efficient at all times. The display may not reach full but you will notice the storage increasing if going down a long hill for example. The petrol engine is constantly monitoring batteries to make sure they never drop below a certain level which is why you will hear the engine cut in at certain times. Battery use will of course be governed by how the vehicle is driven but adopting a smooth driving technique in terms of reading the road and slow braking will start to deliver results. It does not mean that there is any problem with the batteries in the car.
      Hope this helps but let us know if you have any other questions.

  8. I have a “Prius ” at the moment…. . generally speaking.. in what ways would you say that the Lexus is better than this …if at all ?
    There are several unfortunate design problems in the Prius to do with visibility…in my opinion , possibly safety related ?) Do you have comparative statements / comments about this in relation to the Lexus/Prius ?
    I noticed some Lexus cars (taxis ?) as well as the Prius , (also many Camry !) on the roads on a visit to America (New York ) recently… In what ways is this significant given the mileage/usage /service necessary that they (all ) undertake in this City ?

    1. Hello Mr Richardson
      Thanks for your post. A very interesting question.
      In terms of efficiency, whichever hybrid you choose to drive whether a Toyota or Lexus, it will essentially be the same from the operation perspective as they are all designed to drive as efficiently as possible and all have the ability to use electric power at lower speed, thus saving fuel. It boils down more to what you need the vehicle for, what your requirements are and which best meets your needs. Lexus is our premium brand while Prius represents our first hybrid model which went on sale in Japan in 1997. More than three million Prius have now been sold worldwide and nearly seven million hybrids in total. This has proven the longevity of the hybrid powertrain and established this technology as a credible alternative to conventional petrol or diesel engine vehicles.
      Taking your next point, with regard to your comments about visibility, if you can elaborate further then we would be happy to address this. Hybrid cars are used by taxi companies in cities across the world because they save their drivers money, can access zones which can only be reached by low emission cars, but crucially they are reliable. Owners who use their cars for business need to know it will not break down. London also has its fair share of Prius taxis. Servicing requirements are no different, in fact hybrids have less serviceable parts so cost and maintenance is not an issue. We hope you will have seen this for yourself. Lastly the Toyota Camry has been the best selling car in America for quite a number of years as it meets the needs of the US driver. We do not sell this model in the UK but we hope this has helped clarify. Let us know if you have any other questions and about the visibility issue you mention.

  9. I am very happy with my new Lexus IS300 Exec but a few issues I will discuss with the dealer at the first service are (1) the left side of the centre console needs to be padded as the hard plastic is uncomfortable against my left knee. (2) The Indicator stalk selection & cancel is too sensitive between selecting fully on or just 3 initial “blinks” likewise when correcting there is a tendency to over-correct and signal the opposite direction.. (3) The phone bluetooth I am constantly being advised people can’t hear me clearly but this wasn’t the case in my previous car.

    1. Hello Adrian
      Thank you for your post.
      We do appreciate your feedback regarding ownership of your Lexus IS 300h. We do hope you are enjoying your car and appreciate the time you have taken to bring these issues to our attention. Your dealer can look at these for you however it may be worth checking the phone volume settings if you have not done this already. With regard to the centre consul though, we do not have a different design available so it may be whether there is a remedial solution to cure this. We have also passed your comments back to the product team responsible for the IS 300h specification for their information. Thank you again for your feedback.

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