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 am considering purchasing a 2007 Lexus GS450h for my daughter and this will be our families first step into Hybrid technology. However I am concerned that the battery will need to be replaced soon at a cost in excess of $3500. That makes the cost of the vehicle very impractical. This site indicated the batteries are expected to last the life of the vehicle. What is considered “the life of the vehicle”??? 100,000 miles? 200,000 miles? 500,000 miles? 10 years? 20 years?

    1. Hi Thomas,
      Thank you for getting in touch. If the vehicle has a hybrid health check yearly there is a warranty on the battery, but this only lasts for 10 years.
      As long as the battery does not “cook” ie the vents are keep clear and clean there should be no issues.
      We have a story from a previous owner “I had a 2008 GS450h for 3 years; it is my favorite car and would have again in a heartbeat, was a very sad day when I sold it. I will buy another 450h; fantastic car and very reliable. The only weak link was the gearbox if it was raced / driven excessively hard continuously when cold.”
      Hope this helps.

  2. I have owned an rx400h for 3 years. It only gets around 24 MPG. very disappointed. Ist there anything i can do to increase mileage

    1. Hi Rob,
      Thank you for getting in touch. There are a number of different factors that could influence fuel consumption.
      The first and most important factor is the driving conditions. If the vehicle is being used mainly for short journeys, the engine will not have enough time to fully warm up and will operate most of the time in “warm up” condition. This will have a huge impact on fuel consumption.
      Also other things like the driving style, use of A/C and other electrical equipment (e.g. heated seats , heated rear window etc), may also have an impact on fuel consumption.
      Finally, tyre inflation pressure will also affect fuel consumption.
      Hope this helps.

      1. this is just boiler plate junk information. You advertize this car at 27-32 MPG. I have never gotten over 25. I have had this car in summer, windter, on the freeway, in town. I’m telling you that it has been in all conditions and that you mis advertise the mileage.

  3. Hi I am considering doing a hybrid health sytem check of buying a 3 years old car nit from lexus but otther car supermarket.How much it will cost me?

    1. Hi Syed,
      Thanks for getting in touch. We cannot comment on cars that we don’t manufacture. We’d advise contact the other manufacture directly.
      Thanks.

  4. Hi
    I’m thinking of getting a RX400 on a 58 plate
    As this car will be 10yrs old
    How can I check that the battery is ok
    Or how much would it cost to replace the battery if it was no holding charge
    Thanks
    Paul

    1. Hi Paul,
      Thanks for getting in touch.
      We would advise that you take it to your local Lexus Centre and ask them to carry out a midtronics test on the 12v battery and a Hybrid Health check on the main HV battery.
      You will not get a warranty on the HV battery, due to the age of the vehicle, unfortunately the cut off is 10 years but it will do a stress test on the HV battery and determine its health.
      You can find your local Lexus Centre here: https://www.lexus.co.uk/forms/find-a-centre.
      We hope this helps.
      Thanks.

    1. Hi Vijay,

      Thanks for getting in touch and for your interest in Lexus Hybrid. Which Lexus car would you like to know about?

      Thanks.

        1. The IS 300h 2.5 Litre Hybrid starts from £32,900.00. It combines a 2.5-litre direct injection engine with a high-output electric motor that delivers a dynamic drive with 223 DIN hp of full hybrid power. The Executive Edition includes 4 driving modes: Normal, Eco, Sport & EV and the Lexus Safety System+. For further specification and pricing, please use the following link: https://www.lexus.co.uk/car-models/is/prices-and-specifications/. We are not in a position to comment on class competitor manufacturers, however we hope this information on the IS 300h helps you.

          Thanks.

  5. Hi, I have a 300h on a 63 plate. The 12v battery is frequently flat on initial start up, sometimes in town after shopping. Is it because I am a low mileage user, why is this happening? the alert of “hybid system not working” is becoming a worry. Usually a jump start is all that is needed to get me going. When I get home it goes on charge all day I have it checked and a new battery fitted, but it is still happening.

    1. Hi Phillip,

      Thanks for getting in touch and we are sorry to hear that you are experiencing these issues. If you could please provide a VIN number, we will be able to assist you further.

      Thanks.

  6. I have Lexus RX450H. It is 6 years old with 70000 miles. Last six months I am having problem starting it every now and then. The Tayota garage says they would take the hybrid battery out and recharge for me at the cost of nerly £130. Any advise from you

    1. Hi Pushp,

      Thanks for getting in touch, we’re sorry to hear that you are experiencing issues with your RX. Without inspecting the vehicle it would be difficult to comment so we would suggest you follow the advice of your local Centre.

      Thanks.

  7. This article the most informative of any site I’ve visited to learn more on Lexus Hybrid. I’m planning to purchase a GS 450H soon. Great work and Thank You!

    1. Hi Anthony,

      Thanks for getting in touch, it’s great to hear your positive feedback. If we can be of any assistance in your new car search, please do let us know.

      Thanks.

  8. Hi, I have a 2008 IS 600h and it has started to reve high and go nowhere it’s just like a clutch slipping, but I don’t know if it has a clutch can anyone help with a diagnoses

    1. Hi Thomas,

      Thanks for getting in touch and we are sorry to hear that you are experiencing some issues. If you could please provide a VIN number, our Technical Team can try to assist you further.

      Thanks.

  9. I am considering purchasing a 2009 RX450h that has only done 20,000 Miles. Are there any particular issues I should look for in such an old but hardly used vehicle (hybrid battery, exhaust etc).
    Why is the 450h not recommended as a towing vehicle?

    1. Hi Scott,

      Thanks for getting in touch, it’s great to hear that you are interested in the RX450h.

      There are no particular issues we would suggest looking out for, however, we would recommend taking a look at Lexus approved pre-owned vehicles on our website. Lexus offers a comprehensive approved pre-owned programme to give customers complete peace of mind. Benefits include a multi-point quality check, comprehensive warranty, Lexus roadside assistance and full-service history. You can see more here: http://fal.cn/iA7R.

      With regards to towing, although the current generation is fully equipped to tow, an RX450h of this age was not homologated to tow at the time.

      Thanks.

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