– The world’s worst parking garage is filled with SUVs and midsize cars forced to squeeze into subcompact spaces.

The world’s worst parking garage has hairpin turns and two-way traffic but ramps wide enough for only one vehicle — preferably a motorcycle.

The world’s worst parking garage has a driving surface that when wet seems as slick as a soapy marble.

I park in the world’s worst parking garage. In addition to dealing with the aforementioned issues, I play a daily game of spot-the-pedestrian.

Since the garage has no sidewalks or designated pedestrian walkways, every workday morning and evening is chaos. People dart out from between vehicles or amble along the ramps without paying attention.

Drivers trolling for a parking space need to be attentive. It helps when pedestrians hear you coming. They seldom did when I was driving a 2010 Lexus RX 450h, the hybrid version of Lexus’ extremely popular midsize luxury crossover.

The RX 450h is a “full hybrid,” meaning it can operate solely on gasoline or electric power. It even has a feature that enables the driver operate it solely on electric power under certain driving conditions and for as long as its battery has juice.

Even when I didn’t select that mode, I could get the RX 450h up to nearly 30 mph on electric power only if I didn’t poke its gas pedal too vigorously.

It took no concerted effort on my part to keep the RX 450h in electric mode each time I crept through the world’s worst parking garage. That resulted in the kind of silent running that would make a submarine captain envious.

Unfortunately, it also torpedoed my daily quest to quickly find a parking space or exit the garage without plowing into a pedestrian. I managed to avoid running anyone down, but only because I kept one foot poised over the brake pedal at all times and tiptoed through the garage as if it were booby-trapped.

The people who stepped in front of the RX 450h weren’t boobs. They either had their backs turned and couldn’t hear the stealthy Lexus or couldn’t see or hear it as they emerged from between parked vehicles.

The Lexus becomes much more conspicuous — pedestrians can actually hear it running — when its Atkinson-cycle gasoline engine kicks in either to supplement the electric propulsion or give the RX 450h’s big, 37kW Nickel Metal Hydride battery a jolt of energy.

Thanks to some technological tricks employed by Lexus engineers, there are no jolts when the RX 450h’s gasoline engine starts or stops running. Other gas/electric hybrids generally shudder, surge or send some other sort of tactile message when their gasoline engines kick in or out.

But a new flywheel damper that incorporates a dual-stage torque-absorbing mechanism smoothes things out remarkably well in the Lexus. Even in stop-and-go driving, noise is the only indicator of the gasoline engine’s operation.

And calling it noise is really an exaggeration. Lexus has a well-deserved reputation for building some of the most refined vehicles on the planet, and the RX 450h is no exception. It made a one-day, 475-mile trip that included about 90 minutes of bumper-to-bumper gridlock about as tolerable as it could be.

That gridlock may have helped the RX 450h average around 28 mpg during my weeklong evaluation. That is actually its EPA highway mileage rating, too, and a terrific number for a luxurious crossover that can sprint from zero to 60 mph in 7.4 seconds.

That spec is for the all-wheel drive RX 450h, which uses an electric motor to motivate the rear wheels. In other words, it doesn’t take a driveshaft, transaxle or other conventional mechanical components to turn a front-drive RX 450h into an all-wheel drive.

And the AWD weighs only about 130 pounds more than the front-drive model.

AWD adds $1,600 to the base price of a 2010 RX 450h, which starts at just over $42,000. As might be expected with a Lexus, the base price includes loads of standard features, including 10-way power front seats, power tilt/telescope steering wheel, dual-zone auto climate control and a nine-speaker premium audio system with six-disc CD changer and Bluetooth cell phone link.

Capable — if not awe-inspiring — performance also is included in the RX 450h’s price. Lexus’ crossover lacks the kind of road feel that entices a driver to look for the long and winding road home. But its steering is nevertheless responsive and accurate, and it feels sure footed and balanced enough that drivers won’t shy away from twisty back roads or feel uncomfortable when they encounter them.

Even the RX 450h’s brakes — devoid of road feel and feedback on many hybrids — feel right and seem to work pretty well.

That helped me forget at times that I was driving a hybrid, which might be the highest compliment that can be paid to the luxurious, comfortable and capable RX 450h. The only regular reminder came when its stealthiness startled parking garage pedestrians.

Scott Wasser is executive editor of MaineToday Media. He writes a weekly auto column for the Sunday Telegram and other newspapers. He can be reached at

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