Chilled Lexus sips fuel
Flip the coin and you read the obverse side, which, for Lexus, is its full-hybrid iS300h model, which brims with technology and balances its hefty price tag with lowly taxation and phenomenal fuel economy. Iain P W Robertson urges you to move on, as there is no copybook blurring to see here!
At 4.8m long and 1.84m wide, I hoped that my old Lexus bugbear about being unable to slip between steering-wheel base and past the door-jamb would have been a dim memory. While I was accommodated by the latest Lexus, I can tell you that it was only just and, then, only after manoeuvres that would engender the support of Victorinox, the makers of the multi-folding Swiss Army Knife.
Truth is, I am not as agile as I pretend that I can be. However, Lexus must shoulder some of the blame, because the A-pillar possesses such an acute angle and the roof-line is so self-consciously low, while the B-pillar just encroaches, that even some less-than six-footers do struggle to gain ready access to the cockpit of the iS300h. Mind you, the previous generation car was totally impossible. For this example, it is just about acceptable, although Lexus needs to start designing for increasingly larger northern Europeans and their significantly bulkier US cousins, if it intends to sell more models.
Yet, I do not wish to keep dragging on about access issues, because the iS300h is actually a technologically brilliant motorcar. Its unusually large capacity, four-cylinder petrol engine (2,494cc) develops a moderate 220bhp, because it is running as a hybrid (petrol and electric engines operating singly, or severally). It drives the rear wheels through an electric, epicyclic CVT transmission; no gears, just ingenious electronic management and glitch-free, silken progress.
However, the really clever bit lies in its ability to operate as an electric vehicle (EV), using only its on-board electric engine and battery power, at almost any speed. The petrol engine clicks imperceptibly into power mode, as the management system demands (usually as a result of depressed accelerator pedal, or changing topography). The result is an average 53.7mpg during the Lexus’ time with me, which, supported by a lowly 109g/km of CO2 exhaust emissions means a Benefit-in-Kind taxation levy of 12% and an annual VED (tax disc) bill of £10 in year one and thereafter.
To be fair, the driver’s side of the cockpit is quite well proportioned and comfortable for almost any driver stature, leaving decent space in the rear seats for passengers, without crushed knees. The dashboard styling is apparently inspired by the super-sporting LFA model (which ceased production at the end of 2012). I think it looks cheap and nasty. The wide transmission tunnel places the twin drinks-holders in a twist-essential place adjacent to my forearm, which is not as practical as it needs to be. Yet, twist the ‘Driving Mode’ control and the ‘Normal’, or ‘ECO’ settings lose the power-split dial that shows whether the battery is being charged, or the car is in EV/petrol modes, to reveal a red illuminated rev-counter. It seems that Lexus is trying to think of almost everything to please its drivers.
The dichotomy between guzzling fuel, or extending the performance by electric means, turns the car into a sort of Jekyll and Hyde machine, which is fine, to a point, even though almost forty thousand Pounds seems like one hell of a financial trough into which to settle yourself. This is a four-to-five seat family car after all and, regardless of the sky-high costs related to the ever-so-smart technology, I personally believe that you would obtain as much of what you might need from a second-hand Prius at less than half that price.
The view outwards is okay and there is boot space for the golf clubs; around three sets of them, with accompanying caddy batteries. The iS rides well and handles with a fine balance. The electrically powered steering is communicative and the turning radius is respectably small at 5.2m. Its top speed (limited by potential overheating of the electric engine) is around 125mph, while the 0-60mph benchmark can be despatched in 8.0secs dead; zesty but no cigar.
Do not misunderstand. The Lexus iS300h can provide its driver with an all-day automotive halo and it delivers not such a tragic driving experience, as you might expect, apart from the jerky brakes, which seem to be informing you that their holier-than-thou Regenerative Energy Recovery System is working efficiently but not without a loss of some progressive refinement. I like the car in parts but I wonder as to its viability.
Conclusion: It is the corporate shekel that keeps the motoring world turning these days, just as long as avaricious and unhelpful bankers do not get there first, and it is the company car sector that will benefit from the Lexus iS300h, although trawling through London’s Congestion Charge Zone in a hybrid no longer carries the savings it used to. For technocrats, the iS is a feast. For the rest of us, ownership (at just over £39k) would constitute a famine.