Zen and the art of Lexus driving
If you can’t trust diesels to do the right thing anymore, where do you turn? Paul Owen says that the new Lexus IS300h is worth a look.
The late bike-riding philosopher, Robert M. Pirsig, left us many home truths, and one that I personally hold dear is that ‘‘sometimes it’s a little better to travel than to arrive’’.
Pirsig’s book, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance ,is absolutely chocker with such pith. His thoughts were always encouraging us to embrace whatever’s happening right now, rather than what has occurred in the past or is about to take place in the future. Like you there, reading the newspaper, with the sweaty sports pages of the immediate past behind you, and the world news section representing a tantalising yet probably troubled future.
So embrace this page, this moment, this car. Even though it is a Lexus.
Feel that sense of calm that comes with living in the moment? This is exactly what happens at the wheel of the newly-upgraded IS300h. For this vehicle is a gentleperson’s carriage of the highest order.
The IS range is meant to be a bunch of compact rear-drive sporty saloons with the BMW 3-series chosen as its inspiration, but somehow the hybridised IS300h didn’t get the memo. It’d rather smell the flowers than rip their heads away with the vortex of its passing.
Drivers soon learn that the 300h prefers to be the gentle Ferdinand of children’s fables instead of a bull rushing at a gate. The mood this mellowness puts drivers in is infectious. You become the world’s most courteous driver. Want to secure a place ahead of me in my motorway lane, Mr Late Indicator? Please be my guest. Need to cross this busy road, Harassed Biped? It’s my pleasure to slow down to allow you to do so with increased safety.
If we all drove the IS300h, we wouldn’t do those mad lastmoment lane changes when the traffic light turns red just because the adjacent lane has a couple less stationary cars in it. Our merges at passing lanes would occur with several car lengths of safety space built into them, and we’d slow down to help overtaking drivers shorten their time exposed to head-on collision danger.
To paraphrase the title of Pirsig’s book: an IS300h could teach us Zen and the Art of Driving.
How? Well you get lots of rewards in your wallet if you drive a hybrid car like the IS300h less aggressively. Any time you lift off the throttle, the regenerators are using the car’s momentum to restore energy to the battery. You also tend to bank away momentum like it is precious gold. See the red light 500 metres away? You’ll use a lot less gas in the IS300h if you approach it at a measured pace that ensures you’ll get the green before you come to a complete stop.
Driven thus, an IS300h can return average fuel use figures of 5.9 litres/100km, and this is no lab test result, but the real-world consumption of the test car while it was in my hands. What’s more, it made me feel like a shrink had finally sorted my demons out. The urge to kill something was strangely absent at the wheel of the IS300h while stuck in gridlocked traffic, and the rabid Ducati sportsbike that usually provides a mobile form of personal Gestalt therapy has been ignored of late.
So not only do you save money at the pumps, driving the IS300h can be seen as a free form of personal improvement once you stump up the $77,300 required to buy the car. That sum is worth paying because cheaper Toyota hybrids like the Prius don’t deliver the same satisfaction. The newest IS300h has had several of its flaws buffed out. The steering has better weighting and delivers more feedback to the driver. An ‘‘enter’’ button has been added to the mouse-style controller that makes it mildly amusing to use now instead of frustrating. The screen connected to it is now quite a bit longer and wider, meaning the display is now multiscreen and quasi-cinemascope. The heating controls no longer bang into the front passenger’s knees, and the revision given to the front fascia has made the once-challenging exterior design appear smoother and more polished.
You still get to enjoy the craftsmanship that has long been the best selling point for Lexus, but the enjoyment is no longer diminished by obvious shortcomings, which are now mostly confined to the old-school push-on/push-off parking brake pedal.
Anyone who bangs on about how the IS300h isn’t quite in the same dynamic league as the dieselpowered Germans that cost similar money is missing the major point of the Lexus. Said diesels have been widely discredited for their inability to meet emission standards in real-world driving scenarios, leading to dawn raids on the headquarters of German luxury carmakers as teams of prosecutors investigate the seriousness of the fraud committed.
Mercedes-Benz, BMW, and the Volkswagen Group (including Audi, Porsche and Bentley) have all been re-examining their diesel certification practices in the wake of the scandal. This IS300h therefore represents a more honest attempt at reducing the environmental impact of luxurious personal mobility. The fact that it’s a clock-tick slower to reach 100kmh from rest and won’t sustain quite the same cornering speeds as said Gothic oil-burners will be seen as no real handicap to any buyer with a conscience.
So, forget the mad rush to reach the destination a few minutes ahead of anyone else; this skilfully-crafted car is all about embracing the journey.
Small enhancements have added polish to the IS300h – including a less ‘‘challenging’’ front fascia.
Interior still classy and distinctive. Fiddly joystick-controller thingy has gained a much-needed ‘‘enter’’ button.