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.

Sunday Star-Times - - DRIVETIMES - June 25, 2017

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.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from New Zealand

© PressReader. All rights reserved.