Lexus may be California dream but diesel’s still smarter choice
Hybrids may be all the rage in in the US but Frederic Manby is less impressed by the fuel claims back in Blighty.
TAKE a 2.5 petrol engine, an electric motor and combine in the smallest Lexus saloon. Result: The Lexus IS300h – where h stands for hybrid.
Toyota was a pioneer of hybrid power and I dare say you can’t go half a block in many a Californian town without seeing a Prius. That’s a guess. They are popular over there but I haven’t been over there since last century.
So, I haven’t seen Toyota and Lexus and Honda hybrids moving almost silently through the land which made gas guzzlers a household shame.
Hybrids make some amends by giving lower fuel consumption, in brochures at least, and lower emissions, so in countries where vehicles are taxed on, say, carbon dioxide emissions there is less to pay.
Mostly, they do not get too near the brochure figures, but then, mostly, nor do regular petrol and diesel cars. Also, hybrids cost more money to buy because they are complicated things with two engines joined together by a fancy automatic gearbox and transmission system. If you are a bit skint, stop reading now and go and buy a diesel model.
However, we can no longer buy a diesel-powered Lexus IS. The choice is either a 2.5 petrol V6 model (from £26,495 for the 250 SE automatic) or from £29,495 for a four cylinder 2.5 petrol electric hybrid in the 300h SE. Fastthinking readers will see that at face value the hybridisation adds £3,000 to the score.
To get the comparisons over and done with then, the respective combined mpg averages are 32.8mpg versus 65.7mpg; CO2 ratings are 199g/km vs 99g/km. Top speeds are 140mph vs 124mph; 0-62mph times are 8.1 and 8.3 seconds. Power figures are 204bhp vs 178bhp and 184 lb ft vs 163 lb ft (more on which later).
Conclusions, the hybrid is cheaper to run, just about as nippy, and in this SE specification free of annual road tax and London congestion charges. Warning: none of the other IS hybrids is free of tax or London payments because they emit just over 100g CO2.
My test car was the fablooking F Sport version, which outwardly resembles the 5-litre V8 blaster known as the IS F (£58,414). It has gulping air intakes and a tiered rear valance – ready for the 168mph which the F can reach. Except the hybrid can’t. But it is no slouch, no eco couch potato, not shy at shaking a leg. The double power pack delivers what we fast drivers call poke at different stages – which is why the bhp, torque and
It is no slouch, no eco couch potato, not shy at shaking a leg. The double power pack delivers
acceleration figures are misleading. The petrol engine does indeed deliver 178bhp and 163 lb ft. However, the electric motor adds 105bhp and 221 lb ft of torque, and being an electric engine you get the fizz almost immediately.
Fortunately the IS models are rear wheel drive and with the addition of smart traction control you can get rapid acceleration without spinning out of control.
Liked the sportily clad Lexus? In parts. Would I like a less sporty version? Probably. The snag is that by aping the rapid F in looks the hybrid wannabe has wide shallow tyres that give a disturbingly firm ride and, curiously, some side to side motion. It does, though, look the business.
Lexus is Toyota’s riposte to rear-wheel-drive prestige vehicles from BMW and Mercedes-Benz. The IS goes up against the 3-series and the C-Class and Audi’s A4. It has the requisite quality and after that it comes down to a matter of taste and image and I dare say bragging rights in the Camshaft Arms. Lexus hasn’t acquired much of an image either way. It occupies the rarity peg which once supported SAAB and Volvo. A Lexus is not common.
There’s a BUT coming. Diesel power is dominant in these junior exec cars and some of them match the headline economy of the Lexus hybrid and in real life deliver higher mpg though none of them gets below the 100g CO2 barrier which gives free access to central London.
So, no diesel Lexus and Lexus sales rose only 2.6 per cent January to October (reaching 7,769) but Mercedes-Benz soared 18.8pc (helped by a new A-Class), BMW was up 5.7pc and Audi almost 13pc. The German trio sold around 300,000.
Ah, the navigation. At first it promised so much with its cursor controlled by a fixed “mouse” but the pointer is too quick and you need a steady hand. It will not accept a full post code, which means you still have to enter a street. Even given the full address, sometimes from its own library of destinations (eg a tourist office), the bally thing ended well short and often out of sight of the destination.
There was the same fault with its navigation back to an entered location in the sticks. Ergo: I was lost in the dark.
Lexus IS300h F Sport with the looks of its much more expensive stablemate but a much tamer hybrid power plant.