The first thing motoring journalists get asked – after "do you know Jeremy Clarkson?" – is "what car do you drive?" This month’s column is both a review of a new car and a look inside my own key-box. With an omni-capable Mercedes-Benz estate to look after the practicalities and an old sports car to look after the fun, I have a free choice on my daily drive. I tend to prefer a fast saloon, and have just swapped my elegant, rapid Mercedes-Benz CLS for the latest generation Lexus GS450h ‘performance hybrid’, which went on sale in Europe in late 2012 and is now available in Hong Kong, with prices from HK$736,900 before First Registration Tax (FRT).
So a review of my own car will be favourable, right? Not necessarily. I change cars every year and always pick something new and interesting. From a professional perspective, living with an innovative car is far more instructive than a brief test-drive. And the GS is certainly innovative. Its petrol-electric hybrid engine (the petrol element is a 3.5-litre V6) delivers a system total of 345PS, or 341bhp: serious power, capable of rocketing the GS to 100km/h in 5.9 seconds and on to an electronically-limited top speed of 250km/h. And in practice it feels faster still, the electric motor delivering all its torque instantly for thumping acceleration. Yet its ability to stop its engine in traffic and run purely on electric power ‘harvested’ from the brakes also means claimed fuel consumption of just 16.3km/l: far less than what you’d expect of a fast saloon.
Inside there’s the largest screen currently offered in a production car at 12.3 inches (Tesla Model S excluded), the usual Lexus flawless build quality and a staggeringly advanced new air-con system that releases nano particles that deodorize the cabin and even moisturize your skin.
Sounds impressive. But I’m still not entirely in love with my new car. The styling is one issue: for me, the Lexus doesn’t have the kerb appeal of its rivals from Mercedes or Audi. But for many Lexus owners, keen to avoid attention or the usual premium brands, this is a positive advantage. More serious perhaps is that in my first couple of months I’ve only been able to manage around two-thirds of the claimed fuel consumption, even when driving moderately. Golfers will need to check that the boot carries all the bags they’re likely to require, as the hybrid system’s battery steals some space. And my biggest gripe is with the 'mouse’ that controls that big multimedia screen: in a right-hand drive market like Hong Kong, it must be worked with the left hand, which the right-handed majority may find awkward. I certainly do.
But it may well be that none of these issues is an issue for you, and the peerless refinement (and environmental kudos) of electric power in Hong Kong traffic needs to be witnessed. Lexus doesn’t try to appeal to the high-volume, premium-car mainstream, but offers something deliberately different. You might love it. I’m still deciding.
How much? HK$736,900-866,730
Engine: V6 petrol, 3,456cc with AC electric motor, nickel-metal hydride battery
Transmission: Continuously variable
Performance: 5.9sec 0-100kph, 250kph, 341bhp
How heavy? 1,825kgs-1,910kgs
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