Lexus RX450h

Effects not included.

Until not so long ago the RX450h was the worlds first and only hybrid SUV. As you may or may not know, Lexus does very well in the United States, and for quite some time, it outsold its competitors Mercedes and BMW. The SUV is obviously very popular with the yanks, and so putting two and two together, the Lexus RX is the best selling luxury SUV over there, and I can see why.

The RX is in its 3rd generation and the model on test was the 450h LXE (R805 100). Now before you stop reading and think that’s a horrendous amount of money for a car, let me tell you that it’s worth every single cent and more.

There’s two main things that sets the RX apart from its competitors.

  1. The amount of standard specifications
  2. No doubt, the hybrid drive train

Glowing doorsills. ooooh.

I’ll get into more detail on those later, so let’s start with the exterior styling. Styling is always really a personal matter, however the move to less clunky SUV and more “raised car” look helps this Lexus look a lot smaller than it actually is. The model I had came in a very attract pearlescent white finish, and seems to be quite a popular colour for this model. The hybrid model is distinguished from the regular models by the blue tint Lexus badge, rear lighting and hybrid nameplates under the doors, but that’s about it. No in your face I’m driving a hybrid stuff. You’d never know, until of course it sneaks up on you in the underground parking lot. Then you know.

 

Luxury. Done.

Moving inside, things are on another level. The only level of sophistication and utter opulence close to this would be the Porsche or Range Rover. Its direct competition cannot compare on fit, finish, quality materials and ergonomics of the Lexus. Standard equipment levels are incredibly high and the car is literally bursting with technology. The Lexus multimedia interface is one of the best systems on the market today. It’s intuitive because it works the same as the common “Mouse”. It also features HUD (heads up display), smart access that not only locks and unlocks but also switches on the exterior lighting when the driver and key gets close to the car. Heated and cooling seats, an excellent Mark Levinson sound system with 40gig HDD and voice activation, and the list goes on. It’s a fantastic place to be inside. One of the little things I really appreciated was that the cabin was 100% dedicated to RHD. So many international cars see the switch over to RHD but certain buttons are left out of reach and hard to come by because the car was designed with LHD(left hand drive) in mind. There’s no indication of this here, with every button in the “right” place. The seats are superbly comfortable, with quite a bit of rear head and legroom, and still considerable room in the rear.

The LXE model I drove also featured active bi-xenon headlamps, sunroof, 10way adjustable driver and passenger electric seats with memory function and an electrically powered tailgate.

Power Display. Distracting.

The hybrid RX features a 3.5litre V6 mated to two electric motors (On fore and other aft). It’s hard to quote exact figures but there is around 220kW and just over 670Nm of torque on offer. This is obviously a flat torque curve as the e-CVT gearbox brings the power to the front or all wheels depending on what is needed. Lexus has been perfecting their hybrid drive train for quite some time now and it is probably the best in the business. Added technology to help efficiency is an exhaust heat recovery system to reduce engine warm up periods. Provided the car is warmed up, the vehicle can run on full electric mode up to 45km/h. If you’re in eco-mode (There are 3 modes, ECO, EV and ‘ECO Off = Sport’) and you pull off from the traffic light I found myself trying not to get the engine to kick in however eventually you’ll have to plant the pedal and get moving as those behind you get impatient. When you do plant your foot there is plenty of power and torque to get this beast up to 100km/h in just over 7seconds.

As usual, with the hybrid drivertrain the only thing the driver really has to get used to is the flat torque and constant engine note when accelerating. Surprisingly the V6 can get quite throaty when pushing on, not something I expected! My combined consumption (40% highway 60% city traffic) saw just on 11l/100km which in my books is excellent for a SUV of this size and considering I didn’t doodle around. Claimed is just around 7l/100km, which I’ve heard is actually achievable.

Ride and handling is excellent considering the hybrid seat up. The 3rd generation model replaces the MacPherson strut rear suspension set up for Double Wishbones, greatly improving handling. The car feels planted when pushing on, yet supremely comfortable on every day speed, which is probably the more important of the two. Braking on a hybrid as always sees less pedal feel as always you can feel the brake regeneration working, but you’ll get used to this soon enough. This said, there’s no issue with the effectiveness of the brakes, and the RX sees a host of other safety features (VDIM – Vehicle Dynamics Integrated Management) such as VSC (vehicle stability) ABS, Hill assist, TRAC (Traction control) and front active head rests as well as 10 airbags.

Heads up Display. Brag factor.

There was not a person that didn’t get into the car that was not immediately impressed. There is a certain heir of quality within and out that puts it above the X5/6, ML and Q7. I would probably rather compare the Rx against the Cayenne (the only model here to also feature a hybrid) and the Range Rover Sport (or HSE Discovery), considering the exclusivity and trim levels.

Lexus prides themselves on offering near everything standard and the Rx isn’t left out of the party here. The website even supplies a vehicle comparison calculator which adds up what the extras would cost on the competitors (not named) vehicles, and really does show that even though the Rx is sold at a premium, it’s WELL worth the extra money in comparison.

Currently Porsche is the only other manufacturer to offer a hybrid luxury model to compare (however it does not offer the technical specification under the hood that the Lexus does). I would then have to compare it to diesel models that offer similar balance of efficiency and performance. When you go and look at that, the Lexus trumps on value hands down. It definitely doesn’t offer the driving or off-road dynamics of the X5 or Range Rover, but they don’t offer the incredible technology and let’s be frank, there aren’t very many of those models that ever see a dust road.

Overall it’s an incredible vehicle, however pricey, it offers more value than its competitors at the same price, has one of the most luxurious interiors I’ve ever been in, and an incredible hybrid drive train. If you’re shopping in this price range it’s definitely worth a look.

More info on http://www.lexus.co.za

Lexus CT200h

Mustard anyone?

I recently returned from the launch of the Lexus CT200h in Cape Town (no puns around CT and Cape Town please). The CT200h not only opens up the Lexus brand into a new market segment, but opens up the market segment to the first small luxury hybrid hatchback.

Lexus has South Africa’s widest hybrid model line up on offer, with hybrid derivatives of the GS, Rx, luxury LS, and now the CT200h. Toyota (motherbrand) was recently voted the Greenest brand by the Interbrand Survey 2011 and Lexus boasts over 150 hybrid units sold in SA per year, which is the highest of any brand in SA. This all said, Lexus owners are also the most satisfied, as voted by the owners themselves (JD Power 2011) and scored a Goldmedal from Synovate (SA) for after sales service. Premium owner experience and customer satisfaction is key, and this translates from the owners of the cars themselves. A good start for a new model indeed.

The CT200h is a small luxury hybrid hatchback that seats 5 passengers, with a modest amount of boot space and an extremely high quality premium interior. Immediate competitors that come to mind are the BMW 1 series and Audi A3. None of which have a hybrid model on offer. It’s a first in the South African landscape, and a first I came to thoroughly enjoy on the 160km route in and around the Cape peninsula on launch. Two model variants are on offer, the CT200h S and CT200h F-Sport with the option of a Convenience package for either. (see here for more detail – http://www.lexus.co.za/model/CT200h/product-information)

Let’s start with the Lexus Hybrid drive system. “Combining a 1.8-litre VVT-i Atkinson cycle petrol engine and a powerful electric motor, the CT 200h delivers 100kW of total system output. The sophisticated petrol engine delivers 73kW at 5 200 rpm and 142Nm between 2 800 and 4 400 rpm. But the real performance benefits are arrived at courtesy of the 60kW of electric power on board and additional 207Nm that allow 2,0-litre petrol performance and competitive turbodiesel torque.” On this point, why not a turbodiesel engine? Well, the noxious gasses that get released by a diesel motor are often overlooked, and as stated at the launch, the petrol engine still has a way to go before full economical and efficiency benefits from it are completely realised.

From behind

On the road, the engine is no slouch, but it’s no pocket rocket either. It takes some serious getting used to when accelerating off the mark. As stated at the launch, it’s best to put pedal down, get it up to the speed you’d like, and then let the electric engine take over and “maintain” the speed you need to, maximizing efficiency. Now there’s a couple things to segment here, the fact that there are different driving modes available, as well as different models that significantly alters driving experience.

Starting with the moods, there is a choice of two distinct driving moods – Dynamic, or Relaxing – in conjunction with the full hybrid’s EV, ECO, NORMAL and SPORT, ‘on-demand’ drive modes. Basically this goes from EV (only electric motor, in certain driving conditions) all the way up to full electric and engine thrust for sportier driving. We drove most the way in ECO mode and found that it did just fine in most conditions except when wanting to overtake or pushing through the twisties.

Interior - Superior

The Eco mode does take some getting used to as the CVT gearbox (hate hate hate) does make for an interesting sound that gets emitted. The problem here is that the sound of the revs VS speed at which you are increasing in speed is not natural. We are used the common relationship that lots of noise from the engine means lots of speed, which is not the case. Unfortunately the CVT gearbox makes it sound like the gearbox is slipping (natural) yet you don’t gather speed that rapidly. This is probably the only deterrent from this vehicle for me, as it’s something you’d have to get used to, as it’s fairly unnatural and unnerving at first.

That said the various modes work beautifully, with a turn dial centre on the dash to switch between the different modes for different driving moods. EV (only electric motor – thus very silent) mode is particularly effective when sneaking up behind cyclists on Chapman’s Peak and then scaring them with the horn. Sport mode does give some extra shove as well as stiffen up pedal response and steering feel. A very nice touch is the way the dials light up red when sport is engaged, and also switches the drive train indicator to a revcounter. On that, there is no shortage of places to watch how and what is happening under the skin with regards to the drive train.

Different dials for different modes. Nifty

Dynamically the car is superb. I drove the F-Sport model and it handled exceptionally considering the big lump of battery in the back. There’s near no body lean or roll and the car handled impeccably over the various different driving situations we demanded of it. I read some horror reviews overseas about the handling but can honestly say that they must be comparing it to something like a Ferrari FF.

In true Lexus style, the interior is… to be frank, amazing. The model we drove came with the convenience pack, which added every bell and whistle. In F-Sport guise, it’s differentiated by 17-inch alloy wheels, LED headlamps, and a larger boot spoiler. The luxury specification also gets enhanced by sports seats, the driver’s eight-way electrically adjustable with lumbar support, and cruise control. It also benefits from the addition of front and rear performance dampers.

As an option, the CT 200h F-Sport can be ordered with a Convenience Package that includes an upgraded sound system with four additional speakers and an amplifier, Smart Entry, rain sensing wipers, a full colour monitor with HDD navigation and voice command with Remote Touch, and a reverse camera with back-guide monitor. The interior is a place of class and elegantly hand stitched leather. Novel touches on a hatchback included the padded armrest in the doors, something many manufacturers only offer in their very premium sedans. I have no complaints about the interior as everything including the Remote touch system (which you drive exactly like a stationary computer mouse…something we can do very well) was incredibly easy to use at first glance. Another great touch is how the sound system integrated the music from the iPhone and allowed full discovery of the iPhone music listing on the Remote touch system. Not so cool, the fact that you can’t do anything on there once the car is moving. Bleh. Rear seat passengers can definitely find more room than in the 1Series, and seating for both front and rear passengers are supremely comfortable.

Doors. Wide Open

On the looks front, I’d say that it’s not bad looking at all. The darker colours seemed to do the car more justice in my view. It’s nothing massively out of the box, but it doesn’t happen to insult or stand out as “I’m DRIVING A HYBRID” which is so 2005.

Overall, I was genuinely surprised at how easy to drive the vehicle was, and most importantly, we returned a 5.5litre/100km on our 160km trip. This is seriously and I mean SERIOUSLY impressive considering the inclines, speeding and mountain passes we traversed in our drive. We at no point were puttering around keeping traffic backlogged for hours. There seems to be a huge case for a car that can actual return these real world figures and return below 94grams of emissions (no emissions tax). Emissions is something that I don’t think South African’s truly care about yet, and that’s why it’s be interesting to see how this vehicle fairs.

Fuel Economy - Belieb it

The great bit about the car is that it is the first Lexus into the premium hatch category, and it just happens to be a hybrid. It doesn’t shout about it, it just goes about it, hoping to make the transition as unnoticeable to the way you drive as possible.

The CT200h S model retails for R343,300, with the F-Sport model coming in at R398,500. Add the Convenience package to the F-Sport and you’re up at R434,200.The Lexus CT 200h is backed by a four years/100 000km manufacturer warranty and full four years/100 000km service plan. There is unfortunately nothing one can compare it to, as it’s a first in market segment category. This car will hopefully attract a younger audience, and mark on the success of the 1series and A3 to BMW and Audi respectively, by securing buyers into the nameplate to upsell to them at a later stage.

Black is the new black

Lexus CT200h

Lexus has today announced the CT200h will be coming to SA in August 2011.

The CT200h opens the doors for Lexus into the lucrative hatch category, that is oh so popular in South Africa. It is the first full hybrid vehicle to be launched in the small luxury car segment. Oooh. Not the prettiest thing you’ve ever seen, at all, but it’s no Ssangyong Stavic.

The CT200h is based on a shared platform with Toyota, which, rumour has it, will also be launching a Auris Hybrid at some point in the future. Lexus & Toyota have been long leading the race when it comes to hybrid powertrains in South Africa, and will continue to do so with this CT200h, as the newest addition to this market segment.

The Lexus CT 200h is a full hybrid, capable of running on its petrol engine or electric motor alone, or with both working in combination. The system comprises an Atkinson cycle 1.8-litre VVT-i petrol engine and a powerful electric motor that in combination deliver 100kW of total system output. The CT 200h has been engineered to perform in two different driving “moods”, Relaxing or Dynamic, supported by four selectable driving modes: NORMAL, EV, ECO and SPORT. Claimed consumption figures for SA are not yet available.

Lexus says ” The CT 200h has been developed specifically to deliver superior handling, a rewarding drive and the level of ride comfort expected of a Lexus. “. Sadly, of all the reviews I’ve read about this car in publications from overseas, it seems that is not entirely true. The ride is apparently nothing to write home about, and rewards only by not rewarding at all. Hybrids are always hard to get an exciting drive out of, mostly because of the large batteries that mean

you’re throwing a lot of weight around. I’ll reserve full judgement until I drive it, but so far, according to other publications, it’s not looking good on the handling front.

This will be an exciting model for Lexus, for them to finally compete in the 1-Series, Golf, Audi A3, category, which is a lucrative category to be in, capturing “first-premium-car” buyers. 70% of all BMW 1 Series sold were to people new to the brand. The CT200h is obviously different, it being the first hybrid, and sets a benchmark for other brands to follow in this category.

Looking forward to getting behind

Lexus RX400h – 2008

First drive for the day, one of the, if not THE, first Hybrid SUV. Massively successful in the USA, especially the roads of California ,where the hybrid lifts social status to Madonna’esque levels. The one I drove had around 68 000 km’s on the clock, and still looked in reasonable condition. There were no rattles, everything was still stuck in the place it came in from the factory so this is good news for any second-hand buyers. The concern only around hybrid drivetrain lifetime, as this technology is fairly new. However, in this model, the drivetrain still seemed to function as intended. Best part however, watching the LCD screen that displays the power delivery and drivetrain visuals. Giving you a realtime illustration of where power is coming from, to which axle, from battery or engine. It’s so distracting, I nearly crashed the car numerous times. This engine set up is called Hybrid Synergy Drive. It’s a V6 3.3litre mated to a CVT gearbox (not my favourite, but understanding considering the setup) that charges battery that drives the two electric motors. It either only uses the electric motor (computer decided under certain conditions) or cranks in some extra juice from the gutsy V6.

Overall, impressed with performance, which is seriously brisk, at 0-100km/h in 8seconds. In usual Lexus style, the interior is very well appointed, and with ample space. The new generation RX450h is a step up from this, however I did not get to drive the newer model. The RX450h is the current Hybrid SUV on sale from Lexus

Lexus is-f – 2010

Lexus IS-F

I was recently granted the opportunity with Lexus East Rand to drive a range of their cars across Joburg. The highlight, for me, was the Lexus IS-F, so it’s been granted its own post

Some background, the Lexus IS-F is Lexus’ answer to the BMW M3, Mercedes C63AMG and Audi RS4. It’s built on the Lexus IS platform (Google it if you don’t know) The F in my books, stands for “F*ck off fast”.

Here are some interesting things I noticed whilst driving this beast.
In any gear, just over 4000RPM the sound emitted from the engine and exhaust is probably what it sounded like when that Volcano in Iceland blew its lid. There’s only 4 seats, so sorry for your 3rd born (Side note, anyone with 3 kiddies should rather be driving a Voyager)
Sprinting start 0-100km/h is reached in 4.6seconds, and no less than an 8speed sequential shift gearbox that can shift gears as fast as a Ferrari F430.
Oh yes, and the 4 exhaust pipes, mounted 2 either side above each other looks … well … f*cking awesome!

Impressive to start with, but it doesn’t end there. The 5litre direct injection V8 sourced from the Lexus LS600 (their super saloon) cranks out 311kw in the IS-F and leads it up to a top speed of 270km/h. A little slap in the face to the German marquees that all have a gentleman’s agreement to limit most of their production cars to 250km/h. This is all very hard to understand unless you’ve driven one. The sound, speed and sheer acceleration is so exhilarating it could be sold as a shot in bar.

Handling has also seen the same attention as the engine, with up-rated stiffer suspension in the front (a heavier V8 needs more support) as well as larger anti roll bars and an even lower ride height. What amazes me, is that even though it’s a high performance saloon, compared to the C63 and M3, it’s way more comfortable, without totally losing the dynamic edge in the handling department (Ok it’s probably no M3 on the track)
You can feel the weight in the front, but handling is still phenomenal, with loads of grip from the 19inch rubber.

There is a Sport mode for the Vehicle Dynamics Integrated Management (VDIM) which dials in heavier steering, more responsive throttle, and fiddles with the stability systems to give more leeway on track days. I left that button alone.

The interior didn’t blow me away. There’s the renowned Lexus quality interior, but besides for the blue leather on the steering wheel, stitching, and ‘carbon fibre’ it is pretty standard IS inside (which isn’t a bad thing!)
That said, everything you need is there, and the seats are SURPREMELY comfortable, with just the right amount of lumbar and side support.
Once again, a great mix so you don’t have to compromise too much in your day-to-day driving.

I threw her down the highway, and easily charged up to illegal limits, too easily in-fact. The great thing is you can flappy paddle (full manual selection with torque converter from 2-8th gear) into 8th gear and cruise along with the engine thrumming just over 2000RPM.
Downside to cruising in 8th gear… you really need to shift down a couple of gears to get in the sweet zone to chase after a matt black M3 that just sped by.

There’s very little to dig at on this car, but I have only a few gripes and I’ll list ‘em below:
– Exterior isn’t easily distinguished from standard IS
– Sport button is hidden away like it’s the ugly step son
– Interior is a little bland, and the 4 seat set-up might not suit everyone
– Not as heavily driver focused as the BMW M3 / Audi RS4

The overshadowing positives:

– Better every-day comfort, along with better fuel consumption (yawn) than its rivals
– Doesn’t want to kill you around every corner when you throw the throttle down (unlike its rivals)
– The gearbox and brakes are an exquisite combination to the engine
– Near damn everything standard at a very competitive price (once again considering the rivals)

Note – a VERY recent revision to the model has been made with changes to the interior, suspension and some small exterior changes. This new revision retails at R792 000 (includes Lexus standard 4 year or 100 000km warranty and maintenance plan)

Thanks again to Lexus East Rand (Dealer of the year 2009) for the opportunity