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Old 04-07-2008, 04:04 PM   #1 (permalink)
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Default Lexus GS 450h SE-L Review

At long last, that hybrid hocus-pocus has a point

Jeremy Clarkson

Last week a man in the Top Gear audience gave me some wire. It didn’t appear to be the best present I’d ever received until he explained what it was for. “It’s so you can connect your iPod to your mobile phone,” he said.

Now I’m a man who likes a gadget, so I thanked him profusely and turned to go. Then I thought of something. Why would I want to connect my iPod to my mobile phone? What would they possibly have to say to one another? It would be like slotting George Bush into the back of Hillary Clinton. Fun, in a “look at that” sort of way, but a bit pointless.

Which brings me on to the BlackBerry. I’m told by those who’ve invested that this is the biggest leap forward for mankind since the invention of fire, and that when you’ve had one for a week or so you’ll wonder where you’ve put it. Because losing it is like losing your mouth and your ears.

For those who think a BlackBerry is a fruit, let me explain. It’s a mobile phone that can also receive and send e-mails. This means that no matter where you are on the planet someone can always get hold of you to ask if you’d like a bigger penis.

But this is not its biggest fault. Have you ever been out for a drink with someone who has one? Sure, they’re in constant contact with the office, which is great for them, but they’re not in constant contact with you. Every time you get to the interesting part of a story the BlackBerry chirps and you can see they’re not listening any more. They’re willing you to hurry up and finish talking so they can whip it out and see if, this time, it’s not somebody wanting to offload a bucketful of Viagra.

Go out with someone who has a BlackBerry and you’ll not get a single word out of them. Because it will be chirping or whining or playing the theme music from The Persuaders. And they’ll be texting with one hand and sending an e-mail with the other and it’ll be like talking to someone who has an unreachable itch and a daughter who’s just been kidnapped. Their mind won’t be on what you’re saying.

If you have a BlackBerry you may be physically out with friends but mentally you are at work. This means you can never have fun. You can never relax. Soon, then, your friends will stop wanting to see you and then you’ll die, quite early, from stress.

Another way of dying quite early — though this time with an axe in the back of your head — is to get a researcher’s job on Top Gear and be found by me, using the Wikipedia website as a research tool. Oh, it sounds great, like the BlackBerry and a wire that connects your mobile to your iPod, but it doesn’t work.

To prove this I recently checked the entry for Jeremy Clarkson and after just a short time thought, “Wow. When can I meet this guy?” He sounds like a riot, a cross between Nick Van Ooestrogen and Genghis Khan. He’s killed hundreds of cyclists, murdered all of northern Scotland, eaten a barn owl, and at weekends he goes out and rams trees for fun.

Apparently all the entries on Wikipedia can be updated by anyone. Which means there’s nothing to stop you going on there are saying oh, I don’t know, that Bonnie Tyler is a man.

Or try this for size. Wikipedia says the Toyota Prius looks like and performs like a normal car but delivers 50% better fuel economy. That’s not true. A Prius doesn’t look or perform like a normal car and it will do only 45mpg — far, far less than you’d get from a Golf diesel, say. I harbour a belief, founded on an admittedly limited grasp of science, that if you removed the electric motor and the batteries from a Toyota Prius, you’d save so much weight that it would become more economical and therefore even kinder to the environment.

But saving polar bears, of course, is not the point of a hybrid car. The point is not to save the planet but to be seen trying. I saw a Prius in California the other day with the registration plate “Hug Life” and that’s what the car does. It says to other road users, “Hey. I’ve spent a lot of money on this flimsy p.o.s. and I’m chewing a lot of fuel too. But I’m making a green statement.” Think of it, then, as a big metal beard, a pair of open-toed sandals with wheels, David Cameron with windscreen wipers.

And that brings us onto the subject of this morning’s road test — its big brother, the Lexus GS 450h. Unlike the Prius, which is a stand-alone model that looks like nothing else on the road, the Lexus hybrid looks exactly like its normal brothers. So if you buy one of these you’re not making a statement. In fact, while driving up the Bayswater Road this week, a gnarled and furious cyclist who’d been inconvenienced by my presence leant through the window to give me a piece of his warped and bitter mind. And before I had a chance to draw his attention to the hybrid badging, he was gone. If I were a real environmentalist I’d be a bit pissed off by this.

This car, however, does work the other way round. It works for normal people. I, for instance, liked it a lot.

It’s not the fuel economy. Lexus makes many bold claims, saying that by combining petrol and electric motors it’ll go to the moon and back on a single drop. It won’t. It’ll do the sort of mpg you’d get from any large diesel.

Nor am I all that bothered about its carbon dioxide emissions, because I don’t have a company car. If you do, however, then the savings are big. It’s 2,500 a year less than a comparable Audi.

Does this mean it’s saving the planet? Hmmm, I’m not so sure. Its 3.5 litre V6 engine is fantastically clever, combining direct and port injection. So I wonder how miserly it would be even without the electric motor and the batteries and so on.

Let me put it this way. On electric power alone, this car has a range of just 1.2 miles. Providing you don’t exceed 20mph.

It starts silently and for the first few inches it’s on batteries. But then the big V6 kicks in and doesn’t really shut down again until you’re home. Hybrid? Yeah, in the same way that my Ford GT would be a hybrid if I put a child’s windmill on the roof.

The only good thing about the electric motor is that it provides extra power when you mash your foot into the carpet. And I’m not sure that was the point.

So where’s the appeal? It’s not that fast, the CVT gearbox is as unusable as all other CVT gearboxes and the ride, beefed up to cope with the extra weight, is harsh in normal mode and boneshaking if you hit the sport button.

And you will hit the sport button because a lot of the Lexus dash is quite confusing. It even has a device that tells you which way to turn the steering wheel if you wish to miss an obstacle.

These, however, are all quite small faults. And they’re balanced nicely by the styling, the quality and the sense that you really are in something a little bit different. But the one thing that swung it for me is that if you take this huge, gas-guzzling super saloon into London you don’t have the faff of paying the congestion charge. Because it’s a hybrid, it’s exempt.

Since Uncle Ken introduced the charge a couple of years ago I haven’t driven into central London once. I can’t be bothered to talk to recorded messages. Life’s way too short. But with the Lexus I drove up and down Piccadilly all day.

It was great. It drove like a normal car and looked like a normal car, so people didn’t think I was a lunatic green person. I even did a couple of U-turns for fun.

Of course, if you never go to London there are better, more comfortable cars. But if you do, the Lexus is something very unusual. Technology with a point.


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