There’s a slightly secret group of people out there dedicated to Lexus. They’re definitely ‘in the know’ and appreciate something a little different.
They’re very likely to corner you after a dinner party and remind you that Lexus is a brand that regularly tops the JD Power Customer Satisfaction Survey – the respected industry stamp of happy car ownership, voted for by real drivers, in the real world.
And they are the sort of drivers who stick with a make, year in, year out and can be rather smug about it too. Well, apart from that rather tasteless dashboard described yesterday, I’m starting to see why that is.
The IS300h is beautifully screwed together and oozes quality from every angle. Disappointing our SE isn’t equipped with leather trim or heated seats but I can forgive that when I know I’m driving a brand that has been proved to gives years of happy motoring.
Remember when BMW introduced the infamous iDrive system in their cars? Ooh there was a fuss. Hated by both technophobes and those with conventional hands alike, BMW stuck with it. After a period of ‘refinement’ it’s now a relatively straightforward joystick for the navigation, media and telephone functions alike.
Lexus has a similar type of system in the IS but for some reason it has an oblong joystick, rather than round. That’s oblong in the sense that it’s not that easy to hold, or actually operate for that matter. This morning I was clicking through the screen options and found my cursor skipping all over the place.
It makes a sympathetic ‘bing’ when you want to connect, annoying but I’m sure you can switch it off. It’s my least favourite feature – that and the rather cheap looking centre console in the SE. I mean, this is a luxurious business car but it just doesn’t marry with the rest of the interior design, which is a cut above.
Apparently, the cockpit was inspired by the limited edition and very cool Lexus LFA. At least its bigger than previous IS cars, thanks to a wider wheelbase.
I’ll admit it. I’ve just walked past the rear of the IS300h thinking it was a BMW 3 Series. I was on the mobile and distracted but I suddenly found myself down the wrong end of the car park looking for a Lexus.
Have a peep at the boot in our photo above – is there a BMW designer moonlighting in Japan I wonder? No mistaking the front end though, with those bug-eyed headlights on the IS.
There are also more welcome similarities with the BMW when it comes to handling. This latest IS is incredibly precise around corners and feels every inch a driver’s car, although it’s not as fast to 60mph as the diesel Beemer.
And then there’s the artificial noise generator! The Lexus delivery driver told me our SE had a system that sent sound into the cabin to simulate the sound of the engine, sometimes missing in a hybrid. As of today, I’m not entirely sure when the SE has it or not.
To be honest, I don’t want to know if it is fitted because it’s much more fun trying to work out whether it is there or not! I’ll get to the bottom of it, once I’ve had time to open the manual….
Pretty from most angles and, it seems, sponsored by Nike? Subliminal advertising has obviously reached new levels of cunningness when you consider the shape of the IS300 daytime running lights.
Yes, I should be writing about the petrol-electric lump sat under the bonnet, the stylish bodyshape that will have BMW 320d drivers spitting blood, and the bizarre engine noise switch in the cabin (more on that tomorrow!).
However, as we are talking couture here, look at those swooshy lights! Maybe the designer was checking out his sneakers when he found that moment of inspiration…
What the front lights do well is distract your attention from the bizarre grille. The shape suggests that it has melted in the middle. Weird and slightly scary, if you suffer from migraines.
That aside, the styling of the Lexus is light years ahead of the corporate BMW. Of course, most buyers of both will spend their days in a suit but the baby IS is genuinely a thing of beauty.
Last week I heard from an old friend who I knew as a teenager in Ross-on-Wye. He used to service my father’s Citroen CX – a car so complex under the bonnet that not even Haynes sold a user manual!
The CX has a spinning ball speedometer, self-centering steering and was, quite frankly, bonkers. My friend was brave enough to risk tinkering with crazy French engineering.
I just wonder what he would make of the X1 engine. Like every modern car, it’s so complex that filling the water bottle is about as far as most people go these days. Besides, it makes a mess of your warranty.
The 1.6 diesel in our X1 is a lot more lively than I thought it was going to be, at 11.5 seconds to 60mph. I’d probably opt for the 2.0d if I was buying an X1 but the 1.8 would be a good compromise.
We are currently averaging 43mpg, rather less than the 57.6mpg that BMW claim. However, I’m expecting over 550mpg from this tank of diesel, which is excellent. BMW claim 772 miles, which would be quite remarkable.
The Saturday morning run along Wiltshire‘s Great Ridge almost came unstuck today. Not because of the large number of shooters out, or the horse that spooked my dog. No, I just completely forgot that this X1 isn’t four-wheel drive.
So when I parked on the slippery bank, about 100 yards down a farm track, I didn’t take into account the ‘BMW Factor’. As everyone knows, rear-wheel drive Beemers are just rubbish on anything other than tarmac. Really rubbish.
My 6 Series refused to budge on a virtually flat track in the Cotswolds last winter – an older 3 Series Touring was even worse, unless you chucked a couple of bags of coal in the boot.
My problem with any car that looks like a four-wheel drive is that it SHOULD also behave like a 4×4. What’s the point of paying for all that extra ground clearance if you can’t even pull away smoothly from a grass bank?
So while our xLine X1 is loaded with £5,000 of extras, I’d ditch the lot and go for the four-wheel drive model. Then I could park on grassy banks without any worries.
If Car Couture is giving out prizes for the oddest moment of the year, it must surely have occured this morning when I came back to the Forester after a long run.
Wiltshire has plenty of quiet spots but the behind a Subaru on a hectic B-road is obviously not one of them. I went to open the boot and stumbled across a woman who was relieving herself on the kerb!
She picked the Forester over a BMW 3 Series estate and a SEAT Leon because it is much taller and provides a good deal more cover. Obviously, not enough in this instance!
Final day with the Subaru. In a nutshell – loads of space, practical interior and genuine off-road ability, without the bling. On the downside, it won’t appeal to image-conscious buyers, the prices look a little high and the engine is noisy when pushed hard.
Despite that, I’d buy one over a ‘pretty’ SUV anyday.
Jeremy A 150-mile round trip to London and back today should have been enough time to get to know somebody. Sat at my desk again this evening, I still don’t feel I truly know the Cascada.
On the one hand, it looks like a pretty car, with an interior that’s roomy enough for four and very well equipped for the money. On the other, it’s heavy, soulless and with the 1.4 petrol engine under the bonnet, rather slow to get up and running.
If you are considering a Cascada – or an Audi A4 Cabriolet, BMW 3 Series etc – then for heaven’s sake, make sure you test drive the forthcoming 195bhp 2.0 biturbo diesel version because I imagine it will provide the extra grunt this Vauxhall needs.
Overtaking in the 1.4 requires a lot of ‘winding up’ first. Drop down to third, find a long, straight stretch of road and cross your fingers. It’s just not an engine suited to this car.