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Auto equivalent of an alien
Published 17/02/14

HAVE you ever wondered what it would be like to be weightless, floating free in space? You know, like Neil Armstrong in 1969 when he bounced across the moon’s cheesy, pitted surface? Or more recently when astronaut Chris Hadfield was “floating in a most peculiar way” as he sang David Bowie’s Space Oddity from the International Space Station.

It must be liberating but also (and maybe appropriately) an alien feeling for humans to defy gravity in this way. And I reckon that the automotive equivalent of this is driving a hybrid vehicle.

Not so much an all-electric vehicle (EV) where the silent response is constant: in a hybrid the floating — the aura of “weightlessness” — begins the drive cycle on the electric motor before the engine (be it either petrol or diesel) kicks in.

I was thinking these rather ethereal thoughts while at the wheel of this week’s drive: what surely must be one of the most elegant hybrids on the market today, the Lexus IS 300h F Sport.

Of course you are not in any way weightless while driving a hybrid but in the same way that a driver of say a big snarling V8 or V12 feels a “connection” with the car, with a hybrid there is a high degree of disconnection.

This is not necessarily a bad thing. It means that the car’s engine computer management system is, well, doing exactly what it is supposed to do: managing the car’s performance for you.

I guess that as cars become ever more sophisticated, as they surely will over the next several decades, then more of the responsibilities of driving will be taken away from the driver and be left to the car. One of the joys of a burbling V8 or V12 is that as you pile on the power the engine responds by trumpetting an equally joyous note.

On a hybrid such as this Lexus IS 300h when you accelerate hard the “roar” is a subtle gradation of noise, nothing too demonstrative, not in any way over-the-top. The four-cylinder, 16-valve, 2,494cc petrol engine delivers competently and intelligently 0 to 62mph in a swift 8.3 seconds and has a top speed of 125mph.

Fuel consumption as you might expect is excellent, achieving 60.1mpg on the combined cycle, and emissions are down to a winning 109g/km. The so-called F Sport package boosts performance at the flick of the gear lever. The idea behind this hybrid Lexus of it being not so much a quiet, efficient, sensible town car but also one with some sports get-up-and-go strikes me as an eminently good way to develop cars of the future.

We don’t all want to be wrapped in the cotton wool of electric cars yet at the same time we all have to take a pragmatic view of life on our roads today.

I think for my money the hybrid at present is the best bet.

One such as the Lexus IS 300h F sport seems to provide the answer if, along with your sensible side, you still have yearning for some performance driving.

We all know there is not a great deal of opportunity for this now on our roads and I firmly believe if you want to race then invest in some track days. But indulging oneself by owning a car such as this extraordinarily comfortable Lexus might be the answer to the constraints of modern driving.

The interior of the car is subtly luxurious: sports seats give driver and front-seat passenger equality of comfort while rear passengers are not forgotten.

One of my passengers commented that this car showed that rear seat passengers were not just there to make up the numbers but were also given equal consideration to those in front.

The leather trim on the test car helped in this regard.

The Lexus IS 300h is an interesting and absorbing car and with a starting price of 33,495 on the road, not beyond the pockets of most people.

Car tested: Lexus IS 300h F Sport Auto Leather Sat Nav

* On-the-road price 37,500 including options fitted, metallic paint, 610, leather seats, 1,400 and Lexus Premium Navigation, 1,995

Key points of the Lexus IS 300h:

* New interior with cockpit

* Increased wheelbase and width achieve more spacious cabin

* Range comprises IS 300h, the first hybrid IS, and V6-powered IS 250

* F Sport package available on both models

By Nigel Wigmore

Published 17/02/14

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