I like Lexus – and I don’t care

Just a few days ago, I had to give up the Lexus, and that made me sad.

Now I have always generally enjoyed the products of Lexus – and sometimes, talking to other motoring journos, and reading certain comments, I feel like I’m not supposed to. I get the impression that this Japanese upstart shouldn’t really be expecting to have its cars considered as premium machines, truly an alternative to Audi, Mercedes-Benz and dare we say it, BMW.

I sometimes wonder if potential customers feel the same way. Lexus sold around 9,000 cars in the UK last year, up seven per cent on 2012. Audi shifted 142,000, up almost 15 per cent, BMW 135,500, yup, less than Audi, and up a mere six per cent. Mercedes – 109K, 19 per cent up. Even the considered very upmarket Jaguar clocked up 16,000-plus – like Audi knocking on 15 per cent growth.

1402Lexus02So judging by the cold hard numbers, Lexus is very much a premium bit player, one that has to be honest, struggled in recent times. And I wonder if buyers test driving a Lexus get out of the car, think that was truly impressive, but think too that as they are earning enough to buy a premium car, it should have an Audi, BMW or Mercedes badge…

Well I admit that on the all-too rare occasions that I drive BMWs, they have to work harder to convince me. I’m also uncomfortable with the fact that they are a premium car that seems to appear around every corner. There’s just too many of them around…

Okay, Audis are getting a bit like that these days, but I do find a lot to like about the Audis I drive – and I drive a lot of Audis. Mercedes? Really on the up – they never used to do much for me, they do a lot more now. Jaguar? Classy, simply classy.

Yet still I can’t get away from the simple pleasure I get from slipping behind the wheel of a Lexus. Mind you it has to be a reasonably-sized Lexus – I’ve never really got on with the CT200h hatchback, to me an oddity in the line-up.

1402Lexus04The Lexus I’ve been driving most recently is the IS300h – and the h is important. Lexus simply does not get enough credit for the several years now that it has pursued the hybrid route. Hybrid is good – it does help with the wallet, which is important for this journo who doesn’t earn nearly enough to justify actually owning a premium car… But it also helps with the power – and in this market you expect a reasonably impressive response when you depress your right foot. In the Lexus, such depressing produces instant electrically generated extra grunt.

And – despite having done it so many times now, I still get an odd thrill from letting off the handbrake in my driveway and gliding up to the main road in the total silence of electric propulsion. Smoothness and power, the perfect combination…

The tech is impressive – and it’s contained within a package that is put together as well as any of its German rivals. The shut lines on the panels, the feel of the surfaces, the general plushness, are up to what I’d expect from the Germans – and to listen to some of my colleagues, you’d believe Lexus isn’t allowed to do anything as well as the Germans…

1402Lexus03I’m happy to admit Lexus doesn’t get everything right. The brand was late to the party with one knob central controls, playing catch-up to BMW’s I-Drive and Audi’s MMI. The Lexus solution, which looks a bit like some form of aircraft joystick, is simply too imprecise, making it easy to miss the function you are looking for. But it’s a minor point in a highly contented driving environment.

So yes, I’m always a little sad when I hand back the keys of a Lexus test car. But with the IS300h it’s been particularly hard – because I’ve had it for too long. Generally us journos have a car on test for a week, which is long enough to get a true impression of what it’s like to live with, the kind of day to day grind that you simply can’t replicate in the rush of a launch event.

1402Lexus05Due, however, to circumstances that I had nothing to do with, I’ve had the IS300h for two weeks, and that’s too long. In that time it went from daily test subject to daily companion, a car I got very accustomed to, very comfortable with. So when it came to giving it back – well the fellow journalist who took it from me is a very nice guy but he was, through no fault of his own, by no means my favourite person that day…

My name is Andrew Charman – and I’d like a Lexus, thanks very much…

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