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They’re here – so what are they like to drive?

LEXUS ES300H

Lexus ES300H

You wouldn’t be entirely off the mark if you said the ES300h was a Toyota Camry Hybrid in a spiffy suit. Yes, the Lexus and the Toyota share a powertrain (although the Lexus has a different ECU) and some other things besides – but you’d also be wrong to dismiss it. The ES300h is a car that will appeal to people who want luxury and refinement, all married to reliability and affordable service costs – that’s what Toyota, the parent company, is known for, after all.

The ES doesn’t look like a Camry, to begin with. The distinctive ‘spindle’ grille, a feature common to the Lexus lineup, gives the car some drama and character, and the sharp headlights (with LED DRLs) are another spiffy touch. The design begins to become blander as you move down the sides and to the rear, although the wraparound tail lamps look good.

As soon as you sit in the ES’ cabin, you’re immediately struck by just how well built it is – there’s not a thing that looks out of place, and every last bit looks superbly fianished. The ventilated leather seats are outstanding, front and rear, and there’s plenty of legroom all round. But… unlike the Camry, which has a reclining rear seatback, the ES doesn’t, which is mystifying. Also, despite the high level of quality, the interior doesn’t feel as special as its German, British and Swedish competition – some elements look old, and a few switches actually come from the Camry. If you can overlook these elements, the cabin is perfectly agreeable.

The ES has a 2.5-litre petrol engine mated to an electric motor, and the combined power output of 205 bhp is very respectable. The operative word in this car is ‘silent’ – you can barely hear the engine while it’s working, and it’s the CVT gearbox that makes more of a noise. The ES is all about relaxed, effortless driving, rather than spirited motoring, and although it’ll get to 100 kph from standstill in under 9 seconds, you won’t feel tempted to do that sort of thing very often. The steering wheel offers far more feel than the Camry’s, and the car is controlled around corners, although not in the same handling league as, say, a BMW 5 Series. The ride quality, however, is top-notch – it feels smooth and completely settled, especially in the back seat. At Rs 55.27 lakh (ex-showroom), the ES feels a tad overpriced, but because it’s a CBU, it gets hit with a massive amount of taxes and duties; whenever Lexus begins assembling it in India, it should see a price drop.

VERDICT: A VERY COMFORTABLE, INCREDIBLY REFINED CAR, BUT NOT THE MOST EXCITING TO DRIVE.

Mercedes Benz E Class

YOU COULD ALSO LOOK AT: THE MERCEDES-BENZ E-CLASS

LEXUS LX450D

Lexus LX450D

I could tell you that this SUV is based on Toyota’s legendary Landcruiser, but while that’s true, I would be doing a disservice to the LX. The Lexus LX450d is the sledgehammer in the lineup, and it makes no bones about it. It’s over five metres long and more than two metres wide, to begin with, and with that insanely large front, people will get the hell out of its way when they see it coming in their rear view mirrors. It’s no great surprise that the LX is a hugely popular model in the Middle East, since they like their cars to be larger than life out there. It’s a dead certainty that in this country, politicians, real estate moguls, A-list actors and others with the means (and egos) will take to the LX like the proverbial ducks to water.

Getting into the LX isn’t the easiest process, because its floor is so far from the ground it’s sitting on; you can, however, enable an option which lowers the car every time you switch off the ignition. Once inside, you’re surrounded by a familiar sea of high quality wood, leather and chrome, but again, it’s not quite as premium a space as some of its competitors. The front seats are ridiculously comfortable and offer a throne-like view of the road ahead, and mention must be made of the equally ridonkulous 19-speaker Mark Levinson audio system, which has the capacity to replace a sound system at a small-tomiddling nightclub (I’m not kidding).

The LX sports the only diesel engine in the Lexus family – a great big 4.4-litre V8, with 265 bhp and 650 Nm of torque. These are rather respectable numbers, but you also have to remember that the LX weighs almost three tonnes (no, that’s not a typo), so it isn’t exactly a sprightly performer. It takes its time to build up speed, and once it gets going, it’s all about relaxed performance. For a diesel, the engine is very refined, and you can barely hear it inside the cabin at lower revs.

As you can imagine, the LX handles like a very plush barge, but it terms of ride quality, it simply flattens everything in its path. You can go full tilt over a rumbler strip, and all you’ll experience is a slight thud and a vague noise. The LX also has every off-road doodad known to humankind, and will take you to the ends of the earth without breaking a sweat. You’re likely to perspire a bit when you hear the Rs 2.32-crore asking price, however – that’s a full crore more than the Landcruiser and Rs 34 lakh more than a Range Rover with a V8 diesel (which is more powerful).

VERDICT: A GARGANTUAN SUV THAT WILL SCARE AWAY PEDESTRIANS, OTHER CARS AND BAD ROADS

YOU COULD ALSO LOOK AT: THE RANGE ROVER AUTOBIOGRAPHY

LEXUS RX450H F-SPORT

This is the Lexus you should buy if you value driving pleasure and what the seat of your pants are saying. To begin with, it’s the best looking Lexus on sale, especially in the F-Sport edition, and it’s possibly the most distinctive SUV in its class. The signature Lexus grille is very much in evidence, and the profile integrates a ‘floating’ roof that is rather cool; all told, it’s an edgy-slashy exterior, which is somewhat unusual for a normally conservative brand like Lexus. Suffice to say that nothing else on the roads looks like this.

The RX’s cabin leaves no real room for complaint, either. It’s just as well put together as the ES, if not more, and the highlight is the huge, hi-res screen, which is controlled by a mouse-like knob; there’s a bit of a learning curve, and the controller tends to be too sensitive, but in the end it works well. The 15-speaker Mark Levinson audio system is right up there with the best, the seats are really (really) comfortable and supportive, the panoramic sunroof is a great touch and the luggage compartment will swallow everything needed for a nice, long road trip (or a drive down to the gold course).

A car with a 3.4-litre petrol V6, mated to a powerful electric motor and producing a combined 313 bhp, is probably going to be fun to drive – and such is indeed the case. Even though the RX is a hybrid, and therefore not a pure-bred performance machine, it makes you smile. There’s a broad spread of shove available, and refinement and some excitement go hand in hand. The downside, however, is that because of the otherwise refined CVT gearbox, the chasm between what your right foot is saying and what the engine is doing is large – at full tilt, therefore, even though the RX is accelerating, it doesn’t feel like it’s doing so as quickly as you’d like. The RX offers a surprising amount of fun around twisties, too. Body roll is well controlled, and the RX is a confident taker of corners, with the steering wheel a fairly responsive unit in the proceedings. The ride quality on offer is impressive as well.

VERDICT: A SHARP-LOOKING, FUN TO DRIVE SUV THAT’S ALSO LUXURIOUS

YOU COULD ALSO LOOK AT: THE PORSCHE MACAN TURBO

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