This is the home of automobile road tests in South Africa. We drive South African cars, SUVs and LCVs under South African conditions. It also just happens that most of the vehicles we drive are world cars as well, so what you read here probably applies to the models you can get at home.
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*Please remember too, that prices quoted were those ruling on the days I wrote the stories.
There may not be any laws enforcing automotive greening in SA, but we all know, deep in our hearts, that there soon will be and that we should be doing our bit now rather than later.
Diesel power is an option, but it has its limitations. CO2 levels may be lower than with petrol engines at present but no one says anything about particulates and nitrous oxide emissions, where petrol engines apparently perform better. A further concern is that diesel engine technology appears to have peaked, whereas petrol engines are getting cleaner.
Then there’s the question of the turbochargers needed to make diesel engines perform with any degree of excitement. Many have proved themselves reliable, but I bet no one wants to be the sucker who has to shell out for a new one two days after the full maintenance contract expires?
The only alternatives appear to be either the plug-in-and-recharge electric vehicle with its very limited range, boring performance and dirty power source, or a hybrid. Some hybrids recharge their batteries from the mains and others, like the Prius and the Lexus, recharge while coasting or braking.
The Lexus GS450h SE, subject of this review, is billed as a “performance hybrid” thanks to its 218 kW 3,5 litre petrol engine backed up by a 147 kW/275 Nm electric motor. For a naturally aspirated engine of its size, the Lexus unit is not shabby at all, while the added thrust of the electric motor gives it turbodiesel-like torque as well.
The result is that this thing pulls like a big V8 while returning consumption and pollutant figures closer to what one would expect of a smaller car.
Reasons for reduced CO2 levels are that the petrol engine shuts down when stopped at traffic lights and during low-speed driving, while fuel mixtures are tuned for minimum emissions because the electric motor is there to assist during pull off and acceleration.
The result is that smog-forming discharges are as much as 70% lower than for the average new vehicle, while nitrous oxides and hydrocarbons are almost zero.
The Lexus is more than a pretty face. Along with smooth, flowing bodywork boasting narrow panel gaps and minimal protrusions, numerous aerodynamic under-body elements promote vehicle stability and help reduce wind noise. These include an engine undercover, front and rear tyre fairings, front floor, rear floor and fuel tank covers, as well as an aerodynamic differential cover plate. These optimise air flow around and under the car to maximise aerodynamic efficiency, improve fuel economy and reduce emissions.
Inside, styling is either “conservative” or “understated” depending on viewpoint, but “flashy” it isn’t. What I did appreciate is that one is not overwhelmed with buttons every time one wants to change something. Those used most often are in the centre where they belong, while others are tucked away on two sub panels – one to the right of the steering wheel and another under the centre glove box lid.
Equipment-wise, the GS450h is offered in two specification levels but with no extras. The SE model we drove boasts higher-spec leather upholstery, seat coolers for those in front (warmers are common to both levels), a tilt-and-slide sunroof, Mark Levinson 14-speaker premium sound kit (vs a mere 10 speakers for the non-SE model), satnav and voice command, while the reversing camera has added guide indicators. On the subject of the sound system, those who still possess musicassettes don’t need to ditch them just yet – they are accommodated as well.
Apart from the above, both models boast extremely high standard specification levels, so one would have to be downright pernickety to find anything one just cannot do without.
Prices, at R650 500 for the plain version and R697 200 for the SE, are realistic by today’s standards for well-equipped, high performance luxury sedans. Being pleasingly eco-conscious is a bonus.
Engine: 3,5 litre 24 valve DOHC V6 with dual VVTi
Power: 218 kW at 6 400 rpm
Torque: 368 Nm at 4 800 rpm
Electric motor: 147 kW/275 Nm
Zero to 100 km/h: 5,9 seconds (claimed)
Maximum speed: Governed to 250 km/h
Fuel economy: 7,9 l/100 km (claimed) and 9,8 l/100 km in real life testing over 400 km of mixed driving.
Warranty: 3 years/100 000 km
Maintenance plan: 4 years/100 000 km
Hybrid Drive battery: 3 years/100 000 km warranty, but life expectancy is 10 years.
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