A Taste of Lexus

A friend invited me to go to the Taste of Lexus event in Alameda. This is a travelling showroom where Lexus displays its latest models, complete with courses where you can take them for a spin. I normally am not too good at writing reviews; I’ll ignore features others consider revolutionary and gush over features others may not consider all that important. In this case, I have a few specific criticisms to make, and thus the review.

All of the cars I tested were solidly put together. That is, body flex and roll was mostly unnoticeable, with the exception of the hybrid SUV. I’ll return to that later. Road noise was incredibly reduced, a contrast especially noticeable when you are standing near the track and hear one go by. The interiors were all well appointed, but in most cases designed for shorter people.

My first criticism is for the SC430 convertible. This car pretends to seat four, but one look at the rear legroom makes it obvious that the rear seats are only for decoration. (The back of the front seat was actually touching the front of the rearseat. Sure, you could fit someone back there with the aid of a Sawzall, but then you’d absolutely ruin the leather.) To make things worse; this also means that you will never be able to take this car on a Bay Area “3 persons required” carpool lane. Lexus should lose the rear seat entirely, and find some way to add the reclaimed space to the trunk.

Next, the GS450h hybrid SUV. Thanks to hybrid technology, this vehicle has gas mileage numbers in the 20s. What I liked most was a small display in the dash that graphically illustrated the flow of power as waste energy was reclaimed from the breaks, or directed toward the engine. I generally have a dim view of SUVs, considering them the vehicle of choice for people with minimal driving skills. Given the higher center of gravity, I drove the GS much more conservatively than the other vehicles. In spite of this, the traction control light was still happily winking at me from the dash. Personally, I prefer driving a vehicle that’s capable of moving me around an obstacle instead of keeping me safe as it boldly plows through the obstacle. (This is not a criticism of GS, it is a criticism of SUVs in general.)

The final Lexus car I’d like to comment on is the IS350. This is the go-fast sports sedan with paddle shifters and a 0-60 acceleration time under 6 seconds. I was not impressed by the paddle shifters; they seemed unresponsive and, thanks to their rotating with the wheel, often out of position. Acceleration was acceptable; even though the transmission seemed to shift too early. Some of this may be due to my unfamiliarity with the system, but it is still unsatisfying compared to a manual.

My overall perception is that these cars are aimed for the luxury buyer but not for someone who loves driving. They are also designed for short people, as the SC convertible was the only vehicle that I could enter without having to carefully work my knees under the steering wheel. Would I buy one for myself? Unlikely. Would I recommend them to friends? Of course.

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