Hybrid Lexus Goes on Display at Harrods

By dancurranjr On December 20th, 2010

Billed as the first ever hybrid luxury hatchback, the Lexus CT 200H has gone on display in the window of the world’s most luxurious department store this week.

The green luxury car boasts a hybrid engine which offers the option of powering the car by either electric or petrol. The Lexus CT 200H is aiming to offer a green choice of vehicle for the luxury car market. What better place is there to showcase the first ever hybrid Lexus than in London’s most prestigious store?!

The Lexus is on display in the window usually used to showcase super cars such as Ferrari vehicles and Aston Martins. In fact, the last vehicle to go on display in the Harrods shop window was the Aston Martin Cygnet, as reported by Cars for Stars News last month.

Thanks to its super green credentials, the hybrid Lexus is the only luxury automatic to be exempt from the London congestion charge. As well as offering reduced emissions which makes it ideal for city driving, the Lexus CT 200H offers the same level of performance and comfort as you’d expect from a vehicle from the top name car maker.

The hybrid is part of a four window Lexus display in Harrods which will run from this week, until January 15th 2011. The window display has been designed so as to allow customers the opportunity to get up and close to the luxury vehicles so they can get a real feel for the car,  so what are you waiting for?! Head down to Harrods now for a chance to check out the new Hybrid Lexus CT 200H in the flesh.

SOURCE: Cars for Stars

Can a Hybrid Be a Luxury Car?

By dancurranjr On December 30th, 2009

A fuel-efficient gas-electric hybrid luxury car: Not so long ago, that was an automotive oxymoron. Now, it’s a market segment.

The concept of selling high fuel efficiency as a high-end feature is gaining currency in the auto industry, thanks in part to regulatory pressure and to the buzz in certain circles around the Tesla electric roadster and other electric-powered cars.

Mainstream luxury brands are getting on the green bandwagon, betting that a growing slice of wealthy car buyers defines an “advanced” or “premium” car as more than just a potent engine. The latest arrival in the growing flock of hybrid luxury cars is the Lexus HS 250h. I took a weekend test drive in one to see how Toyota Motor Corp. is attacking the challenge of designing a high-technology car that is both ultra-frugal and indulgent at the same time.

It’s not an easy balance to strike.

Other mainstream luxury hybrids on sale in the U.S. are variations on existing models. That approach helps with costs, but it doesn’t yield eye-popping miles-per-gallon figures.

The $87,950 Mercedes-Benz S400 hybrid sedan, for example, is rated at 21 mpg in combined city and highway driving, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The 295-horsepower car uses a six-cylinder engine and a “mild hybrid” system to average three miles per gallon better, on the government’s tests, than the eight-cylinder, 382-horsepower Mercedes S550 sedan.

Then there’s the $43,000 Lexus RX450h, a crossover wagon that uses a more-robust hybrid system than the big Benz to achieve an average 29 mpg, compared to 20 mpg for the standard RX 350. Good, but still not enough if you want a very small carbon footprint.
Not Like Any Other Lexus

The HS 250h, however, isn’t like any other Lexus. Toyota says it isn’t just a rebadged Prius, either. Its body architecture is adapted from a European Toyota model called the Avensis. It has a 2.4-liter gasoline engine, larger than the Prius’s 1.8-liter motor. Combined with the boost from its batteries, the car is rated at 187 horsepower, compared to 134 horsepower for the Prius.

Lexus’ strategy for the HS 250h—which starts at $37,845—is to position it as the car of the future, available today. You can buy one with a cruise-control system that uses radar to slow your car when others get in the way, and an optional navigation system you can talk to.

“And on top of all that, it’s a hybrid,” says Brian Bolain, Lexus’ national manager of marketing and lifecycle strategy.

That said, the most impressive feature of the HS 250h’s list of specifications is its 35 miles per gallon EPA rating for combined city and highway driving.

I drove a Lexus HS 250h (and yes, all those H’s seem redundant) that I borrowed from Toyota from Washington, D.C., through eastern Pennsylvania and into the hilly country of New York state. From my first encounter with this car until I sent it back to the Lexus press fleet, I struggled with mixed feelings.

The HS 250h’s exterior styling plays it very safe, especially in contrast to the wedgy, angular profile of the new 2010 Prius. The interior is dominated by a prominent peninsula that pushes from the center of the dashboard into the space between the driver and passenger seats.

My test car had the optional navigation-system package, priced at $2,125, which also includes satellite radio. The center console was dominated by a joystick-style controller that operated the map functions. I never quite got the hang of the joystick, and a real buyer would expect—and should demand—a tutorial in how to get the most from the system.

The map did come in handy, however, when it alerted us to a huge traffic jam on our route home, and allowed us to bushwhack around the trouble. (Models without the navigation system don’t have the joystick.)

The Lexus HS has some features and behaviors that take a bit of getting used to if you aren’t already a hybrid driver. The car starts with the push of a large button on the dashboard, and can move out of a parking space on electric power. You might hear the gasoline engine come to life right away, or you might not.

The car has a continuously variable transmission, so there’s no gear shifting. “The transmission may feel different,” cautions the owner’s manual. The transmission does offer settings that will help slow the car when descending a steep hill.

The car’s performance in normal highway driving is conventional, except when you slow down and brake. That’s when I heard the whirring and whooshing sounds associated with the car’s technology, which captures braking energy and uses it to recharge the battery pack. Most luxury cars strive for silence. The Lexus HS makes noises.

My test car also had a $3,900 “technology” package that included a feature I used a lot during my trip: a radar-enabled cruise-control system that allowed me to set a speed, and then turn over to the car the chore of adjusting speed to the traffic. If I got stuck behind a slowpoke, the Lexus slowed down to prevent me from tailgating.

The Lexus HS 250h is a pleasant cruiser on freeways, but it’s not much fun on twisting, hilly roads. The car labored up steep grades in the hilly country around the Delaware River in Pennsylvania and New York. It’s not a cornering machine.

We traveled relatively light—a good thing, because thanks to the battery pack, the Lexus HS has just 12.1 cubic feet of trunk space, compared to 14.7 cubic feet for the Lexus ES 350 sedan and 13 cubic feet for the Lexus IS sedan.

The Lexus HS did deliver on mileage. I averaged 34.8 miles per gallon over 293 miles of driving, and boosted my mileage close to 40 mpg during stretches of the drive, according to the trip computer.
A Steep Sticker Price

The question some prospective Lexus HS buyers may ask is this: If you want a high-mileage hybrid, why buy a car that isn’t as fuel-efficient as a Toyota Prius, and costs $14,000 to $15,000 more? My loaded test car had a sticker price of $44,967, although most HS 250h cars will go out the door for under $40,000, Mr. Bolain says. The Prius starts at $23,370 and gets 50 mpg in city and highway driving.

Gas-electric hybrids account for just under 2% of the total car market, and luxury-brand hybrids are a sliver of that. The Lexus HS offers more of what environmentally conscious consumers want from an advanced-technology vehicle, and Mr. Bolain says there will likely be more Lexus models that offer the HS 250h’s brand of technology.

But more than once while winding up hill and down dale in the Lexus HS, I wished I had one of those peppy, high-mileage four-cylinder diesel BMWs or Audis that Europeans get, and we don’t. Does that make me a bad guy?

SOURCE: Wall Street Journal

Lexus RX Hybrid to Make Debut at European Show

By dancurranjr On March 22nd, 2009

lexusThe new Lexus RX hybrid made its European debut at the Geneva Motor Show.

Using breakthrough hybrid technology, the new RX hybrid emits just 148g/km CO2 without any compromise in power, luxury or size. Since the 2005 launch of the ground-breaking RX 400h, Lexus have sold 780 in Ireland. On sale from July 2009, the new Lexus RX hybrid introduces second generation Lexus Hybrid Drive technology to the world’s best selling premium crossover. The new drive-train employs a highly efficient, petrol engine and two powerful electric motors working in tandem to provide an ‘intelligent’ electric 4wheel drive capability.

Comprehensive enhancements to every aspect of the Lexus Hybrid Drive system have affected an increase in engine power, a significant reduction in fuel consumption and remarkably low CO2 emissions Unlike mild hybrids, which employ supplementary electric motor power purely to boost petrol engine performance, the RX hybrid is a full hybrid capable of operating in both petrol and electric modes separately, as well as a combination of both.

The fuel efficiency and performance of the RX hybrid drive system have been further enhanced through the adoption of three new driving modes; ECO, EV(electric vehicle) and snow. Via the steering wheel mounted Multi-information switch, access to EV mode allows the RX hybrid to be driven under electric motor power alone.

With vehicle range dictated by battery charge, the EV drive mode allows for zero emissions during urban driving. Because the petrol engine is switched off throughout its operation, the EV drive mode contributes to a significant reduction in the RX hybrid’s overall fuel consumption.

SOURCE: Fingal Independent

Lexus RX400h Test Drive and Review from Australia

By dancurranjr On March 8th, 2009

lexus-rx400hWhen Toyota chose to capitalise on its hybrid technology by releasing hybrid Lexus models, many – including us – thought it simply represented a devaluation of the concept.

After all, the groundbreaking Prius – easily the world’s best-selling hybrid and one of the most important cars ever released – uses a petrol-electric driveline clothed in a highly efficient, well packaged body. But cars like the RX400h are (in relative terms) large, lumbering, un-aerodynamic and heavy. So why put a hybrid driveline in a car like that?
Click for larger image

Well, having now experienced the RX400h, we can better see where Toyota is coming from. Yes in absolute terms the fuel economy remains unscintillating – although for this class of car it’s good – but the way Lexus engineers have taken advantage of the opportunities that the hybrid technology allows has made for a very effective vehicle.

So let’s take a look at the AUD$97,545 RX400h…

Despite being due for replacement (which incidentally means you currently should be able to score an excellent new car price reduction), the RX400h still looks quite stylish. The proportions and detailing are good; about the only angle where the car looks a little odd is from directly behind. Build quality is right up to the very high standard of all Lexus cars, with the doors shutting superbly, equal width panel margins and excellent presswork of the body panels.

Under the bonnet you’ll find – as is the case with lots of cars these days – a series of huge dress covers. But delve further and there’s a 3MZ-FE 3.3 litre 24-valve V6 petrol engine that develops 155kW at a relatively low 5600 rpm. Peak torque is 288Nm at 4400 rpm.

The electric power is provided by no less than three electric motor/generators. As is the case with all Toyota/Lexus hybrids, two of the motors are contained within the ‘transmission’ casing, but the other electric motor is positioned at the back of the car, driving the rear wheels. In fact all rear-wheel drive is provided by this electric motor alone – there is no mechanical driveshaft connection from the front to the back.

The front electric power output is a considerable 123kW at 4500 rpm, while a high 333Nm is also available. At the back, max power is a much lower 50kW. Combine all these outputs and Lexus quote a maximum of 200kW (because of the way the power outputs are linked, you can’t just arithmetically add the numbers).

The electric and petrol powers are seamlessly combined by the very sophisticated control system. Driving is two-pedal automatic style. The car starts moving on electric power and then the petrol motor kicks in. However, as you move along, the petrol motor might be on or off, the electric assist might be occurring or not occurring, and regenerative braking might be operating – or braking might be by the hydraulic discs. The central LCD can be configured to show all these power flows, but in short, the driver doesn’t need to make even a single decision as to what is occurring.

In fact, that’s a deficiency of the system – other than the normal Park, Reverse, Neutral and Drive positions, the only manual transmission over-ride available is a ‘B’ (braking) mode which, incidentally, is not very effective. The all-wheel drive is also not driver-configurable – this isn’t a car for someone who wants an involving experience…

So how does all this driveline complexity come together? Generally, very well.

Because the RX400h is primarily a front-wheel drive car with relatively low power rear-wheel assist, the all-wheel drive system feels a little different on the road to a traditional four-wheel drive car. That’s not to say the all-wheel drive system is for show alone – up a very steep, wet driveway that would have caused major problems to a front-wheel drive, the RX400h used all wheels to gain traction and easily climbed the slope. That’s probably a pretty good real-world application of the system – use on roads made slippery by rain, mud or snow, rather than being driven off the beaten track.

Push the car hard and the front-wheel biased system can torque steer, the feel and weight of the electric-assist steering altering markedly. Point-and-squirt in urban, wet road conditions and a firm hand needs to be kept on the steering. With the presence of the excellent stability control, it would be hard to get into trouble – but this isn’t a car that remains unfussed no matter what the conditions and driving style.

In more gentle use – eg on country roads – the handling is very good and the grip levels are high.

Power and response are both excellent. One of the advantages of hybrids is the immediate availability of electric motor torque, and this can be felt in the 400h. Put your foot down and the car lunges forward as if it has a much larger engine than just 3.3 litres to haul round the 2 tonnes.

So it goes well – but what of the fuel economy? The official figure is 8.1 litres/100km and on test over a wide variety of conditions, we got 10.4 litres/100km. Despite the protestations of Lexus, we don’t think that is a sufficiently convincing improvement over the many diesel-powered cars also available in this class. In fact, we’d go further and suggest that the RX400h is not a good buy if you’re concerned only with fuel economy.

But as an overall package, the RX400h works very well. The equipment level is high, with automatically steering HID headlights, high quality sound system with DVD playback capability on the colour LCD, electric (and heated) seats for both the driver and passenger (two memories on the driver’s seat), and all three rear vision mirrors having an auto-dimming function. There are airbags everywhere – driver and front passenger, driver knee, front side and full-length curtain – and the brother RX330 has a 4-star crash testing result.

The front seats are comfortable and have fold-down armrests. Pop-out door pockets are provided and the glovebox is large. Manipulate the reach and height electrically adjustable steering column and a good driving position is easily found. The instruments and controls are superbly clear.

But there are two shortcomings in the way the equipment works.

Like that fitted to other Lexus models, the navigation system is poor. The voice instructions are repetitious and often contradictory (an actual example: “The freeway is on the left” followed without pause by “The freeway is on the right”); the interface is not intuitive and prevents the input of any data (even by the passenger) when the car is moving; and the navigation system can be quite slow to react.

The other deficiency is the cruise control: on hilly country roads, its speed regulation is terrible. In fact, the system feels like it hasn’t been recalibrated for the hybrid driveline.

The rear seat has good – but not fantastic – space. Kneeroom is fine but space for the feet is a little tight, and the very tall will have insufficient headroom. Rear passengers are provided with door pockets and reading lights. A fold-down central armrest incorporates storage space and cup-holders, and air outlets are located on the rear of the centre console.

The rear seat folds on a 40/20/40 basis, with the ‘20’ being the centre section. This allows the carrying of two rear seat passengers while still allowing long loads to be fitted in. When folded, the seat backs lock securely into place. In addition to folding (nearly) flat, the rear seat backrests can be individually adjusted for recline angle.

Moving further rearwards, the back door can be remotely opened by the key fob. Despite initial scepticism, we found that in practice this works very well. An example use: a mother carrying a child and wanting to load some groceries needs just press the remote button to see the door slowly open in front of her. Talking of children, the child restraint anchorages are located on the back of the rear seat (so the straps don’t intrude into the load space) and the wide-opening doors and high seats makes placing children in the rear an easy task.

Rear load space is fine for this type of vehicle. The cargo blind can be set to automatically retract when the rear door is opened, and beneath the floor are two normally hidden storage compartments. Two rear load area lights are fitted and there’s a 12V outlet. The spare wheel is beneath the car. A warning triangle, first aid kit and valet pack are provided. Cargo tie-down hooks finish off the impressively equipped and designed rear.

So what to make of this car?

You wouldn’t buy the RX400h solely for its fuel economy, or performance, or handling, or equipment, or interior design. But taken as a package, the RX400h adds up to a car that is greater than the sum of its parts.

SOURCE: Autoweb

U.S. Hybrid Sales up 3.6% in August

By dancurranjr On September 5th, 2008

Reported U.S. sales of hybrid vehicles from the major automakers rose 3.6 per cent in August 2008, compared to sales in August 2007, with 26,045 vehicles sold. This represents a 2.08 per cent new vehicle market share for the month. Overall, sales of light-duty vehicles in the U.S. fell 15.5 per cent in August 2008, with sales of passenger cars dropping by 7.7 per cent and light trucks by 22.1 per cent.

The August 2008 hybrid sales results fell just short of the current August sales record of 26,249 units, reached in 2006.

At Toyota, sales of the Prius were down 4.2 per cent to 13,463; the company said the decline is due to limited availability. Camry Hybrid sold 3,456 units, a 19.3 per cent drop from August 2007, and representing 7.8 per cent of all Camry sales, which increased overall by 3.3 per cent from the year before. Sales of the Highlander Hybrid were 1,277 units, up 224.6 per cent from August 2007, and representing 15.2 per cent of all Highlander sales, which dropped 15.29 per cent to 8,070 units.

The Lexus RX 400h sold 1,277 units in August, up 9.0 per cent, and representing 14.2 per cent of all RX model sales, which dropped 10.6 per cent to 8,969 units. The GS 450h sold 35 units, down 73.1 per cent, and representing 2.1 per cent of all GS models. The LS 600h sold 71 units, a 73.4 per cent drop, and representing 4.0 per cent of all LS model sales.

Sales of the Honda Civic Hybrid were up 47.7 per cent to 3,105 units, representing 10.3 per cent of all Civics sold; total Civic sales rose 5.3 per cent to 30,052. The company also sold two units of the discontinued Honda Accord Hybrid.

Combined sales of the Ford Escape and Mercury Mariner hybrids dropped 27 per cent to 1,338 units, representing 8.0 per cent of all Escape and Mariner Sales, which rose 11.7 per cent in August to 16,634 units.

The Nissan Altima Hybrid sold 442 units, a decrease of 31.3 per cent from August 2007, and representing 1.7 per cent of all Altima sales. Sales of all Altima models dropped 0.5 per cent for the month.

General Motors sold 798 units of its two-mode Tahoe, Yukon and Cadillac Escalade models, representing 5 per cent of combined sales of all models in those lines, which were down 24 per cent. The Tahoe and Yukon made up the majority, with only one two-mode Escalade sold. The Saturn Vue with GM Hybrid System sold 417 units, representing 4.3 per cent of Vue sales, which totalled 9,649 units for an increase of 46.1 per cent. Sales of the Malibu Hybrid were 388 units, for 2.5 per cent of all Malibu sales, while the Saturn Aura Hybrid sold 26 units, for 0.6 per cent of all Aura sales. Overall, 0.5 per cent of General Motors’ total sales were hybrid vehicles.

Source: Canadian Driver