FOR SOME, the transformation of the gas-guzzling, planet-choking motor car of the 20th century to the supposedly virtuous, fume-free vehicle of the 21st century is progressing at an unacceptably slow pace.
While the likes of the Nissan Leaf and Renault Zoe demonstrate admirable but marginalised commitment to the search for cleaner motoring (forgetting for a moment that, in the UK at least, much of our electricity is generated by coal), car manufacturers seem understandably reluctant to jump in with both feet.
This might be frustrating for advocates of electric motoring, but as the inventors of New Coke will tell you, consumers can be skittish creatures, who freak out and disappear like startled antelopes at the slightest whiff of change.
This is where cars like the Lexus IS300h come in. It’s a thrusting, virile-looking executive cruiser with a hybrid petrol-electric engine. While it looks like a traditional powerful motorway-guzzler, with the electric motor taking some of the strain, the official average fuel consumption is a decidedly wholesome 60.1mpg.
The swooping, angled bonnet, which leads down to that pinched, aggressive snout gives the Lexus IS300h a snarling, purposeful appearance, but it has a gentle heart.
The version we drove, the Premier, comes bristling with an armoury of luxury touches and gadgets such as heated and ventilated seats, reversing camera and a simply wonderful 15-speaker Mark Levinson surround sound system. There are also highly addictive electrostatic, touch-sensitive metal temperature sliders, reminiscent of those touch-sensitive Sony television buttons from the 1980s. They’re a joy to use but, like dad’s old Sony, I wonder if they will start to behave a little erratically after five years of continuous use.
Of more concern is the fiddly little joystick which controls the media and GPS systems. One can only imagine this was the idea of a particularly scary, high-up manager at Lexus and nobody on the development team was brave enough to pipe up and point out that, while driving, successfully reaching the OK button on this infernal control system is like trying to thread a needle while on a rollercoaster.
It’s a shame, and it’s bewildering, because in every other department, the IS300h is all about ease, practicality, safety and comfort.
There’s plenty of room behind the electronically-adjustable steering wheel for the driver, and generous space in the back (apart from the short-straw holder who gets to sit in the middle, where the raised portion of floor gets in the way a bit), while at 480 litres, the boot is more than big enough for most.
The drive is smooth and refined, as a cruiser should be, offering a bit of poke when needed. I enjoyed throwing it about at low speed, and for a car with such virtuous fuel consumption figures, it seems surprisingly agile, managing the 0-62mph sprint in 8.3 seconds on its way to a top speed of 125mph, although at the motorway cruising speed which the IS300h is made for, there will be a bit of a hum from the engine. You will get used to it though.
At £38,495 on the road, it’s cheaper than some of its rivals, but the running costs beat them into a cocked hat thanks to its hybrid make-up. The luxury Premier incarnation boasts CO2 emissions of just 109g/km, but other models in the range put out just 99g/km.
The IS300h is impressive, imperious and imposing. But it’s also practical, frugal and well-meaning. It’s a baby step towards less oil-dependent motoring, but it’s another step nonetheless.
CAR Lexus IS300h Premier
PERFORMANCE Max speed 125mph; 0-62mph 8.3 secs
MPG (COMBINED) 60.1
CO2 EMISSIONS 109g/km