Lexus GS450h

A Porsche-beater that's also green? Michael Booth gives the Lexus hybrid a spin

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Indy Lifestyle Online

Would suit David Cameron's image
Price £38,000 to £47,000
Maximum speed 155mph, 0-60mph in 5.2 seconds
Combined fuel economy 35.8mpg
Further information 0845 278 8888

I seem to be mentioning David Cameron so often on this page that I thought I might as well have a go in his car. Actually, it has taken me a while to get round to driving the Lexus GS450h partly, I suspect, because Toyota has been giving priority to politicians over journalists in the allocation of its hybrid press fleet. Whatever next? Anne Widdecombe replacing Clarkson on Top Gear?

Anyway, I have at last driven the Clark Kent of the motoring world and I don't think I have ever been so astounded by a car. The discreet lower-case "h" tagged on the end of the GS450's badge tells us, of course, that this is Toyota's latest hybrid vehicle. Cue self-congratulatory applause from all who own one, and mild moral discomfort from those of us who don't. But so brainwashed have we all become into believing that hybrid technology will save the otters and the ice caps that we have missed one other significant benefit that comes from having a dirty great battery pack hidden in the boot: more power. Though the GS450h only has a V6, the nickel metal-hydride batteries that consume most of its boot give it an extra 197bhp, and the equivalent thrust to a V8. More thrilling still, is the way that it delivers that extra power. Press the right pedal in a car with a normally aspirated engine and there will be a slight delay before you begin to feel the effects; if you're driving a turbocharged car and have just pulled out to overtake Eddie Stobart's pride and joy, the delay may take on the apparent span of a geological era. I could explain why, but it's really most awfully complex. Let's just say it's because of maths, and leave it at that.

But electricity is a quick chap. Zap! And it's there for your overtaking pleasure, aided in this instance by something called a two-ratio torque multiplier which, again, I really don't think you would understand if I tried to explain it to you. Press the pedal in the Lexus and the thrust comes instantly and, for such a supposedly pious and politically correct machine, there's an unexpectedly horny tingle. This car can out-accelerate a Porsche.

Why didn't they think of this before? As soon as they managed to get the batteries down to a reasonable size, they should have set about installing them in every performance car from the Fiesta ST to the Lamborghini Murcielago. Forget about emissions; batteries burn rubber! As a result, the GS450h is one of the most entertaining performance saloons on the market, and it is a good deal more dignified than a 5 Series.

And that's despite the fact that it weighs a colossal 1.9 tons which, by rights, should mean it handles like a wheelbarrow of water (or like the RX400h off-roader). It doesn't. What it might lack in precision and control, the Lexus more than makes up for with calmness and serenity. As Karen Carpenter once commented (on the response to brother Richard's unfortunate bouts of flatulence), there is a "kind of hush" about this car that makes a Jaguar seem positively coarse.

With the next Lexus hybrid - the LS600h, which promises to reach 60mph in under five seconds due next year - and a hybrid Porsche a virtual certainty, that electric Lamborghini may not be all that far off after all. And I'd definitely tune in to watch Anne Widdecombe get to grips with one of those.

Michael Booth's ' Just As Well I'm Leaving' (Vintage) is out now in paperback

It's a classic: Tesla Roadster

Actually, it's not a classic, but one day it will be and I thought you'd be interested to hear about it anyway. The Tesla Roadster is the most exciting electric car since Scalextric's original Mini Cooper.

Unveiled last month to an audience of Californian VIPs that included Arnold Schwarzenegger (who presumably parked his Hummer out of sight), the Tesla is a carbon-bodied, two-seater Lotus Elise lookalike powered by lithium-ion batteries. It'll hit 60mph in four seconds, attain a top speed of 130mph and it'll go for 250 miles on one charge.

Of course, unlike a hybrid, you will still need to charge the batteries in your £55,000 Tesla, but this you can do in just 3.5 hours. More importantly, Teslas come fully equipped with air con and heated seats.

You might have heard about a new documentary, Who Killed the Electric Car? Well, the answer is that it's alive and kicking, and, if we can find a cleaner source of electricity, it may well be the future.

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