Some good friends invited me to join them to the “Taste of Lexus” event held this past weekend in Alameda. I didn’t know quite what to expect but the event was really well organized and enjoyable. Lexus didn’t over pitch their product but rather allowed you to see their new technology and test their cars. They even allow you to test some of their competitor’s cars. I think the money spent on this event by Lexus was well spent. I’ve been talking about it with friends and here I am posting about it – so it definitely generates buzz.
They have few short courses that allow you to test the handling of the cars. While they insist that this is not an autocross event, they let you drive as crazy as you like as long as you don’t knock over any cones. If you do knock over cones, you are asked to leave the event and they shut down the course for 10-15 minutes. It is a neat little psychological trick to make you think twice about going nuts since you will have a long line of upset people now that they have to wait an additional 10-15 minutes. It worked for me and I didn’t push things too hard for me. I really wanted to turn off all stability and traction control and test the true chassis dynamics. This would have likely lead to a few crushed cones so I opted for the conservative route.
I drove the MB E500, BMW 530i, BMW 330i, Lexus RX400h, Lexus LS 430, Lexus GS300, and Lexus IS 250 AWD. The E500 was a total boat – good acceleration but terrible handling. I much preferred the LS 430 in terms of handling – it was soft as well but it was surprisingly hard to get loose in the corners. The BMW 530i was great as can be expected – precise steering and wonderful handling. Lexus ran a comparison with the GS in which they claim it performs better but I don’t think so. The steering on the GS is no where near as precise as the 5 series. I’ve driven the BMW 545i (I guess for 2006, it’s now been upgraded to the 550i) with the sport package (this car was not at the event) and that car is much more impressive that the non-sport version. If I had 60k of disposable income, I’d be driving the 550i with 6-speed Sequential Manual Gearbox and Sport package – a perfect balance of sport and luxury for my taste.
The RX400h handled great for a SUV, and Lexus seems to be marketing this hybrid as a performance upgrade, not for gas savings. I think this is good since the economics of hybrids really don’t work out on paper. For most hybrids, one would take many years (usually more years than most keep their cars) of gas savings to break even with the cost of the non-hybrid model.
I loved the 3 series handling but since the days of owning an Audi A4, I’ve sworn off this size class. I prefer a slightly larger car these days. My biggest surprise was the IS. This car was the most fun to drive of all the cars I drove. The handling was really neutral – probably in part due to the AWD. This is the type of car you can drive hard without trying. It just does what you ask it to do really well and doesn’t complain. If I were in the market for a car of this size, I’d have a really hard decision between the IS and the 3. I would think that a test drive in manual drive versions of both would help to answer that question though. All of the cars at the event were automatic.
All and all, it was a really well done event. Luckily I’m not in the market for a car as I could really see how people can make impulse buys after attending.