Google made headlines early this week in regards to testing cars that drive on their own. I also tested a car this week that drives on its own. Hey Google, the 2010 Lexus Hybrid HS can drive itself too!
The 2010 Lexus Hybrid HS 250h has a unique feature that allows the vehicle to adjust for cars ahead and in front of you when driving at your favorite cruise control speed on the freeway. Lexus calls this feature Cruise Control Radar Assist. This is not future tech, this is tech available now. And it increases fuel efficiency close to Prius mpg! For green professionals who appreciate smart vehicle technology and style, the Lexus Hybrid HS is hot.
How does it work?
I’ve reviewed hybrid SUVs (or what I call, “muscle hybrids”) and test drove the 2010 Chevy Tahoe Hybrid, the 2010 Cadillac Escalade, the 2010 Ford Escape Hybrid, and the crossover vehicle, the 2010 BMW Hybrid X6. These hybrids typically increase MPG by up to 25% over conventional SUV models and offer significant power for towing.
I’ve also driven hybrid sedans, including the 2010 Ford Fusion Hybrid and the 2010 Nissan Altima Hybrid. These sedans offer between 30 and 40 MPG and accommodate the discerning hybrid driver that doesn’t want to look like they’re driving a hybrid. They are not generally known for their power – they are more engineered for their efficiency.
The 2010 Lexus Hybrid HS is in an entirely new class. This is a luxury hybrid that is affordably priced (base models start at $37,000), with sexy power and high efficiency. The EPA rates the Lexus HS at 35 city/34 highway MPG. The expected range for most drivers is between 28 and 40 mpg. As always, “your actual mileage will vary depending on how you drive.” I take it as a personal challenge to beat EPA ratings for hybrids, which I do by using the efficiency gauge to find the optimum speed for either street or highway driving. But the Lexus Hybrid HS has a unique function to maximize efficiency that I have not seen in any other hybrid to date.
I discovered that the Cruise Control Radar Assist function serves to significantly increase highway MPG. Two days ago, when I drove from Downtown LA to Canyon Country (a 100 mile round trip), I used the Cruise Control Radar Assist function to travel at 68 mph. At first, I was a little hesitant to use this function because I read in the manual that the vehicle automatically slows down or accelerates depending upon the speed of the vehicles in front or behind. Of course, you can change the speed at any time by manually accelerating or braking on the appropriate pedals.
I set the speed, I looked ahead and behind, and very confidently lifted my foot from the accelerator. The car maintained its speed at 68 mph like any other car in cruise control function. What surprised me most was when I felt the car release the accelerator. This happened whenever a car in front of me was traveling at less than 68 mph. The Radar Assist function is intelligent enough to track the speed of the car in front of me and behind me at all times and make slight transitions to optimize efficiency at the same time.
The Lexus HS has an 8-inch electronic display that shows me real-time MPG for the last 30 minutes of driving. When setting the Lexus HS at 68 mph, the display read that I was achieving between 40 and 60 miles per gallon over the course of my highway travels. I received similar readings for both legs of the trip. (The fluctuations in the graph reflect uphill/downhill changes on the road. When traveling downhill, the regenerative braking system contributes to higher MPG. When traveling uphill, the vehicle uses more power and contributes to lower MPG).
Okay, so, I still had control of the steering wheel. But the Lexus HS also has a function called “Lane Keep Assist.” When pressing the LKA button, the vehicle sensors made sure that the car stayed in between the lanes when driving past other vehicles. If the car veered to the left or to the right slightly, I felt the vehicle adjust for the change in distance to maintain its lane integrity.
With the Lexus HS monitoring the speed and distance of vehicles around me, I felt free to relax my mind a little and have a nice chill moment with the excellent Mark Lewinson sound system. This is the way to drive!
While Google touts the benefits of automated car travel primarily in terms of safety, automated driving is excellent for maximizing fuel efficiency. Out of all the hybrids I’ve driven, this is the most intelligent and comfortable ride yet. In my opinion, every vehicle should have this function for both safety and efficiency.
Shannon Arvizu, Ph.D., is a clean tech educator and spokesperson. Find out more at MissElectric.com.