A week driving the 2014 Passat SEL Premium reveals it to be a competent, comfortable family sedan, capable of getting very good gas mileage (24 city/34 highway). That is thanks to its 1.8-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder engine. That engine is small for its class---most of the competition has 2.5 liters---VW relies on the turbo to provide extra power on an as-needed basis, allowing the Passat to benefit from a gas-sipping engine most of the time.
"Conspicuous consumption" and "hybrid" would seem to be mutually exclusive terms, but not at Lexus. You can, in fact, spend $120,000 with that carmaker for a hybrid that only gets 19 miles per gallon in the city and 23 on the highway...the outlandish LS600h L (a "base" LS460 costs nearly $50,000 less and gets 16 in the city, 24 on the highway).
But if you'd like to make a somewhat smaller statement about your personal status and a larger one about the environment, the next step down the Lexus hybrid ladder gets you a much more rational, yet still luxurious, vehicle.
A typical test drive is a lousy way to get to know a car. But it's all most people get. Ten minutes or so in the blocks around the dealership, with a salesman in the passenger seat distracting you from really absorbing what the car does well and not so well.
Even after you buy it, you'll probably spend less than an hour a day in your new car, so you don't get a real sense of what your vehicle is about until the first good road trip. Since TireKicker World Headquarters relocated to Sacramento late last year, we've been doing those on a semi-regular basis (see our day trip to Placerville via back roads in the Mazda MX-5 Miata, to Ukiah and Mendocino in the Mitsubishi Lancer and to Ukiah then down the coast in the Toyota Avalon Hybrid), and our most recent was just two weeks ago, in the Lexus GX460.
418 horsepower. 371 pounds per foot of torque. 8-speed automatic transmission with paddle shifters. Zero to 60 in 4.2 seconds.
It's a Lexus sedan.
I'll give that a minute to sink in. You'll be excused for being surprised, because Lexus still has this image out there of being pure luxury vehicles...Toyotas swaddled in leather and wood, all noise, vibration and harshness hunted down and eliminated until the driving experience is one of riding on a perfectly silent wave of whipped cream.
And it's not true. Not for the most part, anyway and not in recent years. Regular TireKicker readers have seen our reviews of F-Sport models from Lexus (GS 350, RX 350, IS 350, LS 460), which usually involve suspension upgrades and in one rather unfortunate case reviewed by the Phoenix bureau recently (CT 200) simply is a trim package.
But if you want the whole F-Sport experience, apart from the $300,000-plus LFA supercar, you need to get behind the wheel of the IS-F sedan.