The great green car debate

It’s come down to this. The Automotive industry has gotten to the point where the petrol engine is on the decline and diesel engines, along with the hybrid and full-electric options, are starting to bleed through to the streets. The question is what should you buy? Should you go German – diesel options and engineering to boot – or Japanese with hybrid and full-electric motors?

The Lexus GS450-h

The Lexus GS450-h poised to take on the Germans. Photo: (CC) Canberra Times.

First released in 2006, the flagship model of the Toyota-luxury range of hybrid vehicles isn’t exactly cheap – and it never was. The new price sits at just shy of $140,000. However, you can find a 2011 model, second hand, for about the $90,000 mark depending on condition.

The one we test-drove was black with a black interior. Nothing special there, and the looks of the car unfortunately have dated very rapidly compared to the new 2012 model. Asking price was $92,000, from a private seller.

Firstly, the build quality – it’s a solid car. The door test (the sound and feel of the door as it closes) passes amicably with a solid “thunk”, and to drive it feels gorgeously solid on the road. It’s a little unnerving, however, to feel the engine turn off all the time when you’re stationary, only to have it shake the car as it comes back to life when you take off again. However, on the open road this is a different story, with the petrol engine being engaged all the time. This is due to the lack of ability to charge the batteries as you would be able to in the city.

Parking is downright painful with the variable transmission, especially reverse parking. It’s jolty and touchy to the accelerator – which makes reverse parking doubly hard with such a large car. Yes, it had sensors and cameras. You certainly need them.

As far as electronics go – being Japanese there’s no problems here and everything worked perfectly – right down to the blinkers, and the stoplights. The sat-nav worked as they do and the displays and menus all functioned like brand-new.

The lack of boot space due to the location of the extremely large and heavy batteries seemed a bit ham-handed considering some of the space-saving designs in the cabin of the car.

Things to note about this car, however, are the need for a specialist service – which is both expensive and irritating – and if that battery pack ever goes, you’re looking down the barrel of $4,100 to replace it. Whilst Lexus Australia haven’t ever needed to replace one due to wear – we will see this in the near future as the 6-8 year cycle for the batteries come to a close.

The Mercedes C350 CDI

The Mercedes-Benz C350CDI is not only good in a straight line. Photo: (CC) Dieselstation.com.

The C350 CDI by Mercedes-Benz is, hands down, one of the most exhilarating cars to drive. Period. With a torque rating of 620nm, developed at about 2200RPM, the car literally pushes you back in the seat when you step on the accelerator. Impressive considering it’s a diesel.

Being about 12 months old now, the cars have dropped considerably to about the $80,000-$90,000 mark – a fair drop from the new price of $120,000. The one we found to test-drive was black with tan upholstery. Being the C350, they come fully optioned, however this car also had the vision pack. This included a better sound system among other things for another few thousand dollars on top.

Build quality – as always with German produced cars – was outstanding. No vibration, clicks, bangs or rattles anywhere. The doors, like its competitor, closed with a satisfying sound. It feels solid and is extremely comfortable to drive. Visibility too is great out of the windows and safety is all stars – something German cars have always been renowned for.

The performance, as noted above, is outstanding. However what is more impressive is the fuel economy – especially on the open road. 4.2L/100km is no small feat – especially for a 3-litre Turbo-charged V6 engine. And what’s more is that it’s silent. You almost cannot hear the engine – or the road noise – when travelling at 100km/h.

The interior felt spacious, and definitely nicer than previous models of the C-class. Everything worked as it did from the showroom. However, give this a couple of years and things may start to go haywire – Germany’s famous for engineering, not electronics.

Parking was simple. The car is nimble enough to fit into the tightest spaces. With the sensors and cameras around the car it just made an already easy job easier.

Service costs are on par with the Lexus – about $1000 a time, however there’s no pesky batteries or other issues to worry about, and any service can be carried out by an authorized service center – meaning you don’t have to take it to the dealer you bought it from. This usually saves you a deal of money – often halving the costs of service.

 Overall

The second hand car market isn’t exactly flooded with these high-end cars – at least not yet – but if you scrounge around you can find some to look at.

Overall, the Lexus and the Mercedes I tested were the same price, and pretty much the same quality. However, for the amount you’re spending the Mercedes is the better car – especially if you’re going to be taking long driving trips on the open road where the hybrid engine of the Lexus will be useless.

Despite the cost of diesel fuel, the performance, comfort and ease to drive of the Mercedes far out-weighs the warm and fuzzy feeling you get driving the Lexus.

Give it a year and the prices will be down further. Maybe you’ll be able to nab one for $50,000. But hey, until then – there’s always the test drive and your dreams.

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