- Lexus subjects its soft-top to -18°C inside Millbrook proving ground’s refrigeration chamber – with its roof down
- Extreme test of the quality of the vehicle’s systems and its intelligent Climate Concierge heating and ventilation system
- Car taken straight from the ice chamber for a full-power test drive on Millbrook’s hill course, with leading stunt driver Paul Swift at the wheel
- “Frozen” test the subject of a new Lexus short film
Worldwide critical acclaim and international awards attest to the beauty of the Lexus LC Convertible’s design. To prove that its quality goes far beyond its looks, Lexus has subjected its head-turning soft-top to an extreme ordeal: a 12-hour deep freeze in an industrial-scale refrigeration unit.
More than that, the sub-zero marathon was undertaken with the car’s four-layer roof folded down, exposing the interior to the icy atmosphere. And it was followed by an immediate high-power drive around one of the UK’s most demanding test tracks, with a professional stunt driver at the wheel.
Success would show customers that Lexus quality and craftsmanship are more than able to endure the challenges of a harsh environment, in particular the ability of the intelligent Climate Concierge system to deliver a comfortable cabin, whatever the conditions.
The gruelling trial is the subject of a new Lexus film, available to view here.
The venue for the event was the Large Climatic Chamber at the Millbrook Proving Ground in Bedfordshire. The 468m3 unit is large enough to accommodate two double-decker buses and can maintain temperatures between +85 and -60°C, with up to 98 per cent relative humidity. It is regularly used to test the endurance of defence equipment as well as road vehicles of all kinds.
For the LC Convertible’s visit, the mercury was set at -18°C – cold enough to freeze rubber and the level set for standard vehicle defrosting assessment.
Unlike any previous test at Millbrook, however, the Lexus would spend half a day in the chamber, with its roof stowed. It would also have a preliminary water spray so that a sheet of ice would form over the vehicle body.
Greg Fleming, the senior engineer from Millbrook’s Vehicle Component Laboratory overseeing the trial, said: “Exterior surfaces contract in extremely cold conditions and manufacturers need to ensure their vehicles can withstand this without damage to parts and will still be able to start and get moving. With the roof down, the interior components will be in an extremely stressed condition and it will not be a nice place for anyone to be – the hope is that the air conditioning system, the heated seats and steering wheel will still operate as they should.”
It wasn’t just the LC Convertible that had to cope with the extreme conditions; the film crew also had to take precautions, operating a “buddy” system to ensure immediate response if any member of the team began to suffer adverse effects from working inside the chamber.
Once the LC Convertible was parked inside the chamber, it took about an hour for the powerful gas conditioning system to bring the temperature down to the required level. Then the car was left untouched overnight.
Lexus recruited Paul Swift, one of the UK’s foremost professional stunt drivers, to put the Lexus to its post-freeze test.
“I am asked to do a lot of crazy things in my job and this was one of them,” he said. “I wasn’t really nervous about it until I turned up and then I saw the car sitting in the chamber looking through the window and it looked really cold and I thought ‘am I going to have to sit in that?’ Thankfully it was great, I was really impressed.”
On the call of “action” for the crew, the 457bhp V8 engine fired up first time and the car’s displays and gauges sprung instantly to life, showing no adverse impact from the extreme cold. As Swift discovered straight away, the Climate Concierge responded immediately to heat the cabin. “I could feel the steering wheel and the base of my back warming up and the vents in the head rest behind my neck. It was actually quite pleasant, considering it was minus 18, I felt quite comfortable in the car right away,” he said.
His driving skills were then called into play as, with a windscreen totally obscured by ice, he moved the Lexus out of the chamber ready to take on Milbrook’s famous hill course, an alpine-style route of challenging curves, climbs and descents.
“I’ve never experienced anything as dramatic as this change from such extreme cold back to normal outdoor temperatures for May in the UK. I didn’t really know what to expect but pressing the start button she started right away. Within three or four minutes the screen was clear and we could continue on to the alpine route,” said Swift.
Here the LC Convertible demonstrated exhilarating performance to match its styling and comfort, shedding dramatic shards of ice from its bodywork as it gathered speed.
“The route is testing, it undulates quite a lot and has fast-flowing corners into some tight hairpins, so you are asking a lot of the car and you can feel the chassis,” Swift explained. “There was no problem with understeer, the gear change was effortless and there is an appealing blip of the revs as you change down. This is a lovely car and does exactly what you need it to do.”