In The Zones

We could tell you how quickly Lexus’ multi-zone climate control system reaches optimum comfort. We could explain how amazingly personal the climate zones are. Instead, we decided to conduct a few creative experiments (kids: don’t try this in your parents’ Lexus).

The other day I watched a repeat episode of Mythbusters in which the guys tackled the issue of whether a black car heats up faster than a white one while sitting in the sun. This immediately got me thinking about my favorite Lexus colors, and whether I’m better off with, say, Starfire Pearl over the darker Deep Sea Mica.

On the other hand, does it really matter? I considered the innovations that Lexus engineers have given us to help beat the heat. For starters, most Lexus models include a separate dual-zone automatic climate control system that allows the driver and front passenger to select separate, personalized levels of comfort. The available four-zone automatic climate control system (in the LS and LX) extends this personalized-climate capability to the rear passenger area, with infrared sensors that monitor everybody’s surface temperature, and air diffusers that gently disperse cool air as required.

On top of that, you have the climate-comfort seats, now available for front and rear seating, which provide intimately soothing air-conditioned ventilation.

With this kind of technology, it struck me that the issue isn’t how hot the interior gets while parked, but instead how quickly these premium Lexus features can bring the interior to a comfortable level after the vehicle is started—and how individual the zones actually are.

Intrigued, I decided to investigate further: Donning my lab coat (yes, I have a lab coat) and rounding up a support crew, I headed into the desert in my Lexus LS 460. Here, I would examine these issues by applying my same level of, uh, scientific precision as I once used when reaching 85 miles to the gallon in the Lexus HS 250h. (Readers may recall my controversial low-speed drive down a mountain in EV mode.)

Right away, my choice of a 95-degree desert setting was validated. With the car turned off and the windows rolled up, it took just minutes for the interior to reach a starting temperature of approximately super-crazy-hot-degrees Fahrenheit.

Then, with my two digital thermometers in place, I jumped inside the hot vehicle interior, pressed the push-button start, set the driver-side climate zone for a specific temperature—75 degrees—and started my stopwatch. My goal: see how quickly the cabin temperature would match a Lexus vehicle’s climate control setting.

My first observation: I barely had time to break a sweat in that super-crazy-hot car, because as soon as I engaged my climate-control system, soothing streams of cool air seemed to emanate from all around me, including cool air wafting through the perforations in my semi-aniline leather driver’s seat. Nice.

But this was science, so I watched my thermometer gauges intently to see how fast they’d record my preprogrammed cabin temperature of 75 degrees.

Unfortunately, as often happens with amateur scientists like myself, something went awry. My gauges started going crazy, each giving off different temperature readings at different times.

A little equipment inspection revealed the problem: the probes on my two thermometers seem to have been designed for use in a liquid environment. Whoops! I think Newton (or maybe Murphy?) had a law about this.

Time for the next experiment.

This one centered on just how personal each vehicle occupant’s climate zone could be—after all there aren’t any walls between, say, the driver and front passenger, so it’s up to Lexus technology and engineering to make personalized comfort happen.

But how could we proceed without accurate measuring devices?

Fortunately, a crewmember had an inspiration for an alternate gauge: ice cream. It would be perfect, he assured me as he climbed into our extra support vehicle and sped off to a market for some mint chocolate chip.

Sometime later, I sat in the LS driver’s seat holding an unlicked ice-cream cone while the crew watched me from outside (now 97 degrees out there). Next to me, over in the front-passenger zone, sat an identical ice cream cone, carefully perched on the seat. Moments before, we had started the LS engine, closed all the doors and windows, set my driver’s zone for a very pleasant 66 degrees, and then set the front-passenger zone for a much warmer 85 degrees.

My question: would the hotter 85-degree zone melt its ice cream more quickly than my cooler 66-degree zone melted the scoop in my hand? Were Lexus climate zones engineered to be that distinct?

After a few minutes, it was clear that the passenger-side ice cream scoop had melted considerably more than my cone. I reached my hand into the passenger area; it was hot over there, while my side was pleasingly chilly.

“Impressive,” I announced through the closed window, very scientifically.

Unfortunately, nobody heard me, because by then my crew had wandered off to a shady spot to devour the remaining ice cream.

I started to question their devotion to science.

At this point, our findings were looking a little imprecise. But then, as I continued to savor my ice cream in the vehicle’s cool, climate-controlled driver’s zone, an insight suddenly came to me like a bolt of lightning. It sometimes happens that way in science.

What I had suddenly realized (or remembered?) was that luxury isn’t about arbitrary numbers like 75 degrees. Luxury isn’t about melting ice cream. It’s about personal comfort. And what this means is that my personal comfort is really the only thing I needed to measure. Since I had been sitting pretty in this particular environment with my Lexus automatic climate control system temperature of 66 degrees, I thought, there’s my optimum comfort, right now.

So, thinking that Lexus engineers already had this in mind when they designed the Lexus climate control system, I wondered just how fast could Lexus get me to my own optimum comfort level, in this moment, from, say...super-crazy-hot-degrees Fahrenheit?

So I turned off the car and sat there, allowing the sun and desert to increase the interior temperature to a very uncomfortable level. When I reached a stage of shirt-sticking-sweatiness, I started the LS engine, set my zone’s climate control to my optimum 66 degrees, and engaged my stopwatch.

Moments later, feeling as refreshed as I did during the ice cream experiment, I stopped the timer. The result: 33.6 seconds. 33.6! And it probably would have been faster if I hadn’t been wearing that stupid lab coat!

Scientific data at last! This is what we scientists call a “metric.”

Okay, I know what you’re thinking: this result is completely subjective. The temperature at which I feel comfortable could be completely different from that of, say, an RX driver from Maine or a CT Hybrid owner in L.A.

But that’s the nature of temperature—everybody feels comfortable at a different level. And this is precisely why Lexus created its dual-zone and available four-zone automatic climate control systems: to help assure that each individual enjoys a comfortable, personalized environment, quickly, whatever that temperature may be.

And that’s a scientific fact.