Auto fumes, airborne pollutants, smog — it’s a nasty world out there. Keeping it all outside is the job of Lexus’ new Automatic Recirculation Control.

All cars have a recirculation button on their climate control, which keeps outside air from entering the cabin, but you must adjust those manually. The Lexus system does it automatically, even keeping out some odourless and potentially harmful pollutants you may not realize are there.

“The system has a sensor right behind the grille,” says Glenn Alkema, team lead at the Lexus Academy in Toronto.

“It is always detecting carbon monoxide, hydrocarbons and nitrous oxides — essentially, smog. It’s basically the same type of sensor that’s in the carbon monoxide alarm in your house.
When it senses levels in excess of a certain quantity, it closes the flaps that allow air to come in from outside, so we’re not bringing any more smog into the interior of the vehicle.”

While it’s not intended to detect obnoxious odours, the system did an excellent job of identifying a dead skunk I passed on the side of the road.

Without the system on, the stench immediately filled my test vehicle.

When I drove past it again with the system activated, the green light came on to indicate it had detected pollutants and was actively keeping them out.

“It isn’t designed specifically for animal odour, but there may be something in the makeup of skunk odour that triggered the sensor,” Alkema says. In any case, it was impossible to tell that the critter was there.

“It’s intended for gases that are recognized as being detrimental to human health,” Alkema says.

“We’re able to detect parts per million in the atmosphere. When you’re stuck in stop-and-go traffic, surrounded by all these harmful gases, the system will switch to recirculation to keep them from entering the cabin until you’re in an area where that has dropped to a safe level.”

The system is also found on the all-new Lexus HS 250h hybrid, along with two other optional features to improve cabin air. A dust and pollen filter traps larger particles to help occupants breathe easier, while the Plasmacluster system emits charged ions from the vent beside the driver. These ions attach themselves to tiny floating dust particles, which then fall to the floor.

“It enhances the atmosphere and the environment for the occupants of the vehicle,” Alkema says.

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