The Lexus GS has been injected with a few ounces of sportiness, making it a left-field contender in the mid-size exec category
First DriveThe Lexus GS450h might offer plenty of pace and reasonable running costs on paper, but diesel alternatives make more sense
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What is it?
The outgoing Lexus GS 450h was a car you bought with your head and not your heart. But with this all-new model, Lexus if promising much greater levels of driver reward and performance to go with the mightily impressive – and equally improved - economy figures its petrol-electric hybrid drivetrain provides.
The all-new Lexus GS 450h sits atop a two-model range that will reach the UK in summer 2012, the entry-level GS 250 sitting below it. Its bold new design eschews the white-goods looks that have plagued recent Lexuses and will be rolled out across the next-generation of models.
The new GS is slightly wider (20mm) and taller (30mm) than before, but its length remains the same. Interior room is increased, and a change in the installation of the nickel-metal hydride battery pack has resulted in a 60 per cent increase in boot capacity.
Dynamically, Lexus is promising increased rigidity, agility and ride comfort from the all-new platform and double-wishbone front/multi-link rear suspension set-up. Additionally, F Sport models get an Adaptive Variable Suspension system to offer even greater control to the enthusiast driver. These range-toppers can also be specced with the Lexus Dynamic Handling package, essentially a four-wheel steering system.
The 3.5-litre V6 petrol engine has been retained and updated and is mated to Lexus’s second-generation hybrid system, which incorporates an electric motor and battery pack that can power the GS 450h for short bursts on its own or in tandem with the efficient Atkinson cycle engine. Combined power is 338bhp and torque is 254lb ft.
For those who ask why Lexus doesn’t do diesels, the firm will direct you to the performance and economy figures of this hybrid drivetrain. It can crack 0-62mph in 5.9sec and reach 155mph, yet still return 47.9mpg and 137g/km. Impressive stuff.
What’s it like?
What’s instantly striking about this car is how remarkably smooth and refined it is. It runs off stealth-like electric power alone at start-up and when the petrol engine kicks in at higher speeds, it’s seamless. Certainly, it is a very relaxing car to drive both around town and on the motorway, a pre-requisite for most GS 450h buyers.
Those looking to steal a march at the traffic lights will also not be disappointed. The performance claims seem genuine, and the GS 450h possesses an overtaking ability not normally associated with cars equipped with CVT gearboxes. The GS 450h is more than fast enough for almost all everyday situations, and you’ll rarely be found wanting more power.
The new suspension set-up and increased rigidity to the body shell have resulted in impressive ride quality and body control, both of which feel much improved over the old GS 450h. One niggle was the ride being prone to fidgeting at low speeds on the 19-inch F Sport alloys of our test car, but this wouldn’t be a deal-breaker.
Our go in the GS 450h included a trip to a test track to see if those claims of new-found levels of driver involvement were genuine. And the four-wheel steering system succeeds in making the GS 450h feel nimble and more stable at higher speeds. Very little input is required to the steering such, something which can make the car seem lacking in feel at first, but ultimately results in much sharper turn-in.
The extra involvement can be heightened by selecting the most focused Sport S+ mode from the four on offer with the Drive Model Select (Eco, Normal, Sport S and Sport S+). The engine speed is increased, along with a sharper throttle response and manual control of the gearbox using the steering wheel-mounted paddles.
Inside, it’s hard not to find a good driving position with the 18-way adjustable electric front seats. The quality is as you’d expect from a Lexus, and the large display screen is a welcome addition at being a one-stop-shop for everything from the sat-nav, to minute-by-minute economy.
But despite the boasts of extra space, the interior does feel a touch cramped. Whether this is down to the disappointing visibility, dark materials of our test car or the sheer amount of buttons and controls on the dash and centre console was hard to precisely pinpoint in this initial test.
Should I buy one?
However much Lexus improves the dynamic ability of the GS 450h to appeal to the enthusiast buyers, the car is still likely to be snapped up by wealthy private individuals who are more drawn by the hybrid drivetrain than its ability on a track. They will be pleased to hear the economy figures, like the performance and handling claims, are no gimmick and were largely achieved on our test drive.
That’s not to say the enthusiast should overlook the new GS 450h. It successfully builds on the performance and refinement of the old model and throws in extra agility and responsiveness. It’s unlikely to be cheap to buy, but the particular type of buyer who the GS 450h appeals to is unlikely to be disappointed.
Lexus GS 450h F Sport
Price: £50,000 (est); Top speed: 155mph; 0-62mph: 5.9sec; Economy: 47.9mpg (combined); CO2: 137g/km; Kerb weight: 1900kg (est); Engine: V6, 3456cc, petrol plus electric motor; Power: 338bhp at 6000rpm; Torque: 254lb ft at 4600rpm; Gearbox: CVT