What is it?
This is the fourth-generation Lexus GS and pretty much an all-new car. Under the skin is a 3.5-litre V6, Atkinson cycle, petrol engine mated to a water-cooled electric motor and driving the rear wheels through a CVT gearbox.
A battery pack sits over the rear axle. The headline figures are combined fuel economy rating of 46.3mpg and 137g/km Co2, a claimed 23 per cent improvement over the previous model.It’s the same length as the previous model, but is now 30mm taller, and 20mm wider. The front and rear tracks are also 40 and 50mm wider respectively. It rides and double wishbone front suspension and multi-link rear suspension. The body shell has been re-engineered with thicker panels and redesigned sections so it is 14 per cent more rigid than before.The styling walks away from the familiar form of the previous model and now has the same angular nose styling as the CT200, though it is rendered in a more aggressive, LF-A-like, form.
What's it like?
Overall, it has a refreshingly different philosophy for this sector of the market. The exterior styling might not be an improvement over the previous model, if only because the slightly square-edge side and rear elevations are not as distinctive, while the nose might be a little overdone.Inside the interior is dominated by a huge, rectangular, screen which is set deep into the dash top. The other controls, for the audio and climate systems, are squeezed in below the screen and above very substantial centre console storage.It houses for the selector for ‘Eco’, ‘Sport’ and ‘Sport Plus’ modes and a conventional auto shifter, which offers manual control of the CVT ‘box. The left-hand dial switches its display between a rev counter and a ‘eco’ meter, depending on what mode the drivetrain is in.The best thing about the GS450h is its vivid performance when both the engine and the electric motor are at maximum output. The machine smoothness of the V6 and the sheer wallop of the electric motor is distinct from the familiar nature of the high-performance turbodiesel. This hybrid drivetrain delivers the sense of pure, naturally-aspirated, performance. It’s more like a race-bred powertrain than even the most refined oil-burner.And the handling is not beyond keeping up with the pace. It was pleasantly agile on the Austrian mountain roads, stable and easy to place on the road, although away from the Autobahn hoards of public holiday traffic got in the way of really exploiting the performance.Again, it also rode well, but the Austrian roads are in far better condition than what’s typical of the UK. The brakes are impressive, too, with plenty of bite right from the top of the pedal’s travel. If anything, they could be a little hard to modulate as low speeds.There aren’t any real downsides to this car on first acquaintance. The high back seats offer good support, the boot is much bigger than on the previous model (making it quite useable for a car in this class) and, of course, it is very quiet at motorway speeds.Indeed, you find yourself turning down the climate control fan because it is so conspicuous against the background hush. You might argue that there are a couple of places where the expected Lexus quality has been eased back: the doors and boot lid feel a bit lightweight, as do some of the minor switchgear (central locking buttons and interior light console) but it still feels and looks very tightly built.
Should I buy one?
Why not? Not only does it provide a refreshing alternative to a default-choice diesel-power German executive car, but the performance at full throttle is very impressive indeed. The super-smooth drivetrain and electric assist add to the luxury flavour.You might also consider the real-world ‘greeness’ of the extremely low level of pollutants leaving the exhaust pipe. Whether you can get close to the promised 46mpg in the real world is yet to be seen, but this Lexus makes a clear case for the individualist private buyer who appreciates the occasional burst of race-track pace.