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Car reviews - Lexus - GS - GS450h sedan

Our Opinion

We like
Improved acceleration, sharper handling, thrifty fuel consumption when driven lightly, high equipment levels, sumptuous interior, Lexus build quality
Room for improvement
Highway fuel consumption plummets when pushed

16 May 2012

HYBRID vehicles are beginning to shrug off their hand-knitted cloak of free-range, organic conservatism to reveal a naughty edge.

Some of the fastest cars now under development by serious car-makers – even Porsche and Ferrari – are hybrids, as engineers discover the delights of torque-laden electric motors used as a sort of performance supercharger instead of just fuel consumption nannies.

The all-new Lexus GS450h not only looks a little more edgy, it carries this extra sharpness through the chassis and drivetrain for a much larger dollop of fun factor than its straight-laced predecessor could ever muster.

This is interesting, considering the new model has only the same power as the superseded model – 254kW from the combined efforts of the 3.5-litre V6 and electric drive motor –and even better fuel economy, which again proves that it is not how big it is, but how you use it.

In the case of the new GS450h, the engineers trawled through the entire car to snip, tighten, hone, primp and polish each component to deliver a more engaging drive at a more attractive price.

In turn, this is expected to attract a broader audience of customers who might have previously considered hybrids mundane goody-two-shoes transport.

While the GS450h is no Lexus IS F – the potent V8 sports sedan flagship of the Lexus model one step below the GS – it provides substantial highway motivation, not just when the accelerator is planted but also in the bends.

Instantaneous torque from the electric motor aligned with the power of a V6 at full noise is a heady mix, although, like all intoxicants, it has its side effects. Even in a hybrid, a heavy foot pays a penalty at the pump, though hardly in the Holden Monaro category.

In our test drive in hilly central Victoria, the minute-by-minute fuel consumption digital read-out on the supersized LCD screen could be whipped into a 20-litres-per-100km frenzy without too much trouble.

At the other end of the scale, featherweight caressing of the throttle could induce short periods of sub-4.0L/100km consumption.

In what could be described as normal driving, however, we induced about 7.4L/100km in country travel, which is accomplished for a petrol-powered vehicle of this size and (substantial) weight, but nothing that would frighten a German diesel car.

What might put the wind up such rivals is the level of equipment piled into the GS450h, which now comes in three variants – Luxury, F-Sport and Sport Luxury.

Starting at $99,900 (plus on-roads) for the Luxury, the GS450h comes standard with a sumptuous level of comfort, safety and convenience features under the Lexus policy of giving buyers what they want from the start, instead of impaling them on a spike of extras.

The features list grows longer with the F- Sport and Sport Luxury models – along with the price – but for the most part, the GS450h is much better equipped than rivals at the same price point.

Seats that move every which way – how about 20 ways in the Sport Luxury – are just one example of the Lexus pile-it-in strategy.

The proliferation of buttons to control all this stuff is a bit daunting for the GS novice, so we did not dare try half of it in case we accidentally shut down the east coast power grid or something.

On the road, the adjustable adaptive suspension system also triggers four-wheel steering in the F-Sport variant. Unfortunately, wet roads prevented us from getting a full feel of this system, but the general impression was of a competent luxury tourer.

The ride is smooth and quiet, but are the dynamics better than those of German rivals? That’s a big call – one that needs a more thorough evaluation than our early taste test.

However, we would venture that the Lexus electric steering, although fine, would not put the BMW 5 Series in the shade.

Bouquets for the GS450h include the big, dash-embedded 12.1-inch LCD control screen that is not only Cinemascope in proportions but super-sharp and blessed with a stylish verandah that wards off harsh Aussie sunlight.

The unusual bamboo-derived, blonde-wood steering wheel and trim of the F-Sport model we drove was an interesting touch, and one unique to Lexus. Other variants we drove had more conventional wood and metallic trim, which might be more to some people’s taste.

Another great asset is the clear array of instruments in a binnacle directly ahead of the driver. In the F-Sport model, the dial that masquerades as a blue-hued hybrid drive meter in Eco and Normal driving models suddenly and cunningly switches to become a tacho in Sport and Sport+ modes.

And, speaking of modes, we did venture to press the “EV mode” button, to be greeted with silent all-electric running at low speeds for a few hundred metres, but the petrol engine kicked in well short of the 2km/50km/h thresholds said to be possible. Maybe the battery was a little depleted at the time.

That battery, incidentally, has been repackaged to impinge less on the boot, which is now useable, although the vertical stacking of the battery behind the rear seat still precludes any form of folding rear seat to open up space for long loads.

Rear seat room is also improved – an extra 20mm of legroom, for example – opening up the rear accommodation to three well-grown adults.

The double-stitched leather and wood or metal trim – depending on variant – is all first-class Lexus quality.

All up, the Lexus GS450h is a significant step up on its forefather, making better use of world resources while secretly harbouring some guilty secrets in terms of performance.

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