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First drive: Australia's first hybrid luxury car

Grunt: Hybrid GS delivers 254kW - 22 per cent more than the GS430 V8.

Lexus challenges the Aussie preception of large luxury sedans with the GS450h hybrid

16 May 2006

LEXUS has clearly signalled its intention to be a hybrid luxury leader by pricing its new GS450h under the GS430 in Australia.

In other markets the hybrid Lexus priced above the V8 GS430 but Lexus Australia fought hard to ensure the car was a competitive offering here against conventional luxury marques from Europe.

It also sends a message to the established dominant European luxury marques by being first with a volume-production rear-drive alternative-powered luxury car.

Although the Prius spearheaded Toyota’s hybrid push, Lexus is clearly taking over.

Apart from the GS450h two other Lexus hybrids will join the line-up within 12 months, the RX400h and LS600 hybrid.

Lexus is also on target to launch several new variants of the IS, as well as a luxury supercar based on the two-seater LF-A concept coupe.

But for now the news is all about the GS450h.

In Australia the well-equipped hybrid will cost $121,990, $9690 above the GS300 sports luxury and $15,210 less than the GS430, in a four-model line-up.

The GS hybrid is designed to deliver the performance of a V8 with the economy of a six-cylinder.

31 center imageAlthough only forecasting sales of 10 hybrids a month, the company claimst it will be more readily available than some "certain conventional specialist vehicles" of its competitors.

Lexus divisional manager, Scott Grant, said it was his intention that the transition to a hybrid should be largely seamless "even at the point of purchase".

Given its level of technology, he also believed the GS450h would secure conquest buyers who would otherwise consider a European turbo-diesel.

The hybrid’s specification is equivalent to the GS300 Sports Luxury and GS430.

Mr Grant believes the hybrid will appeal to early adopters and what Lexus terms as affluent "super NEOs" - super new economic order – buyers.

"They are forward thinking and embrace technology and they like to be first," he said.

Mr Grant accepted that Lexus had a task ahead of it before people truly understood hybrid technology and what it could do for them.

"That’s one of the reasons we’ll be undertaking specific communication programs with opinion leaders within our customer base," he said.

Apart from the 3.5-litre quad-cam VVT-i V6, the key hardware elements of the GS450h are two highly efficient water-cooled variable voltage electric motors mounted within the sequential-shift CVT transmission.

The V6 and the first electric motor (MG1) are linked by a planetary gear set that splits the petrol engine power to propel the vehicle and drive MG1 to create electricity.

MG1 also fulfils the role as starter motor for the V6.

The second electric motor (MG2) provides motive power and power to act as a generator for the regenerative braking system.

It sounds complex but the whole operation works seamlessly and for buyers the car’s impressive power and performance figures will be their only interest.

The GS450h has both power and performance, with the combined electric and petrol engines developing 254kW. This is 22 per cent more combined power than the 208kW V8 GS430.

Notwithstanding the impressive kiloWatt output, the hybrid also manages to deliver 275Nm of instantaneous torque from the electric motor.

Apart from the car’s high-tech attributes, the luxury Lexus also delivers fuel economy of 7.9L/100km, giving it a 32 per cent greater fuel range than the GS430 and 13.5 per cent greater range than the GS300.

The V6 is also the first volume production engine with two fuel-injection systems - a direct-injection system and a multi-port injection system - which Lexus claims delivers more precise fuel monitoring across a broad rev-range.

The Aisin nickel metal hydride battery pack, consisting of 40 batteries weighing a total of 69kg, is positioned above the rear axle, helping to contribute to an almost 50/50 weight distribution.

The hybrid has all the active and passive safety features of the rest of the GS range with 10 airbags, variable gear ratio steering, adaptive variable suspension, pre-collision system, active radar cruise control, traction control and vehicle stability control, vehicle swerve control, brake assist and vehicle dynamics integrated management.

Like other Lexus vehicles, the standard equipment list is long and detailed, running to climate-control, parking sensors, rain-sensing windscreen wipers, Bluetooth compatibility, 14-speaker Mark Levinson CD stereo, sunroof, power boot, climate-controlled front seats and navigation system.

On the inside there is little to distinguish the hybrid except for the visual power/economy readout and a kiloWatt power meter to marked to 275kW, which replaces the traditional tachometer.

Visually, the hybrid is similar to other GS models and adopts the same double wishbone front and multi-link rear suspension.

However, there are discrete "hybrid" badges on the lower rear doors and bootlid, as well as specially designed 18-inch alloys.

The GS450h is clearly a stealth weapon to fight conventionality.

2006 Lexus GS sedan pricing:

GS300 Sport (a) - $95,200
GS300 Sport Luxury (a) - $112,300
GS450h (a) - $121,990
GS430 Sport Luxury (a) - $137,200

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