Lexus GS 450h

Lexus GS450h Road Test

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Lexus GS450h – Road Test

Test Model: Lexus GS450h (that’s “h” for hybrid)

Options fitted: Absolutely none and none required.

Recommended retail price: $121,990

On road price: Around $131,000

Warranty: Standard Lexus 4 year/100,000km

Where the car sits: believe it or not, it’s not top shelf in the GS range. That space is occupied by the GS430 Sports Luxury at $137,450

“Lexus has boldly gone where no other car company has gone before”

If Bill Gates and his Microsoft Corporation built a high tech luxorocket – it would be the Lexus GS450h.

Push the starter button and although the beast awakens, you are rewarded with stone cold silence. That’s because you have only engaged ‘one’ of the two electric drives on board this vehicle.

Hammer the throttle though, and the GS450h will go from 0-100km/h in 5.9 seconds and that’s quicker than the BMW’s V8 powered 540i and neck to neck with Audi’s A6 4.2 litre V8 FSI Quattro. It’s also no where near as expensive as the two German cars and comes standard with way more techno goodies.

It’s a remarkable achievement when you consider that this performance requires no large capacity V8, nor is it turbocharged or supercharged. It’s not warp drive either, but rather, an ultra advanced 3.5-litre V6 Quad Cam engine working in concert with two electric motor generators for a little moral support.

Not quite, just one of these so called ‘motor generators’ let’s call him “MG2” puts out 147kW of power, all on its own. To put that into perspective, Volkswagen’s revered hot hatch, the 2 litre turbocharged Golf GTi, generates the same power figure, in total. Astonishing, I know! This is truly brains over brawn stuff.

And that’s not the half of it, literally. All up, the GS450h delivers 254kW of power and a serious amount of torque which I can’t really be specific about. What I mean by that is, the V6 engine is rated at 368Nm at 4800rpm but then you need add the additional 275Nm rating from “MG2” which comes on song from zero revolutions! It’s not that simple though. The electric motor can’t quite realize its maximum torque output, but let me assure you, it’s substantial.

It seems someone at Lexus has taken a leaf out of the Rolls Royce Silver Shadow 1 owner’s manual with regards this total torque figure thing, which although ran a seriously large 6.75-litre V8 engine, only ever listed the performance figure as “adequate” even though, it could stomp on most performance cars of the day.

It’s probably fair to say that Lexus cars have won more awards for luxury, dependability and customer satisfaction that all the European marques put together. You think Luxury, you think Lexus. You think reliability, you think Lexus. You think gold class customer care, you think Lexus. They are pretty much the undisputed world champions in automotive luxury.

The performance of the GS450h and the sheer number of LF (think "F" for fast) concept cars and SUVs which Lexus has in the pipeline, is another ominous sign for the European car makers. You get the feeling that they also want the performance title, and personally, I can’t wait!

In June 2006, Max Moseley, the head of the FIA (the organisation that governs Formula One racing) described in a press conference the organisation’s intention to head towards hybrid technology in future years and went on to talk about energy recovery and technologies that could provide a burst of energy for passing moves.Well listen up, Lexus is already there! The GS 450h is the world’s fastest hybrid and employs a regenerative braking system which captures the energy usually lost when braking and sends it to the battery where it is stored until needed. The result is better fuel efficiency and emissions.

While blasting off from Zero in the 450, don’t bother checking the rpm’s or when the gear shifts are taking place. There’s no tachometer and there are no gears, at least in the traditional sense

The Tachometer has been replaced by a power meter which gives you an active kilowatt reading right up to 275 kW worth.

It’s a little more complex when it comes to the transmission though. What makes this hybrid special is the Electronic Continuously Variable Transmission or ECVT, which is designed to seamlessly blend the petrol and electric power units. And it does that, to near perfection levels.

There are no pulleys or belts as is normally found in CVT transmissions. In fact, all connections in the ECVT are mechanical, which means there is no loss of power through slippage in the driveline. It’s a unique design which delivers silky smooth acceleration without the need for gear changes.

I’ve never heard of a CVT transmission with a sequential shift system, but then again, this is no ordinary CVT. Driver’s can simply move the shift lever over to the left into the “S” position, and work through six different positions just as you would driving a standard automatic transmission with a tiptronic option. It’s not exactly doing the same thing mechanically, but at least it feels the same.

The thing is though, the GS450h performs so damn well in the standard “D” for drive position, I just don’t know if you would ever use this feature, but then again, maybe on a twisty mountain stretch, just maybe.

What’s even more remarkable about this car is the fact that it delivers such blistering performance, despite weighing in at around 1900kg which is a full 200kg more than the similarly kitted GS430. I suspect the battery, complete with its 40 modules, makes up the bulk of the weight gain.

No matter though, I drove this car hard all week and my worst consumption reading was 12.1 litres/100km, and that folks is nothing short of miraculous. I'm reasonably certain that if you drove the GS450h to and from ‘the office’ at city traffic speeds, you would come very close to the 7.9L/100 consumptions figures as stated by Lexus. And that means fewer trips to the petrol pump.

You can certainly feel the weight of the car when pushing into corners but with the world’s first rear-drive hybrid, it’s not really an issue, particularly with the level of active stability systems on board coupled with the 18 inch wheels wearing low profile 245/40R rubber

To keep the car in check in almost any situation is Traction Control (TRC), Vehicle Swerve Control (VSC) and Vehicle Dynamics integrated Management (VDiM) which manages all the crash avoidance systems built into this car.

The GS450h also gets tricky Adaptive Variable Suspension (AVS) which allows for different damping forces to be applied at each corner depending where sensors detect slippage. Drivers can also change the suspension settings from normal to Sport depending on driving styles and yes, this system works.

There’s sufficient feedback from the steering wheel at most speeds but with Electric Power-assisted Steering (EPS) and Variable Gear Ratio Steering, the feeling through corners is a little too remote for my liking but I doubt that would worry most buyers.

What’s very cool about this car, and similar to the Toyota Prius, is that when you accelerate gently, there’s whisper quiet all the way up to 25-30km/h before the V6 engine feels the need to kick in. It’s quite a calming experience inside this ‘palace of quiet’. That is, if you haven’t cranked the volume up on the Mark Levinson 14 speaker audio system, which I now rate up there with the best from Bose and Harman Kardon.

As with most Lexus badged cars, you don’t need to use your remote fob to enter the car. As long as it’s on your person, just walk up and open the door and hit the starter button.

Once inside, you have no problems understanding the "L" in Lexus stands for “Luxury”. The sports leather seats are infinitely comfortable and the bespoke wooden steering wheel with leather grip inserts is superb.

I’ve already mentioned the top end sound system but the remaining inventory of luxury features is simply too large to put down here but the “A” list includes: Rear view camera with Rear Guide Assist working alongside Parking Sonar, Active Cruise Control with Pre Collision System, Power Boot (Close), Climate Controlled Front Seats (a must on a hot and humid day), CD/DVD player, Satellite Navigation, Power Rear Blind and anything else you can think of. It’s absolutely all there.

It’s a spacious interior too, with loads of smart storage spaces front and rear. Worth a mention, are the front door pockets which expand so as to fit large items such as bottled water. The rear seats are as comfortable as the front pews with substantial leg and headroom for anyone under 190cm.

I suppose the one and only criticism I have with the GS 450h is the boot space. At 280 litres (the hybrid system and batteries have to fit somewhere) it’s about half what you would expect in a car in this class. That said you could easily fit two large soft bags or two sets of golf clubs in the space. When I spoke with some Lexus dealers about it, it didn’t seem to be much of an issue, as it’s the first thing the sales consultants show prospective buyers. Not a bad strategy.

The other Lexus sedan trait which I’m not overly fond of is the fact that you can’t split fold the rear seats in the interest of body stiffness. It’s a pity Lexus and other manufacturers can’t come up with a design to incorporate this feature without losing any of the torsion rigidity as Audi seem to have done across their range.

Even the instrument panel is “beam me up Scotty” stuff. It’s Electronic Chromatic and was a world first when introduced by Lexus in early 2005. What it means is, you will have glare free and clear viewing of all instruments in any light conditions. One other thing, the interior lighting can be customised with 11 different sequences and the actual light resembles the white glow which the Bi-Xenon’s put out. The detail is remarkable.

There are enough safety features on board this car to rival Volvo's best, with no less than 10 airbags and more safety acronyms than I have room to list.

The Head of Lexus design strategy is an Englishman who has lived in Japan for over 17 years and the GS 450h is part of the L-Finesse strategy and for me, is a huge improvement over the previous generation of GS cars which lacked well...finesse. It’s a fairly subtle design with mostly smooth lines all round with the exception of rear of the car which seems a little abrupt when compared to that of the Mercedes Benz CLS.

The GS450h is distinguished by its five by three spoke alloys with chrome highlights along with small “HYBRID” badges on the rear door sills and rear badging with blue accents.

"The GS450h is a remarkable achievement. Its fast, its luxurious, its beyond economical and it’s as clean as it gets. Lexus has built a futuristic car for the ‘here and now’ and at a price which is substantially less than anything from Europe, on any level.

By Anthony Crawford