The facelifted 2016 Lexus GS450h is now an established competitor in the luxury sedan segment, with plenty of standard kit and pricing to match. There’s nowhere to hide for Lexus now though, with well-established credentials and a solid reputation. No longer the luxury pretender, Lexus is now a genuine consideration for buyers in this segment, and despite the six-figure pricetag, competition is hot.
As tested here, our GS450h Sport Luxury has a price that starts from $117,500 plus the usual on-road costs. By way of comparison, that places it squarely in the gun sights of two of the segment leaders: the BMW ActiveHybrid 5, which starts from $121,700 and the Mercedes-Benz E300 Hybrid, which starts from $109,400.
Read our Lexus GS450h pricing and specification guide here.
You can see by looking at those numbers then that the Lexus is no longer the ‘more affordable’ option in every case, with the E300 coming in well under the GS450h. The Lexus does however pack in the usual Lexus standard – plenty of standard equipment and impressive specification.
On that subject, our test model is completely devoid of cost options, so what you see here is what you get. Standard equipment highlights include: drive mode select (Normal, Eco or Sport for the powertrain, Normal or Sport for the chassis and Normal or Eco for the AC system), adaptive variable suspension, 18-way power driver’s seat with memory, 10-way power passenger’s seat, electric rear sunshade, LED headlamps with adaptive high beam, leather trim, heated and ventilated front seats, heated rear seats, power boot lid, HVAC control panel for rear seat passengers.
The GS450h gets an attractive set of 19-inch alloy wheels in Sport Luxury guise, staggered to fatten up the rear of the big sedan and provide added bite for the RWD too. The rims measure 19x8 inches up front and 19x9 inches out back and are shod in 235/40/R19 and 265/35/R19 tyres respectively.
The standard GS450h audio system is also impressive and worthy of mention. It comprises a 17-speaker Mark Levinson audio system, and a refreshed audio panel with high-contrast 16-graduation full-dot organic LED for enhanced visibility. The navigation controls have been improved with an updated remote touch interface that makes using it a lot easier and more intuitive than before. The display measures in at 12.3 inches and there’s also a head-up display.
There’s a full suite of standard safety inclusions, as you’d expect from Lexus. These include: pre-collision safety, autonomous emergency braking, all-speed active cruise control, lane keeping assist, automatic high beam and adaptive high beam. There’s also a brake hold function.
Compared to European competition that almost always comes with a lengthy and expensive options list, there’s a lot to like about the extensively equipped Lexus. There’s no doubt buyers appreciate the ease with which they can dissect what they are getting for their money and the fact the list price is very close to drive away pricing.
Under the bonnet, the GS is powered by the venerable 2GR-FXE, a 3.5-litre all-alloy Atkinson cycle V6 engine that runs 24 valves, double overhead camshafts and both direct and port injection depending on load. It’s a sophisticated and smooth powerplant, which generates 215kW at 6000rpm and 352Nm at 4600rpm. Factor in the hybrid system and the power is uprated to 254kW.
While it’s a little convoluted to understand, Lexus actually quotes the electric motor as generating 147kW and 275Nm on it’s own, with a maximum voltage of 650V and nickel-metal hydride battery. Bother not with the numbers though, worry about the on-road acceleration, which we’ll look at in more detail in a moment. On the numbers alone, the GS450h scoots from 0-100km/h in 5.9 seconds.
I’ve said this a few times recently, but the eight-step CVT is as good – if not better – than any other CVT I’ve tested from any manufacturer recently. It almost feels like a conventional auto, and is very much devoid of any nasty CVT characteristics we don’t like. It is, in part, responsible for the low fuel usage claim – 6.3 litres per 100 kilometres. Against that claim, we saw an indicated return of 9.4L/100km, incredibly impressive for a full sized sedan (that doesn’t purport to be a lightweight) in city traffic.
The GS450h is no shrinking violet measuring in at 4880mm long, 1840mm wide, and 1455mm high with a wheelbase of 2850mm. The hybrid system robs some of the boot space though with the capacity dropping from 520 litres to 450 litres. Regardless, we never looked at the Lexus’ boot and thought ‘no, that’s not quite big enough’.
The interior is, quite simply, beautifully executed. The leather trim, the contouring of the seats, the way you sit down into the cabin, the large infotainment screen and the quality of the audio system, all combine to deliver a properly premium experience for driver or passenger. Extras like heated and ventilated front seats and heated rear seats, add to that ambience.
We found the system incredibly easy to use too. The Bluetooth connection was a cinch to connect the first time, and it stayed paired throughout our testing. The satellite navigation system was likewise easy to decipher, easy to command and accurate. The Mark Levinson sound system delivers truly high quality audio response too. If you love your music and respect a quality sound stage, you’ll love the GS450h.
While the systems themselves are easy enough to master, the method by which you operate them is something we (CarAdvice in general) just can’t love. The flat, mouse button-style interface that Lexus calls ‘Remote Touch’ is too sensitive, too touchy, and too hard to easily control, no matter how much time you spend using it. You can’t for example, quickly change radio stations or audio source on the move. Even sitting still, it’s hard to master. Within the cabin, it’s really the only negative and every CarAdvice tester has had issues with it over the years.
We found adequate storage and plenty of room for four adults. The middle position in the second row is tight, thanks to the large driveshaft hump in the middle of the floor, so it’s best left for younger children – unless they are budding basketball stars. The aforementioned boot is capacious enough to swallow your golf clubs, or any of the relevant family gear you’ll need to take on a weekend away.
Press the starter button and you’re met with the induction roar of… no I’m just kidding, you’re obviously met with the sound of silence. Select ‘Drive’ or ‘Reverse’ via the conventional shifter, the electric park brake automatically disengages and off you go. As we’ve noted previously, the petrol engine doesn’t take long to kick into life though, it’s difficult to run the GS450h on electric power alone.
Even thinking about using the throttle pedal seems to rouse the petrol engine from its slumber. One thing is patently clear almost immediately though, the transition from electric to petrol motivation is incredibly smooth and never invasive. There’s a beautiful subtlety to the way the system operates.
You’ll obviously notice differences in the sensitivity of the throttle pedal depending on the drive mode you’ve selected, but there’s a steady sense of urgency to your progress, with the GS quick to get away from a standstill and quick to continue building speed as the revs rise.
The soundtrack is – for two main reasons – perfectly matched to the expectations of luxury car buyers. Firstly, the V6 has an attractive growl to it through the breadth of the rev range, and secondly, there’s none of the ugly slurring, whining or over revving sensations that most CVTs exhibit. While the GS isn’t the very best sports sedan in the segment, it’s not far off the leader in terms of refinement and driving enjoyment.
Whether you prefer outright ride comfort or handling prowess is obviously a personal preference, but we really liked the balance the GS strikes between the two. Despite the 19-inch rolling stock and sporting pretensions, the Lexus effortlessly dispatches even the poorest urban road surfaces. It means occupants can glide along in comfort, exactly as they should in this segment.
On the flip side, you can actually hustle the GS along quite vigorously should you wish to. Its handling prowess doesn’t sit with the segment leaders, and the average GS owner probably won’t ever wind the wick up anyway, but the big Lexus feels more balanced, more composed and more capable than you would expect.
The staggered tyres bite into the tarmac reassuringly and you never feel like the front end is washing out of the rear end is directing the GS around too violently. All things considered, there’s a beautiful sense of balance to the way you can muscle the GS around if you want to have a bit of fun. In fact, it reminds you quite often, how fun a large, RWD sedan can be.
The steering isn’t quite as sharp as some sporting sedans, but it’s probably sharp enough for this vehicle, and the only interface we found a little jarring was the braking system, which has that strange feel present in most regenerative systems. It’s probably only because we’re used to conventional – low tech – braking systems though, so it’s not a deal breaker by any means. The brakes will pull the Lexus up from speed though, time and time again without fade.
Right up to highway speed, the ride remains competent, and the lack of wind noise is also worth noting. There’s a genuine sense of calm in the cabin that we couldn’t ruffle during our test. There’s only ever any tyre noise over proper coarse chip surfaces, at speeds above 80km/h. Otherwise, nothing disturbs the serenity in the cabin.
The GS450h is accomplished and built to a high standard, but it isn’t the most affordable hybrid in the segment and it isn’t the best overall either. We tend to think the sweet spot in the GS range is the 2.0T model, which offers a potent blend of specification and value. Regardless though, the GS450h is an exceptional vehicle and will, in many ways, deliver exactly what buyers expect of a Lexus. If the engineers could just sort that remote touch system...