Weapons grade luxury express
- 2009 Lexus GS 450h; 3.5-litre V6 petrol-hybrid; CVT automatic; four-door sedan - $123,800*
- None fitted.
Anyone driving a car quick enough to make out the letters GS 450h on the rear of this silver bullet, will be forgiven for thinking it’s a high powered luxo V8, such is its blistering pace and off-the-line acceleration.
You know that all too common situation, when you arrive at a set of lights in the left hand lane, and there’s a single parked car up ahead in your lane, and the chances of the guy on your right letting you in, are Buckley’s and none.
That simply won’t be an issue if you’re behind the wheel of a Lexus GS 450h, there is absolutely no cause for alarm, as this thing will smoke just about anything with two or four wheels from a standing start, and its all in the letter ‘h’.
You’re looking at one of the world’s most sophisticated automobiles, which just happens to be a ‘hybrid’. That is, it combines a high-tech 3.5-litre quad-cam V6 petrol engine, with a 650 Volt electric motor, and the result is a weapons grade luxury express.
The electronic motor is good for 147 kilowatts on its own, that’s the equivalent output as the Mark V Golf GTI, which was no slouch.
All up though, the two powerplants working in concert develop a not too shabby 254kW of power, and believe me, that's plenty when you factor in a torque curve similar to that of a modern day jet fighter.
Jump on the right pedal, and you instantaneously call up a sizeable dose of 275 Newton-metres of good old-fashioned torque from a staggering zero rpm from the electric motor. It’s more than enough to deal with stress free lane merging, regardless of the urgency of the manoeuvre.
Push on though, and you’ll summon all of the car’s 368 Newton-metres, making high speed overtaking as safe as a double-brick house.
Acceleration from either standstill or from 100km/h is relentless and will shove you back into your seat if you really drill it. I'm also guessing that the GS 450h’s published top speed of 250km/h (limited) would seem like a walk in the park.
There’s a power button too, which I confess to using quite a lot (well all the time, if you must know), which quickens the throttle response and sustains maximum torque through the forward ratios via the two-stage planetary gear set.
I punched it several times from 100km/h and acceleration from this speed will surprise even the staunchest of motoring enthusiasts.
And you won’t be able to detect the usual gearshifts on board the GS 450h either; the Electronic Continuously Variable Transmission (E-CVT) employed on this car, replaces the traditional mechanical gearbox found in other GS models and is unique to the hybrids in the range.
There’s no clutch, no torque converter, no belts or pulleys and zero slippage in the driveline, just two sets of planetary gears, which provide maximum torque on demand.
0-100km/h is 5.9 seconds is plenty quick enough for a rear-wheel drive four-door luxury express; especially when you can call on the dragster-like launches this car is capable of.
That said at close enough to 1900 kilograms, the GS 450h is no lightweight, and while you can certainly feel that weight on turn in, the car remains surprisingly flat when cornering.
Even when I increased the pace into and out of corners, there was precious little body lean, and in fact, it didn’t matter how hard I pushed, the GS 450h cornered with minimal roll.
And its not like the Lexus is shod with extra wide rubber on the rears, the low profile 245/40 series tyres matched up to the 18-inch alloys seem to provide a good balance between performance and comfort.
And granted, this is an exceptionally comfortable car. Regardless of what model Lexus you might choose, you expect nothing less than a sumptuous cabin and 5-star luxury, and the GS 450h flagship delivers that in spades.
Lexus do seating better than other luxury carmaker I know of in this segment. They are eminently supple, but at the same time, entirely supportive. My only issue is with the front pews. There’s simply not enough side bolster to hold a diminutive frame like myself in place, during an enthusiastic drive to your favourite weekend retreat.
I’m not overly fond of electric power steering; it’s never as natural a feeling as the hydraulic systems, despite their requirement for a hydraulic pump and fluid reservoir.
But Lexus have gone to great pains in an attempt to maintain properly weighted steering when it counts, by using an electric power assisted rack and pinion unit, which utilises a torque sensor to detect the degree of steering effort and then calculates the level of assistance required.
I can’t say that it feels quite as natural as a well set up hydraulic unit, which tend to offer slightly less assistance and more feel, but Lexus have also incorporated Variable Gear Ratio Steering (VGRS) on board this car, and the result is a much more natural feel and weight, than I would have expected.
What that system does, is constantly adjusts the steering gear ratio, which changes depending on how fast you are travelling and how quick and aggressive you turn into a corner.
I can report that the steering is very quick indeed. I punished the car through a series of man-made chicanes several times, and both the steering weight and accuracy was spot on.
But living with the GS 450h on a long-term basis is far less about performance and much more about the ease of driving such a car on a daily basis.
You don’t have to think about the detail so much owning a car like this, which allows more time to focus on more important issues in life, such as how to eke out a decent earn or what beach to go to.
For example, never again will you need to go to the trouble of placing grocery bags back on the ground to open the door or boot. You’ll know exactly what I mean, if you’ve ever had 16 grocery bags hanging precariously from each hand and realise you need to find the remote and hit the unlock button. As long as the remote key fob is in your pocket or anywhere on your person, you only need to walk up to the locked car, open the door and climb aboard.
And life gets even easier when starting the car. There’s no key that flicks out of the fob, that’s old school technology.
Just hit ‘Power’ button with your foot on the brake pedal and presto, the steering wheel moves towards you, the instrument cluster comes to life, and all systems are go. But you won’t hear a peep out of the engine at this stage, provided the battery has a reasonable charge remaining.
Engage reverse, and you’ll get a perfectly clear live view of the area behind the car complete with steering guide lines, while both side mirrors simultaneously dip so that you don’t end up slicing off shards of alloy on those dreaded gutters.
It’s not just the luxury features inventory (which is so extensive as to rule out an options list), that can eliminate stress on a drive home from work, it’s the extra detail, like super bright ground lighting when you open a door at night, or the additional lights in the foot well of each seat and a godsend when trying to locate the lost stylus for your kid’s DS console. Child friendly, yes ma’am.
I can’t for the life of me work out why there is a 1970’s style tape deck built into the superb 14-speaker Mark Levinson sound system, but let me assure you, the clarity and power produced by this unit across of a variety of music styles including Electronic, R&B, and Jazz through this audio unit from an auxiliary jack into my iPhone, sounds all the more brilliant in this quietest of cars.
Let me tell you about quiet. I can drive around my local shopping mall for 10 minutes looking for a suitable parking spot without the quad cam V6 ever needing to kick over. The term ‘silence is golden’ comes to mind’.
Driving solely on electric power is eerie at first, if not, therapeutic. But crank up ‘Death by Chocolate’ by De-Phazz, and you might as well drive around for another 10 minutes and listen to what music is supposed to sound like.
As long as you’re gentle on the throttle, you can drive this car at a speed of up to 30km/h without using a single drop of fuel and again, in total silence. It’s quite remarkable.
Although the GS line up is skewed more towards sports performance and handling, ride compliance is firm but always comfortable. At low speeds around suburbia, the car communicates well with the driver, but push on over some poorly maintained roads, and the GS 450h irons out any imperfections
Disappointingly though, an integrated iPod/iPhone connection was omitted from the model’s last facelift, but thankfully, this has been addressed in the 2010 car so that all functions can be controlled through the touch screen.
It’s not a beautiful looking car, but the overall shape and lines are smooth and un-cluttered although, the tailgate area is more a squaretail and seems a tad too busy for my liking.
The rear track appears almost narrow, but that’s just a perception. Two large adults will enjoy a comfortable ride slumped in the rear seats, with plenty leg and headroom. While there’s room for a third passenger, that person wouldn’t want to be any taller than 175cm and short legs would be mandatory on any trips longer than 10 minutes.
There’s also plenty of elbow space between the driver and front passenger, making for comfortable family drives, as no one ever feels hemmed in.
But if you’re after a massive boot space area, you best look elsewhere. This is a small boot, no question. The battery pack has to go somewhere. Nonetheless, I was surprised to get three packing boxes and other gear into this space.
Surfboards are also a mandatory addition for any car in our family and again, that proved to be a simple enough task for the Lexus.
We’ve also had some atrociously warm and humid days in Sydney over January, and the climate control air conditioning system in the Lexus had no problems in dealing with ambient temperatures of 40 degrees plus. In fact, the ‘low’ setting was too frigid.
While the GS 450h is an astonishingly capable car with high levels of performance and luxury, don’t expect the hybrid synergy drive system to be some sort of miracle machine when it comes to fuel economy.
The ‘450’ refers to the fact that the performance of this V6 hybrid is similar to that of a 4.5-litre V8, but without the need for a large capacity engine, which generally means both greater fuel consumption and heavier CO2 emissions.
While the GS 450h is no a Holy Grail for low fuel consumption and high power (that was never the point of this car), after five weeks using the car as my daily driver, I’m in awe of how little fuel is consumed given my adoption of the ‘pedal to the metal’ driving style.
I’ve averaged 11.9-litres/100km over this period; try getting that from a 4.5 litre V8 that’s driven hard.
And if it’s the green vote you’re after, then I doubt you’ll have cause to complain about emissions of 186g/km, which is quite an achievement considering the performance aspects of the car.
When you carefully consider the combination of performance, price, luxury and the near faultless build quality, its no wonder Lexus customers are generally brand loyal for life.
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