The Lexus GS 450h was heralded the first hybrid sports saloon when it was launched in the UK in 2006. The car offered high economy, stirring performance and was backed by near faultless quality levels.
Now Toyota's luxury brand has its heart set on getting a much larger slice of the premium E segment market with the arrival of the new GS 450h. As ever, the luxury contender is more refined, roomier and has loads of cutting edge technology available, but can it beat the Germans?
The fourth generation GS is an evolution of Lexus' L-Finesse design language, with the carmaker's signature 'spindle' grille adorning the front end flanked by high mounted, three abreast lamps. The design is a little derivative, though, thanks to integrated daytime running lamps that are reminiscent of Audi's previous generation A6, and a roofline that's similar to that of the BMW 5 Series.
Inside, the cockpit has a driver focus, with deep-set electronic gauges. In hybrid mode, the gauge on the left of the instrument binnacle shows the efficiency levels of the engine, demarcated by three different areas: Charge, Eco and Power. This changes to a rev counter when Sport or Sport + mode is selected. There is plenty of thoughtful attention to detail, such as an analogue clock inset into a single ingot of metal (which also frames the centre air vents) and contrast-coloured stitching on the leather seats and instrument panel. These subtle touches enhance perceived quality levels in the cabin, reinforcing its luxury focus.
One of the biggest issues with the previous generation GS 450h was the battery placement, which ate up much of the boot space. Lexus engineers have since devised a better packaging solution, which allows for 465 litres of space -- a welcome 55 per cent extra increase.
Cabin space has also been improved. There is more headroom and legroom for the driver and front passenger as well as more head and knee room in the rear. The wide centre console features a sliding armrest and a few storage bins for loose items and two large cupholders at the front. The door pockets are large enough to store bulkier items.
Performance & Handling
Powered by Lexus' full hybrid system -- which mates a 3.5 litre V6 to a water cooled electric motor -- the GS 450h can operate in full electric mode up to 24mph. Total system output is a respectable 341bhp, making the 450h capable of 0-62mph sprints in 5.9 seconds. And it feels quick.
There are three driving modes to choose from in the standard version: Eco, Normal and Sport. Each mode has its own specific settings, with the Eco mode favouring economy and Sport optimised for acceleration. F sport models come equipped with a Dynamic Handling system (four-wheel steering) and also feature a Sport Plus mode, which firms up the dampers via the Adaptive Variable Suspension.
Aware that BMW is nipping away at its heels in the hybrid-powered sports saloon segment, one of the main issues Lexus engineers sought to address was the GS's driving dynamics. The steering is well weighted and the suspension components have all been tuned to make the car more agile and engaging whilst retaining ride comfort.
Still, the GS is a big car, whose extra weight from the battery back and electric motor don't go unnoticed. There is definite body roll when entering corners determinedly. Overall it felt quite composed, but it's better at dealing with straight lines than hairpins.
Economy & Environment
The GS 450h is not as economical as it appears, though this may be attributed to the landscape in which we experienced it: on unrestricted German autobahns and on mountain roads in Austria. In those settings, it returned barely over 26mpg, a stark contrast to the 46.3mpg figure Lexus claims. Still, the 450h pumps out 141g/km of CO2 (less than the ActiveHybrid's 149g/km), placing it in VED band E.
Equipment & Value
There are three trim levels to choose from: Luxury (£45,000), F Sport and Premier (both at £51,000). An eight inch hard drive-based navigation system, full leather heated and ventilated 10-way adjustable electric seats, dual zone climate control, bi-xenon automatic headlamps, rain sensing wipers and keyless entry are all standard fare on Luxury versions, as is a 12-speaker sound system. The F-Sport adds 19-inch wheels, 16-way adjustable front seats and four wheel steering.
The top of the range Premier model rides on 18s, includes 18-way adjustable seats and an S-Flow air conditioning system with nano technology. The system is said to be more powerful as well as more efficient. It shuts down air vents in the seating areas that aren't in use whilst supplying cleaned air to deodorise the cabin and moisturize the occupants' skin and hair.
The large 12.3-inch multi-media screen and stellar 17-speaker Mark Levinson sound system fitted to our test car is also standard on Premier models. It's good and definitely worth the £1000, if you opt for the F sport or Luxury guise. Technology is, without a doubt, Lexus' strong suit.
Over the course of our time with the GS we felt cocooned and safe in its cabin. The expanses of horizontal surfacing in the cabin made it feel larger than it actually is, while its weight adds to the sense of security. The GS comes fitted with an array of passive and active safety features that instil peace of mind, such as 10 airbags (with variable force control) and a standard Vehicle Dynamics Integrated Management system, which oversees the braking functions as well as the traction control, stability control and variable suspension systems. A blind spot monitor, lane keep assist and tyre pressure monitor are also standard kit.
An optional Advanced Pre-Crash Safety system (available on the Premier model) includes a camera that keeps an eye on the driver to ensure he's not falling asleep, adaptive cruise control and a wave radar sensor that scans the road ahead. It warns the driver of an impending collision activates seatbelt pretensioners and provides additional braking assistance once the driver applies the brakes.
Lexus has consistently been ranked at the top of customer satisfaction surveys, with owners citing reliability, technological superiority and luxury as the brand's hallmarks. It's easy to see why. It's comfortable, refined and exudes quality.
The company says their average customer is aged 60; they're the early adopters for whom technology and luxury are synonymous. If that's the case, then Lexus is sure to have a hit with the GS 450h – it's simply loaded with all the hi-tech gadgetry one could ever want. As good as it is, however, it's worth remembering cars like the BMW 5 Series ActiveHybrid are a little more entertaining to drive.
Model Tested: Lexus GS 450h F Sport
Engine: 3.5 litre DOHC petrol / 650-volt permanent magnetic synchronous electric motor
Power: 288bhp @ 6000rpm / 197bhp (electric motor). 341bhp combined total output
Torque: 353 @ 4500rpm / 275Nm (electric motor).
Acceleration: 0-62 in 5.9 seconds (claimed)
Top speed: 155 (electronically limited)
Emissions: 141g/km of CO2