2013 Lexus GS 450hPosted on May 14th, 2013
Hybrid five-passenger sport sedan
By Nina Russin
The 2013 GS 450h is the second version of Lexus’ hybrid rear-wheel drive sport sedan: the first rolled out in 2007. While it utilizes similar technology to the Toyota Prius, the purpose of the electric motors in the GS is primarily to boost power rather than extend fuel economy.
Both Toyota and Lexus have used hybrid technology to create halo cars throughout their model lineups. It is a reflection of the automakers’ leadership in the field, as well as their commitment to a sustainable future.
The motors give the 3.5-liter V-6 engine in the GS the power of a V-8, combined with 31 mpg fuel economy according to the EPA. The synergy hybrid drive system is capable of operating in pure electric mode at low speeds. The driver can use a rotary dial on the center console to choose between eco mode, which favors fuel economy, or power for better performance.
Base price is $58,950 excluding the $875 destination charge. A luxury package on the test car adds 18-inch alloy wheels, heated rear seats, LED headlamps with adaptive front lighting, a bamboo and leather steering wheel, semi-aniline leather seating, three-zone climate control, 18-way power front seats and rear sunshades ($5645). Other options include blind spot monitoring ($500); a Mark Levinson premium sound system ($1380); navigation with Lexus Enform, real-time weather and traffic updates ($1735); intuitive park assist ($500); a trunk mat, cargo net and wheel locks ($242). Final MSRP is $68,952.
It’s easy to forget Toyota’s instrumental role in bringing hybrid technology into the mainstream. When the automaker introduced the first Prius liftback, nobody expected the car to be more than a niche vehicle.
The fact that we see Priuses as taxicabs is a reflection of the engineering team’s thoroughness and commitment to quality. While Toyota could have outsourced some of the components to bring the technology to market faster, the automaker made the decision to develop the hybrid synergy system internally. Since it owns the technology, Toyota can correct problems and make improvements faster.
For the same reason, both Toyota and Lexus are hesitant to make changes without thorough testing. For example, the GS 450h utilizes a nickel metal hydride battery pack rather than lithium-ion. Although the latter is lighter and more compact, engineers feel that the nickel metal hydride battery is more stable over time.
On the other hand, engineers modified the engine by raising the compression ratio and utilizing direct injection for better power. On-board computers with knock sensing have eliminated the detonation problems that plagued high compression engines years back, so the technology, which also enhances fuel economy, is a win/win for the owner.
Formula-one style paddle shifters replicate gears in a traditional step transmission, enhancing performance from the continuously variable automatic transmission when the driver shifts into manual mode. An adaptive variable suspension makes real-time adjustments to suspension settings based on the driver’s behavior and road conditions.
Test drive in Phoenix
I had the opportunity to test drive the 2013 GS 450h this week in Phoenix. Having driven the car at Las Vegas Motor Speedway when the car was introduced in 2012, I knew what the GS was capable of.
I thought then, and still do that the GS is the best-balanced car Lexus has ever produced. It can almost steer itself.
There is very little to dislike about the GS hybrid, assuming one can afford its luxury price tag. It is powerful, responsive and quiet: equally adept at the morning commute and a weekend at the track.
Engineers have minimized the nose-heavy quality early hybrid cars had. Front-to-rear weight distribution is 51/49. The hybrid battery pack adds very little weight to the car, about 100 pounds, so the driver gets the full advantage of the additional power from the electric motors.
The GS 450h has virtually the same cornering characteristics as the gas-powered GS 350. Buyers living in four-season climates can opt for all-wheel drive, offering better traction on wet or snowy roads than the rear-wheel drive test car.
The power mode has a significant effect on performance when compared to the gas-saving eco. It quickens throttle response and makes the steering slightly heavier at speed.
Because electric motors develop peak torque at extremely low engine speeds, the GS hybrid is a rocket off the line, accelerating from zero-to-sixty in 5.6 seconds. On freeway entrance ramps, it was easy to move ahead of slower cars.
The optional blind spot monitoring system is a great asset in traffic. The system illuminates LED signals in the side mirrors when vehicles in the adjacent lanes pass through the driver’s blind spots. The rearview camera projects a wide angle view to the back of the car when the driver shifts into reverse, making it much easier to monitor cross-traffic in busy parking lots.
The electric power steering system saves weight and reduces internal pumping losses to extend gas mileage. It also gives the GS an extremely good turning circle: 34.8 feet. Making the occasional U-turn is a non-issue.
Large ventilated disc brakes front and rear stop the GS in firm, linear fashion.
Standard keyless entry and push button start enable the driver to enter the GS and fire the ignition without removing the key fob from his pocket. Once inside, driver’s seat memory settings enable multiple family members to share the car.
I’m not one to get dewy-eyed about steering wheels, but the bamboo is really gorgeous, giving the hybrid car a distinct identity from its gasoline-powered cousin. Bolstering on the driver’s seat is firm without being excessive. I was very comfortable on trips lasting up to an hour.
A mouse-type device on the center console controls audio, HVAC, navigation and information screens. I found it intuitive to operate, and it eliminates unnecessary clutter. The newest version of Lexus Enform enables the driver to pair his smart phone with the car to access apps such as Bing, OpenTable, iHeart Radio and MovieTickets.
Passengers in the rear outboard positions should find ample leg, head and hip room. The car’s large floor tunnel limits legroom in the second-row center position.
The only downside to the GS hybrid is limited trunk space. The trunk is plenty big for groceries and a modest amount of luggage, but there is no pass-through due to the location of the battery pack. Golf bags won’t be a problem but loading skis and snowboards inside the car will.
The Lexus GS 450h comes with front, side, side curtain, driver and front passenger knee airbags, antilock brakes, traction and stability control, daytime running lamps, bi-xenon headlamps and rain-sensing wipers. Safety Connect automatically notifies police and emergency medical personnel in the event of a serious collision.
The factory warranty includes complimentary roadside assistance and lodging if the breakdown occurs more than 100 miles from home.
The GS 450h is on display at Lexus dealerships nationwide.
Like: A sport sedan that blends excellent performance with exceptional fuel economy.
Dislike: Battery location reduces the size of the trunk.
Model: GS 450h
Base price: $58,950
As tested: $69,827
Horsepower*: 286 Hp @ 6000 rpm
Torque: 254 lbs.-ft. @ 4600 rpm
Zero-to-sixty: 5.6 seconds
Antilock brakes: Standard
Side curtain airbags: Standard
First aid kit: Standard
Bicycle friendly: No
Fuel economy: 29/34 mpg city/highway
Comments: * Horsepower and torque ratings are for the gasoline engine only and do not include the electric motors. The manufacturer requires 91 octane premium unleaded gasoline.
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