2013 Lexus GS 450hPosted on July 23rd, 2012
Hybrid sport sedan for driving enthusiasts
By Nina RussinAlthough luxury sedans account for less than 15 percent of passenger car sales in the United States, the segment is tough to dominate. Audi, BMW, Acura, Infiniti and Lexus are brands for whom second place is not an option. When they do battle, they don’t take prisoners.
To stand apart in this very elite crowd requires more than clever marketing. Enter the Lexus GS 450h: a gasoline/electric sport sedan which combines performance with above-average fuel economy. The 2013 model which rolled out last fall is the second hybrid GS. Lexus introduced the original model in 2007, as part of the car’s third-generation model line-up.
EPA average fuel economy is 31 miles-per-gallon, but I came closer to 40 mpg on my 100-mile test drive. For the record, I drove most of the route in sport mode and pushed the car hard. The exhaust note during wide open throttle was exhilarating.
Three model strategyThe fourth-generation GS comes in three variants: base model, F Sport and hybrid. The gasoline-powered version is available as either rear or all-wheel drive. Power for the hybrid model comes from an Atkinson-cycle 3.5-liter V-6 engine and two electric motors, mated to a continuously variable automatic transmission.
Base price is $58,950, excluding the $875 destination charge. A luxury option package on the test car adds 18-inch alloy rims, LED adaptive headlamps, heated rear seats, semi-aniline leather seats with bamboo trim, 18-way power front seats and three-position driver’s seat memory ($5645). Other convenience features include blind spot monitoring ($500); Mark Levinson audio system ($1380); hard drive navigation with Lexus Enform, satellite radio, app suite, XM weather, traffic, sports/stocks ($1735); intuitive park assist ($500;) and a trunk mat with cargo net and wheel locks ($242). MSRP is $69,827.
Evolved hybrid synergy drive systemWhen Toyota engineered the first Prius over two decades back, it developed all of the technology internally. As a result, engineers have been able to update and reconfigure the system faster and more effectively than competitors. The hybrid system on the newest Lexus GS is an evolution of that technology.
Unlike the Prius which focuses solely on fuel economy, electric motors in the GS enhance overall performance: acceleration in particular. Zero-to-sixty for the 2013 model is 5.6 seconds.
Engineers refined the GS hybrid’s handling dynamics, making it feel less nose-heavy than the outgoing model. Front-to-rear weight balance is 51/49. The electric power steering system is a vast improvement over early Lexus hybrids, with much better on-center response. A 34.8-foot turning circle makes it easy to perform U-turns on city streets.
The four-wheel independent suspension consists of a double wishbone setup in front and multi-link with coil springs in the rear. Gas-charged shocks and stabilizer bars on both axles enhance high-speed handling. The driver can adjust shock damping according to his needs. In sport mode, the chassis prances through sharp dips like a champ.
I drove the car in fully-automatic mode for most of the test drive, but shifted to manual gear selection on a fifteen-mile stretch of rural road. Formula-style paddle shifters on the steering wheel make it easy to do so. But what happens in manual mode is different than for a conventional, gas-powered engine and transmission.
The car’s on-board computers simulate gear changes by altering engine speed and electric motor assist according to driving conditions. For example, when the driver downshifts to slow the engine down on a steep hill, the on-board computer applies the brakes and the vehicle goes into “recharge” mode.
On the other hand, if the driver downshifts to enhance power on a steep uphill grade, the vehicle goes into “power mode,” raising RPMs for the gasoline engine and adding electric motor assist.
Front and rear ventilated disc brakes stop the sedan on a dime. I had to decelerate quickly at an area of road construction and didn’t even chirp the tires.
Head-turning exteriorLexus has launched a design initiative to remake the brand’s image, moving away from the sedate exterior styling the automaker had become known for. A spindle grille design flanked by LED headlamps and L-shaped daytime running lamps gives the new GS a compelling appearance.
Coupe-like proportions give the sedan a dynamic profile. LED tail lamps accentuate the back of the car. Strategically-placed aero fins help to reduce aerodynamic drag for enhanced fuel efficiency. Coefficient of drag is .26.
Elegant interiorThe interior of the new GS is one of the nicest designs I’ve seen come out of the Lexus studio. The combination of aniline leather and bamboo is sumptuous without being gaudy. It reminds me of high-end European furniture.
I don’t know that I actually need 18 driver’s seat adjustments, but the seat is indeed comfortable. The leg extensions reduce fatigue for people like me who have disproportionately long femurs. The adjustable lumbar offers exceptional lower back support. I was able to position the power tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel low enough to have a clear view of the road.
A mouse device enables the driver to scroll through selections on the center stack screen with minimal distraction. I found graphics on the screen easy to read in a variety of lighting conditions.
Designers did a good job of providing ample storage around the passenger compartment, including bottle holders in all four doors and a large locking glovebox. A 110-volt power outlet behind the center console enables second-row passengers to plug in a computer. The app suite feature the driver to pair his smart phone with the car, to access Pandora, IHeart radio, OpenTable, Bing and MovieTickets.com through the car’s center stack display and audio system.
Passengers in the second-row outboard seats have plenty of leg, head and hip room. The middle passenger has to straddle a rather tall floor tunnel, but there’s enough legroom behind the center console for short trips around town.
Engineers repositioned the nickel-metal hydride battery pack to increase trunk space compared to the former model. The trunk can hold a weekend’s worth of luggage, a golf bag or the weekly groceries. However, there is no pass-through for longer items such as skis or snowboards.
The Lexus GS 450h comes with front, side, side curtain, driver and front passenger knee airbags, rain-sensing automatic windshield wipers, bi-xenon headlamps with headlamp washers, daytime running lamps, active front head restraints, antilock brakes, stability and traction control. Lexus Safety Connect provides stolen vehicle location. The system will also notify police and emergency medical personnel in the event of a serious collision.
A tire pressure monitoring system, tool kit and first aid kit are also standard. The Lexus factory warranty includes complimentary first and second scheduled maintenance service, 24-hour roadside assistance and lodging for emergency breakdowns occurring over 100 miles from home.
Like: A stylish sport sedan with excellent power and performance, and 31 mpg average fuel economy.
Dislike: Location of the battery pack between the trunk and second-row seats limits the sedan’s cargo capability.
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
Comment: The manufacturer requires 91 octane premium unleaded gasoline.
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