Lexus GS450h: Proving Dad Wrong [Review]



It’s definitely a Hybrid.

A minor affliction, to be sure, but a blight upon any car enthusiast worth his salt. Hybrids are for eco-weenies and hollow shells of men too insecure not to be seen caring about the environment. They’re for Greenpeace protestors and farmer’s market frequenters. Hybrids are driven by people as an excuse to wrong the world in other ways, like driving really, incredibly slowly or not recycling. The electric motors that eerily propel Hybrids can’t possibly replace the lost displacement. Nothing can. We’ve been taught this by our fathers, who were taught this by their fathers before them.

Of course, that’s all complete garbage. Sorry Dad, but Lexus has made a liar out of you. Don’t hit me! It’s not my fault! The Sensei Masters of Electric Motor Proficiency at Lexus have jimmied 197 horsepower, as much as an entire Honda Civic Si, into just two electric motors. Just for some perspective, most of the electric motors available in luxury hybrids, like the BMW 750 ActiveHybrid, have in the order of 20 or 40hp. And these electric motors aren’t alone either, the GS450h’s megalectric motors work in concert with the 3.5L naturally aspirated V6 that rests under the hood, itself no amateur at 292hp.

A hundred and ninety-seven might sound like a decent amount of giddy-up from the SMoEMPaL-developed electric motors, but as car enthusiasts, we know the limitations of electric motors already. Namely, that electric motors provide 100% of their torque from 0 rpm. Wait, did we say “limitations”? We meant to say “advantages”. When floored from any speed, the GS450h just goes. And goes some more. And then, ever so smoothly, a little more yet. It’s like being whisked away on a silken hovercraft that’s gliding over chilled Grey Goose. Or being bathed in a Victorian-era clawfoot bathtub brimming with crème brûlée.

The CVT transmission never hunts for gears (hmm really?), the power of clean electrons bleeds into the power of fiery combustion, and the overall effect is more seamless than a Lululemon t-shirt. It’s hugely impressive, if a bit lacking in crackling drama. But as an instrument of speed, efficiency, and luxury, little else comes close.

As hard to swallow as this may be, the GS450h is faster in a straight line than the 400hp BMW 550i, which features a sparkling new twin-turbo 4.4L V8. The GS also benefits from a 2.2L/100km better combined mileage: 8.3L/100km vs. 10.5L for the auto-equipped propeller-mobile. We observed 12L/100km in our spirited time with the GS Hybrid, a fair margin more than the rating, but no greater a margin than our, shall we say, liberal driving style would garner in the 5-series. In fact, it’s likely a narrower margin; turbos + V8 + CarEnvy do not equal stellar fuel economy.

Interesting Side Note: The GS450h is also faster than the NSX, Challenger R/T, and the E36 M3, not to mention just as fast to 60mph as a Cayman S, Testarossa, and DB7.

The foosball player prefers to be in NORM.

The Adaptive Variable Suspension with double wishbones up front and multi-link set-up at the rear is the most compliant and refined combination we’ve ever tested. Our eyes needed to be completely recalibrated. Where once we would wincingly brace ourselves for train tracks and tire-swallowing potholes, we could instead relax and take them at any speed our driver’s license dare handle. It’s a peculiar sensation to brace yourself in anticipation of an impact and then for it never to arrive. It’s merciless, really. Like that one episode of Family Guy when Stewie offers “one free revenge shot” to make up for savagely beating Brian over unpaid gambling debts. Stewie keeps anticipating the revenge shot, but it never comes! The first few times the GS450h tackled the frost-heaved pavement, we wished there was more feedback, but this was soon washed away by the impressively mercury-like quality of the ride. The ride quality is solid like a metal, but fluid like a liquid at the same time. It’s, like, a total trip, dude.

The Mark Levinson sound system is also the best sound system we’ve ever tested. Regardless of the type of music, the cheery treble and crystallized bass were mind-expanding in their ability to make a familiar song sound fresh. The sound isolation, as we’d expect from a Lexus, was institutionally good and served to further enhance the acoustics, serenading the privileged driver down the road. The user interface for iPhone was also commendable for its cleanliness and broad scope of functionality.

On the pragmatic side, the stack of batteries mildly impede trunk space but greatly improve performance – a compromise unlikely to draw the ire of real car folks. The trunk is still vast enough for most needs, including the obligatory set of golf clubs, but it’s not the first vehicle in its class we’d choose to go camping with. But who goes camping with a mid-size luxury sedan anyways?

If you’re looking for qualms, we’ve but minor ones. The steering isn’t the most accurate and the variable gear ratio electric rack and pinion doesn’t instill much confidence during enthusiastically approached curves, but this is really too large and luxurious of a vehicle to be driven in that manner – it’s much more comfortable lunging for the horizon in a straight line, or silently wafting through traffic, serenading the occupants into plush, leather-ensconced submission.

Lexus now offers no fewer than five Hybrids, each of them employing Toyota’s Synergy Drive to maximize forward thrust, minimize emissions, and impart the Green Halo of Do-Goodery. That’s more than any other luxury manufacturer, demonstrating Lexus’ commitment to the black art, which will only bode well for future servicing. Speaking of servicing, Lexus’ customer service is simply unparalleled. Forget being treated like week-old muffins at the Audi dealership and experience being treated like a prince at Lexus. Seriously, the difference is that big.

At $74,406 on your driveway, the GS450h doesn’t look like much of a bargain. But next to the BMW 550i we mentioned earlier, it’s a wallet pleasing $5,000 cheaper than a comparably equipped 5-series. Running costs will be lower too, making the GS450h a serious contender to the mid-size luxury throne. It’s also the fastest Lexus Hybrid there is. Ok, it’s not much to look at from the outside, but that’s not your problem. You, Mr. Potential Buyer, get to revel in the speed, luxury, low running costs, customer service, reliability, and general smugness that come with the GS450h. Even Dad won’t be able to argue with that.

Envy Factor: 8.5/10

Afterthought: We sincerely hope that Lexus doesn’t botch the supreme ride comfort in its misguided quest for sportiness with the 2013 GS, pictured above. Long live comfort!