The Lexus GS 450h offers refined performance from its petrol-electric hybrid powertrain, but does it deliver the levels of economy expected from a hybrid?
Lexus has been offering ‘premium’ petrol-electric hybrids, based on Toyota hybrid powertrains, for a number of years, with performance and luxury being the differentiator from Toyota’s products. We thought the previous-generation GS 450h looked good, and it set new performance standards for hybrids; does the new model move the game on?
The GS 450h has a 3.5-litre V6 petrol engine mated to a hybrid system comprised primarily of an electric motor and battery. The system produces 341bhp in total. The engine also generates 352Nm torque, and the electric motor has an output of 275Nm; this all adds up to a lot of torque. As expected from a Toyota/Lexus hybrid, the GS 450h also has Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT). Unusually for a Toyota/Lexus hybrid, it has rear-wheel drive.
We liked the design of the previous-generation GS 450h. It looked upmarket and individual. However Lexus has gone for ‘corporate’ consistency with the new GS, taking front end styling cues from the smaller IS. The new, larger LS also shares a similar appearance. This results in the IS, GS and LS all looking similar, albeit being different in size. We can understand Lexus wanting a more aggressive front end to compete with the likes of the BMW 5 Series, but we feel that the GS has lost its individual looks in the process.
The interior of the GS is, as you would expect from a £50,000 car, a very pleasant place to be. It has an upmarket appearance, the materials are generally high quality, and there’s a huge amount of equipment. The satnav/media screen is deeply recessed, so eliminating reflections and glare from the sun. However one item that we’re not sure about is the Remote Touch Interface ‘mouse’ used to control the infotainment system. Systems such as BMW’s iDrive, where you turn and press a fixed dial, are much more effective than trying to control a mouse on a screen when driving.
One significant step forward with this new GS hybrid is the much increased boot space, due to improved packaging of the batteries, although the luggage capacity is still compromised.
The GS 450h is an incredibly refined car. It delivers its performance in a very smooth manner, and it is extremely quiet and comfortable. There are few better cars for covering long distances and arriving at your destination relaxed. However the car is tuned for comfort rather than performance, and this is a large car, so although it has reasonably sharp steering, don’t expect the agile responses of a sports car. Our F Sport-spec test car had adaptive suspension and rear-wheel-steering to help make the handling tighter than the standard car.
Although the overall package is undoubtedly a success, it should be remembered that the car has a CVT gearbox. In most hybrids the tendency is for the CVT to result in lots of revs and noise under acceleration, with little increased rate of forward progress. This ‘revvy’ sensation is reduced in the Lexus, but you’re still aware that this is not a completely direct driving experience. Both Infiniti and BMW have developed transmissions for their hybrids that provide a feeling of more instant response, resulting in the BMW ActiveHybrid5 in particular being more of a driver’s car.
Despite the Lexus having a CVT system, you can actually change gear manually using paddles behind the steering wheel. However, the Lexus is one of the few cars that doesn’t offer any real advantages by doing that, which should be seen as praise for the transmission.
The GS 450h comes with a number of transmission settings; Eco, Normal, Sport, Sport Plus, Snow, and EV mode. Don’t get too excited by EV mode; it’s unlikely that you’ll be able to drive very far on electric-only power.
Compared to some other hybrids – such as diesel-hybrid models from Peugeot and Citroen – the transition between driving modes in the Lexus is commendably seamless.
The official combined economy figure of the GS 450h F Sport is 45.6 mpg. Did we achieve that over our week with the car? No. Overall we managed 34.1mpg. This is short of the official figure, although this comes as little surprise; very few cars match their official figures, and hybrids can fall well behind. But the added issue with the GS 450h is that having all that performance available, you have to be very disciplined not to use it; and when you make the most of the acceleration, the economy drops accordingly. This also means that the GS 450h doesn’t have a particularly large range in real life driving.
The GS 450h is available in three trim levels; Luxury, costing £44,995; and F Sport and Premier, both of which cost £50,995. All versions are well equipped, and our test car also had the option of pearlescent paint, adding £610, taking the total price to £51,605. There’s also the GS 250 with a 2.5-litre petrol V6. There are no diesel engines available. The entire Lexus range is likely to be reliable.
This GS 450h, like its predecessor, is a technical marvel. The combination of the 3.5-litre petrol V6 engine with the hybrid system results in an extremely smooth, quiet, refined, comfortable and effortless driving experience. As is the norm with hybrids in this class, the focus is on performance rather than economy. This means that in the UK, the default choice of company car drivers will be a diesel, however petrol-electric hybrids have a place in global markets such as North America. So the Lexus GS 450h remains a very well executed and interesting car, but at £50,000, and with real-life fuel economy unlikely to top 40mpg, it’s likely to remain a rare sight on UK roads. But if you do decide to buy this car then you’re unlikely to be disappointed with the ownership experience. It gets a Green Car Guide rating of 9 out of 10.