A hybrid is not solely about maximum fuel economy. The Lexus GS 450h is a mixture of performance and economy that keeps driving fun without guzzling gas.
Key to the GS 450h is the way Lexus combines a 3.5-liter V-6 engine with a compact, permanent magnet electric motor that drives the rear wheels. The hybrid powertrain collectively produces 340 horsepower and accelerates from zero to 60 in just 5.2 seconds.
Because an electric motor delivers its maximum torque immediately, the GS 450h powertrain delivers strong midrange acceleration that is most useful in the 30-to-50-mph range.
I nailed the throttle on a highway entrance ramp, and the hybrid's surge of power launched the car into traffic like a slingshot. The continuously variable transmission doesn't have conventional gear shifts, so the engine maintains a rather constant hum as the car goes faster and faster. The feeling can be mildly disconcerting at first, but it feels quite natural after a few minutes.
The hybrid GS returns nearly 30 percent better fuel efficiency than some V-8 models with comparable performance. The Environmental Protection Agency estimates fuel economy at 25 miles per gallon in the city and 28 on the highway. The hybrid is certified as a Super-Low Emissions Vehicle.
While the hybrid performs like a regular car, it doesn't drive exactly like one. When you turn the key, there is no sound because the gasoline engine isn't running. The car initially moves under electric power, and the gasoline engine kicks in as speeds move past a crawl. The gasoline engine often shuts off while you're stopped, too, but it restarts in an instant.
Regenerative braking charges the batteries.
The hybrid GS starts at $54,900, and the test car had a sticker price of $60,149.
All models have heated and cooled leather seats, keyless ignition, dual-zone climate control, heated outside mirrors, premium 10-speaker stereo, high-intensity headlamps, side-curtain and knee airbags, and a leather-and-wood-trimmed steering wheel and shift knob.
The cabin of the new GS looks familiar, especially to owners of the previous model, yet it has many new features. The gauges have dark metallic faces. A unique lighting system uses variable transparency glass to optimize visibility in a wide variety of lighting conditions.
A small panel that folds into the left side of the dash contains buttons that are not used every day, such as those for adjusting the outside mirrors or opening the trunk. This adds simplicity to the dash, but it requires an extra step if you need to adjust the mirrors or open the trunk.
An LCD screen dominates the center stack, and it is used to control the audio system, set temperatures and view the map on the navigation system.
Dynamically, the GS has athletic handling without resorting to a ride that is overly harsh. The variable suspension provides a firm ride and tight handling.
Lexus' new vehicle stability program, called VDIM, integrates and manages the brakes, steering, traction control, electronic throttle and variable gear ratio steering. Lexus press materials say that VDIM is able to "monitor a variety of sensors throughout the vehicle and help correct the situation with a combination of braking, throttle and steering control in a way that is transparent to the driver."
Price The base price of the GS 450h is $54,900. Options on the test car included the navigation system, Mark Levinson stereo, run-flat tires and rear trunk spoiler. The sticker price was $60,149.
Warranty Four years or 50,000 miles. The powertrain is covered for six years or 70,000 miles, and the hybrid battery and components are covered for eight years or 100,000 miles.