I am a Lexus driver.
I can pass on the right, run stop signs and double park at will. I slow for animals and my kid always gets straight A's, according to my bumper.
Yellow lights mean speed up and those 70 mph signs on the side of the road are only suggestions. Rules do not apply to me. I am a Lexus driver.
So must be the creed of the drivers of America's No. 1 selling luxury brand. While I have no statistical data to support my theory that Lexus drivers collectively exhibit the worst roadside manners in the U.S., I have plenty of anecdotal evidence: The Lexus driver on her cell phone in California who nearly ran me off the road in Westwood. The South Florida Lexus driver on his cell phone using the emergency lane to bypass traffic. Other Lexus drivers cutting me off, tailgating me or the never even seeing me.
Somehow, Lexus can take a nice guy and transform him into Mad Max.
Would it happen to me, I wondered, as I prepared to test the 2009 GS 450h. This vehicle had the double potential to make me believe the roads come with a "Scott only" lane. First, there was the L on the trunk; and second, there was blue around the L, meaning this sedan is a hybrid. This would allow me to cut off a Chrysler minivan and then feel contempt for the owner in that he-just-doesn't-know-any-better way.
Jumping into the leather bucket seat, I relaxed and checked the turn signals. Yes, they worked just fine. I wondered why I've rarely see them used by Lexus drivers changing lanes on the open road.
Pushing the start button, I sat quietly in the car. All of the lights and stereo turned on, but no engine. I pushed the start button again and everything switched off. Ugh, this is a hybrid, I reminded myself; the engine doesn't always rumble awake when you hop into it (it can propel itself by silent electric power).
But it didn't take long to begin to understand a Lexus driver's indifference to the outside world. You're literally the center of the universe when you sit behind the three-spoke wheel of the GS 450h. Luxury bathes you in plush smells and gentle lighting. Open the door and a spot light shines on the driver's seat: Tada -- welcome! It might as well applause upon your arrival or pop flashes of light as you near, your own personal paparazzi.
The world only enters through the programmable satellite radio. (If the standard 10-speaker stereo isn't enough, there's the optional Mark Levinson 14-speaker surround sound system that's better than front row symphony tickets.)
No other sounds penetrate the GS 450h. The ride is silently smooth. Even if the gas engine starts, it gently purrs like a kitten in your lap. (Lexus fills the engine mounts with fluid that reduce vibrations in the cabin.) The 10-way adjustable seat, telescoping and tilting steering wheel allow you to create a driving position like no other. It's a custom-fitted suit with a smog sensor (which automatically shuts off the outside vents if it detects a bad air day).
The Black birds-eye maple wood trim accents the dash and doors in an old European kind of way. You are king or at least royalty. Your every whim is catered to in the Lexus. There's even a stable of 340 collective horses under the hood from the 3.5-liter V-6 and electric motor to whisk your carriage to the ball.
The Lexus GS 450h is not a car, it's a decadent lifestyle. I had it wrong, Lexus drivers aren't bad at all. They're spoiled in a way we all want to be.
The GS 450h begins at $56,400 and goes up from there. The hybrid powertrain also enhances performance, but doesn't seem to help much at the pump. I averaged 24 miles per gallon in mixed driving, which is on par with the EPA rating of 22 mpg in the city and 24 mpg on the highway. Naturally, this thoroughbred requires premium fuel.
The hybrid system does enhance the car's abilities, though I question mixing performance with hybrid vehicles. Honda attempted this with its Accord and the car never caught on. The GS 450h may run into a similar wall. Consumers see the word hybrid and expect high mileage. Performance is secondary.
But the GS 450h is quick, sneaky quick. It hits 60 mph from a stop in 5.2 seconds and often tops 80 mph without the driver even knowing it.
It's easy to get distracted in this car. There's Bluetooth phone connectivity, obviously for important calls from your broker or the Prince of Bel Air. There's heated and cooled seats, a navigation system that doesn't require to you sign a legal waiver every time you turn it on. The center stack delicately pushes out from the dash, and I noticed the fancy cassette deck at the bottom. I would have to guess it is a premium cassette player, with auto reverse and everything. Now, if only I could find cassettes to play in it.
But that's one of the few things I found wrong with this well-built machine. The suspension was taut but not tight. Of course, it's completely adjustable. The GS 450h comes with an adaptive variable suspension, which allows the driver to tighten or loosen the ride. The tightest setting did not feel remarkably tight. The car stayed well planted on the road.
The rear wheel drive kept this sedan fun, though on one snowy day, the electronic stability control wanted to shut off the rear axle too soon. (That's why there's a hybrid snow button on the center console. That helps the tires spin a little in the snow, but the system felt too sensitive even then.)
This is a driver's car for the driver who doesn't want to push his abilities. If having the hybrid badge scores you points at the Sierra Club, then by all means, consider it.
The car's graceful lines will score points with almost anyone. The low roofline sweeps toward the back gently -- allowing this sedan to offer headroom in the back while maintaining a sleek look. Every time you walk up to this car, it reaffirms your importance in a staid, confident manner. You're important because the keys to this car are in your hand.
Every brand carries a certain attitude. Chevy means one thing while Lamborghini means something different. That's half the fun of testing these machines.
While I initially thought it was the drivers who were tarnishing the Lexus brand, I realized that it's Lexus that creates these self-important drivers.
Of course, they don't pay attention to traffic rules -- the Lexus makes you oblivious to them -- 70 mph or 90 mph, it all feels the same. The insanely quite ride means you don't hear the rumble strips as the tires roll across.
There's nothing wrong with a car spoiling the driver. I only wish they'd think about using their turn signals from time to time. They work just fine.
Scott Burgess is the auto critic for The Detroit News. He can be reached at (313) 223-3217 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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