– Good fuel economy
– Cabin trim and features
– Good ride and handling
– Too heavy
– Pricier than non-hybrid model
– CVT automatic for sports sedan
Every time a new Lexus GS is launched, we hear about how it’s going to take on the Germans at their own game. And then the model stagnates until everybody forgets that it exists. Well, we have yet another new Lexus GS now. And for the first time ever, they’re trying something different.
First off, there is now an “F-Sport” version, which basically adds an angrier body kit, bigger 19-inch smoked alloy wheels and tighter suspension, along with some other gimmicks. It looks way better than the regular taxi-style model, so you’ll do well to go for these F models. Secondly, Lexus is pushing a hybrid GS 450h model as the flagship of the range, but we’ll get to that in a minute.
The interior in our GS 450h F-Sport is pretty much the same as in the regular GS, aside from an excess of “F” badges, and metal trim replacing wood. The cabin is easily the most unique in this segment, beautifully lined with leather surfaces and soft-touch materials. There is nothing traditional about the cockpit design, and yet, it still isn’t overdone like in the cluttered Cadillac CTS or underdone like in the dull BMW 5-Series.
Cabin space was a priority in the GS redesign, as the taller roofline is obvious. Cabin space both front and back is more than enough for average-sized folks, with more legroom in the back than the BMW 5-Series. The boot would’ve been sizeable were it not for the lid’s goose-neck hinges and, well, a huge hidden battery pack on the back-wall taking up space. The rear seat therefore cannot fold down to make the cargo bay larger, but there are enough cubbies and cup-holders inside for at least four passengers, unless you squeeze in a fifth man in the back. Then the rear centre-armrest cannot be pulled down for use, which incidentally houses the rear cup-holders.
For the front passengers, there is an extra-wide 12.3-inch screen, housing the hard-drive navigation and Bluetooth phone as well as some stereo and a/c settings, controlled by a mouse-joystick next to the shifter. The intuitive controller offers force-feedback to get through the on-screen buttons, but the menus themselves can look annoyingly cluttered. Other features include powered and ventilated front seats, powered steering-wheel adjustment, smart keyless entry and start, powered rear sun-shade, manual rear-side sun-shades, a strong 17-speaker Mark Levinson CD/MP3 stereo with USB/AUX ports, a strong a/c with rear vents, HID headlights with LED running lamps, adaptive cruise control, front and side-curtain airbags, sunroof, heads-up display, rear camera with front/rear sensors, and an automatic parking brake. There is no panoramic glass roof offered, while the optional rear a/c controls have been deleted to reduce the price.
A detuned version of the GS 350’s 3.5-litre V6 works with a pair of generators and a 240-cell nickel metal-hydride battery to achieve a total of 338 hp at 6400 rpm, while a CVT automatic sends power to the rear wheels. The petrol engine makes 362 Nm of torque at 4800 rpm, but Lexus never clearly states how much additional torque is added by the electric motors. But from the feel of it, we’d say they add a pretty big dollop of torque. The kick at low speeds and on overtaking feels as if there’s a turbo under the bonnet. Still, the hybrid system’s extra 180-kilo weight is evident here, as we managed a 0-100 kph time of 6.8 seconds during our November afternoon test, compared to 6.5 seconds with a base GS 350 with 312 hp. On paper, the hybrid one is supposed to be faster, and it certainly feels faster in many situations, but not in a straight-up sprint in our weather.
The gearless CVT isn’t as annoying as in an old Nissan Altima, because you rarely have to pound on the engine, and even if you do, the noise is muffled in traditional Lexus style. It also aided us in achieving 10.9 litres/100 km in fuel consumption, compared to 12.7 litres/100 km with the GS 350.
The GS F-Sport is a proper sports sedan for the most part, as we found out on a previous stint at Yas Marina Circuit. The handling is world-class, with minimal body roll in sharp corners, and the rear comes around cleanly, probably with the help of the four-wheel-steering system that turns the rear tyres by a few degrees in the direction of the curve. Grip is rather good from the 235/40 tyres wrapping the 19-inch alloys, although there is no fun to be had if you’re trying to pull off little powerslides, with a strict stability-control system that never loosens up, even in the “Sport Plus” driving mode.
The steering is nicely weighted, but offers very little feedback. The brakes are pretty good. But with a CVT taking away the last vestige of control, the GS 450h is pretty much a point-and-shoot kind of car, completely predictable rather than involving, just like the last AMG Mercedes-Benz we drove in “Sport Plus” mode.
Leave it in “Normal” mode, and the F-Sport offers a fairly smooth ride. While the base GS 350 is an amazing luxury cruiser, the F-Sport version rides a bit firmer and noisier due to its lower-profile tyres. Still, all the safety systems are there, like blind-spot monitor, adaptive cruise control and supposedly a driver-drowsiness detector, so it is possible to just sit back and relax on the highway at 140 kph .
We grew rather fond of the Lexus GS 450h. It drives just as well as any Mercedes-Benz, with a nicer interior to boot, and the peace of mind that you only get with a Japanese car. But as much as we liked the hybrid motor’s kick and the better fuel economy, we’d be hard-pressed to recommend it over the GS 350 F-Sport, which performs about the same, only burns 2 litres more fuel every 100 clicks, and is a whole lot cheaper. Of course, the real point of owning the GS 450h is to cut down on natural-resource consumption. Doing good for nature might be worth more than money for some, preferring to save the environment, two litres at a time.
Current Model Introduced in:
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