|Lexus GS 450h
|2008 Lexus GS 450h
|2008 Lexus 450h
|2008 Lexus GS 450h
By John G.
Hybrid Power Without Compromise – Lexus GS 450h
- Luxurious yet not ostentatious, inside and out: that’s the Lexus way
- Ridiculous torque makes passing easy and high-speed cruising a pleasure
- Hybrid drive means a performance car that doesn’t feel silly stuck in traffic
- Keyless entry and exit done right
- “Quick start guide” is 58 pages long
- Weighs over two tons and it isn’t even AWD
- Map lights are really dim, light switches are hard to find in the dark
- Batteries for the hybrid drive don’t leave much trunk space
- Really a 4-door Grand Touring car, not a sports car
Ever since the Honda Insight set the still-unmatched standard, hybrids have been designed primarily to maximize fuel economy. Lexus has taken a bold new approach — build hybrids that sacrifice nothing in performance and luxury to their flagship models – and has succeeded.
The key to understanding the GS is this: despite what Lexus’ marketing department tells you, the GS 450h Hybrid is a Grand Touring car at heart, not a sports car. It wants to spend all day swooping through long, stately curves at speeds far exceeding the legal limit, and it does so with grace and aplomb. Asking it to carve twisty, narrow canyon roads is like cutting carrots with a wood saw: it works better than you’d think, but it’s the wrong tool for the job.
As you’d expect from a Lexus with a base price of $55K, fit, finish, and feel are absolutely flawless, and Lexus continues to set the standard in every price range they offer. But are you really going to go without a navigation system and the Mark Levinson stereo? No, you’re not, so make it $60K. Add untestable safety features like the Pre-Collision System and Power Active Vehicle Stabilizer and you get the $65,000 sticker price of our test car.
The “Quick Start Guide” to the GS 450h is 58 pages long, so any attempt to summarize its features in a paragraph or two is doomed to spectacular failure. Fortunately, though the hybrid drive, stability control, and collision avoidance systems are more complicated than your average nuclear reactor, you can drive the car without understanding them.
Like every high-end Lexus, everything is comfortably automatic except the part where you actually have to press the pedals and turn the steering wheel to drive (and I’m sure they’re working on that). The only obvious difference between the regular and hybrid version is that you lose a lot of trunk space to the battery bank: this is not the car for taking a family vacation or a big shopping trip.
Internal Comfort and Ergonomics
The interior of the GS 450h is luxurious, in that carefully anonymous way Lexus has both cultivated and mastered. Even the walnut-trimmed cup holder cover moves slowly and silently on an air spring, instead of simply flipping open like on lesser cars. Proximity sensors allow truly keyless entry and exit, and you never have to take the key fob out of your pocket, even to start the car. Add seat coolers and heaters, a navigation system that gets smoother with each model year, an optional surround sound system better than most movie theaters, and it’s easy to get used to a level of effortless luxury that left me sorely disappointed when I had to give the car back.
Unlike the ES 350, tall drivers can adjust the seat low enough to get the sunroof out of their face, and infrequently used controls hide inside a flip-down panel, leaving the dash relatively uncluttered. As befitting a sportier car, the leather seats offer substantial lateral support.
The only fault I can find is with the map lights, which are so dim that it’s difficult to actually read my own handwriting, much less a map. Plus the buttons are difficult to find and press in the dark.
The radar cruise control deserves mention as a great idea that almost works. The idea is that it always maintains a safe following distance from the car in front of you, so you never have to turn off the cruise control, even in traffic. However, no doubt due to liability reasons, the “safe following distance” it chooses is a Drivers Ed-approved four seconds. In any sort of busy traffic, every driver on the road cuts into the space in front of you, and you end up going about 10 MPH slower than everyone else.
At 340 HP, the GS 450h has roughly the same power as the GS 460, its conventional sibling. In fact, adding the electric motors’ flat torque curve to the gas-powered V6 through a CVT gives you ridiculous passing power at any speed over 30 MPH.
This is easy to do without noticing. The CVT keeps the engine right in its powerband, which means that despite the fact that you are accelerating from “sedate” to “illegal” and quickly approaching “dangerous”, the RPMs are not necessarily rising. It doesn’t sound like you’re going any faster, and your first reminder will probably be traffic which appears to have suddenly ground to a halt. It didn’t – you’ve just hit 95 MPH. This effortless speed is the hallmark of a Grand Touring car.
The main advantage of a hybrid, though, is when you’re stuck in traffic. Sports cars are completely wasted on the morning commute, like a thoroughbred race horse forced to pull a plow. The Lexus doesn’t mind at all: I actually got better mileage creeping along Highway 101 during peak commute hours than on the rest of my test drive! If you’re really bored, you can set the display to show power distribution amongst all the different subsystems as you accelerate and brake. It’s complicated and hypnotizing, like watching a simulation of a nuclear reactor.
The road feel is excellent for a car with so many computers between you and the road: the car’s solid construction and low-profile tires make the GS 450h feel like it’s been carved from a solid block of marble. Perfect weight distribution leaves the handling absolutely neutral, even when I dramatically overcooked a corner and slid, tires screeching and smoking, into the thankfully unoccupied oncoming lane.
However, there is no disguising over two tons of mass, nor the fact that I would have made the corner with no trouble had the car weighed as little as it otherwise felt. All those batteries and electric motors add up to 200 more pounds than the conventional GS 460, which is heavy to begin with. Like an NFL linebacker, it’s amazing how quick it is considering its size and mass, but the wide receivers will always be faster. Again, think of it as a 4-door Grand Touring car, not a sports car.
The low-profile tires provide solid road feel and squirm-free handling, but exact a price: unpleasant impacts over the occasional square-edged bump that overtaxes the shocks and goes straight up your back. Interestingly, I thought the adjustable suspension was less harsh and better damped in “Sport” mode — except at very low speeds, like parking lots and bumpy driveways, where “Normal” mode was superior.
The GS 450h is cut like an expensive men’s suit: conservative, clean lines, executed well, but not flashy in any way. If you feel that spending $65,000 entitles you to be noticed everywhere you go, you need a different car. However, with this latest generation of styling revisions, Lexus has finally grown up, got down to business, and put any nagging doubts of “it’s just an expensive Toyota” to rest. The arched roof line and nearly-fastback trunk profile recall a less swoopy and more dignified Mercedes CLS. Solid.
Value and Conclusion
Though Lexus calls the GS series “sports cars”, they fall far short when judged as such, as one might expect from a two-ton car with no manual transmission option. The GS 450h is really a 4-door Grand Touring car: even the styling recalls a two-door coupe, and it’s happiest at 50 MPH and above, where the abundant torque and sure-footed high-speed handling let you put hundreds of miles behind you in an alarmingly short time. When judged as such, it succeeds.
But why bother with the hybrid version? According to the ratings, it doesn’t even improve the gas mileage much…but that doesn’t tell the whole story. To appreciate the GS 450h, you have to get stuck in a traffic jam. Instead of idling away at $3.50 a gallon and overheating, the engine simply cuts off, the electric motor takes care of advancing you three car lengths at a time, and your blood pressure stays low. This difference may seem inconsequential, but it really does make a difference to your stress level.
This intangible benefit is the real reason to pay extra for that little “h”. If your driving habits make this important to you, it’ll be money well spent. If not, you can save the money, the weight, and the trunk space.
Who should buy it?
People who want a luxury GT car, but who commute daily in traffic and need to carry four adults in comfort.
Build 5.0 Lexus sets the standard
Interior 4.5 Excellent, but the weak map lights and tiny trunk lose half a point
Performance 4.5 Torque: it’s what’s for dinner
Handling 4.0 Well controlled, but a bit harsh, and too heavy to be truly sporty
Styling 4.5 Conservative but clean, like a bespoke suit
Value 4.0 Spendy. Worth it? You decide
|Official website for Lexus cars, hybrids, and SUVs – www.lexus.com|