Toyota has been the leader with petrol-hybrid technology since introducing the first Prius to a stunned and sceptical world some 12 years ago. While fuel economy was the raison d’etre for the Prius, the emphasis is on responsible high performance for the new Lexus GS450h (you can read about the scorching GS F here).
The 450h is as quick as a 4.5-litre V8, but sips fuel like a 2-litre car. Clocking a scathing 5.9 seconds for the century sprint and a combined fuel average of 7.8 litre per 100km, the car certainly seems to meet its petrolhead and social targets.
But how does it drive? Stunning is the way it effortlessly overtakes with just a gentle plod on the accelerator. Initial take-off is instantaneous but the most invigorating bit is the phenomenal mid-range torque. On idle and at very low speeds, this GS runs solely on electric power. This is one car you can idle with the air conditioner on, without feeling guilty about polluting the environment.
The secret of the 450h’s performance is the use of two electric motors. Motor Generator 1 (or MG1) generates power as an engine starter. The more powerful MG2 is a 197bhp motor that works in tandem with the 292bhp, V6 3.5-litre to offer seamless high performance. The way the motor integrates seamlessly with the V6 is key to the Lexus’ success.
The system continuously varies the outputs between MG2 and the engine without any indication of a jerk or a click. The CVT transmission simply translates the tremendous torque into an almost turbine-like shove in the back. Unlike most other CVTs, there is not the slightest feeling of slip between the engine and transmission. Brilliant would be an apt description of the hybrid system and transmission.
With a combined system output of 339bhp, the 450h is a true executive express. At full throttle, the V6 emits a muted yet invigorating growl to excite the senses without being intrusive. The instantaneous torque gives this Lexus the punch to execute overtaking manoeuvres safely. It would be the ideal vehicle for those fast and twisty upcountry side roads, if only it offered a little more steering feel and feedback.
Both steering weighting and response are decent, but more communication would be appreciated for really hard cornering. Switching the Adaptive Variable Suspension to “Sport” sharpens the steering and alters suspension characteristics to suit enthusiastic driving. The ride is a little firmer but never jolting or uncomfortable.
Besides different instrumentation, the cabin is very similar to the petrol-only GS model. The high-quality trim and fittings are hallmarks of the Lexus marque. A centre screen gives information of the workings of the hybrid system besides the usual fuel, stereo, air conditioning and vehicle settings. This touch screen is both intuitive and quick. To me, it is far superior to the complicated scrolling needed by the German control systems.
The interior is not without its flaws, though. Rear head and legroom are at a premium for six-footers. A low roofline means they have to duck a little when entering or leaving the GS. Folding of the door mirrors when parked is not automatic; you need to flip open a little flap door and press a switch to do that.
Though the 450h is a superb cross-country tourer that is both quick and economical, passengers have to travel light. The large nickel metal hydride battery pack sits just behind the rear seats, thus encroaching on luggage capacity. Carrying a golf bag means having to compromise on bringing other belongings.
Yes, no car is perfect and the Lexus 450h has its fair share of minor failings. But as a luxury high-speed executive car, it has no peer. If nothing else, the car pushes Lexus further ahead of the other carmakers playing catch up.
Lexus GS450h 3.5 (A)
ENGINE 3456cc, 24-valves, V6
MAX POWER 292bhp at 6400rpm
ELECTRIC MOTOR 197bhp
TOTAL SYSTEM OUTPUT 339bhp
MAX TORQUE 368Nm at 4800rpm
0-100km/h 5.9 seconds
TOP SPEED 250km/h
CONSUMPTION 12.8km/L (combined)
CO2 EMISSION Not available
PRICE INCL. COE Not applicable