Lexus, Toyota’s luxury brand, has built its stellar reputation on refined luxury and reliability. But when paired with the first-rate driving dynamics of rear-wheel drive and handsome styling, it’s a winning combination. However, for the environmentally-minded Lexus has taken it to the next level with the GS 450h hybrid.
The Lexus GS competes in a very tough market segment that includes the Audi A6, BMW 5 Series, Infiniti Q50, and Mercedes-Benz E-Class — not to mention offerings from Cadillac, Lincoln and Chrysler. But the GS is a true contender for discerning, green-conscious sports-sedan buyers that delivers outstanding performance, superb handling, and traditional Lexus fit, finish and reliability outfitted in hybrid trim.
Walkaround: The 2014 GS features the Lexus L-Finesse design theme that leads with an edgy, but striking front-end treatment that has become the new face of the Lexus brand. Enhancing that sporting image is the edgy styling and highly defined shapes of the GS that include rather distinctive treatments of the Xenon headlights and the LED taillights. Riding on 17-inch alloy wheels the hybrid badging is the main exterior difference between the GS 350 and 450h.
Interior: While edgy on the outside, true luxury is always conveyed by a vehicle’s interior. Proving that philosophy, the hybrid GS is distinguished from the gas-powered GS 350 by its environmentally-friendly bamboo wood accented interior. Bamboo is a fast-growing, light-colored wood that’s both quickly renewable, making it a sustainable material, yet tough enough to be used as flooring in homes.
The cabin layout is spacious and comfortable, featuring a suite of luxury equipment that included heated seats front and rear, a heated wood trimmed steering wheel, front seat massager, butterfly headrest, and rear manual side shades. Both front passengers enjoy 10-way power seats, and LED ambient lighting integrated into the door ornamentation and the center console area.
The Lexus GS is not only luxurious, but loaded with technology as well. Instrumentation includes analog Optitron gauges with a color Multi-Information Display and an 8.0-inch high-resolution color touchscreen that utilizes Lexus’ second-generation Remote Touch Interface (RTI) for navigation, audio, and climate controls.
The list of notable standard equipment is impressive, and includes leather upholstery, wood/metallic accent trim, a full range of power assists, power moonroof, multifunction steering wheel and energy-saving S-flow automatic climate control. The standard Lexus Premium Audio System has 12 speakers, AM/FM/DVD with HD Radio and WMA/MP3 capability, Bluetooth streaming, 5.1 Surround Sound and numerous other features. Additional standard equipment includes keyless remote/push-button start, rearview camera, Vehicle Dynamics Integrated Management, which combines the anti-lock brakes, traction control and stability control functions, Safety Connect with Automatic Collision Notification, and all government-mandated safety features.
Options for the 2014 Lexus GS include: a Premium Package with heated and ventilated front seats; a Luxury Package with Adaptive Variable Suspension (AVS), semi-aniline leather upholstery and 18-inch alloy wheels. The Ultra-Luxury Package includes a power trunk opener and 19-inch wheels. There’s also an F Sport Package with a 16-way driver’s sport seat, custom-tuned AVS, bigger wheels/tires/brakes and Variable Gear Ratio Steering. Both the Ultra-Luxury and F Sport Packages include the Cold-Weather Package. Stand-alone options include an HDD Navigation system, 835-watt Mark Levinson premium audio, Heads-Up Display, Intuitive Park Assist and Lane Keep Assist with Lane Departure Warning.
Under The Hood: The GS 450h is powered by an Atkinson-cycle 24-valve DOHC 3.5-liter aluminum V6 that puts out 286 ponies with 254 lb-ft of torque. It’s coupled with a water-cooled 180 horse, 650-volt permanent magnet electric motor. The electric motor is powered by a 240-cell (6 cells x 40 modules) sealed nickel hydride battery pack. Total combined horsepower output is 338. The package is paired with an electronically controlled Continuously Variable Transmission (ECVT) with two-stage torque multiplication with power and snow modes.
Behind The Wheel: The GS 450h is a sports sedan in every sense of the term. It will make driving enthusiasts smile, with a level of handling, braking, and acceleration more commonly associated with European brands. How much torque an electric motor contributes is difficult to calculate, but that electric torque power hits the pavement almost instantly, which is why the GS 450h does the 0-60 drill in only 5.6 seconds. For a luxury sedan weighing in at a bit more than two tons, that’s quick.
There’s five drive modes — Normal, Eco, EV, Sport S, and Sport S+. Normal is for normal driving. Eco offers revised throttle mapping for better fuel economy. EV (electric vehicle) mode is exactly that, and can power the GS 450h short distances using only its electric motor. The Sport S mode changes throttle mapping and transmission shifting to maximize available power, while according to Lexus, the Sport S+ mode “…engages handling enhancements via a sport setting of the adaptive variable suspension, steering system, and Vehicle Dynamic Integrated Management (VDIM) together with the powertrain enhancements of SPORT S mode.”
In the normal drive mode we clocked 29 mpg for city driving and 35 mpg on the highway — all of it in quiet Lexus comfort.
Handling and braking are excellent on all terrains, and the transition from electric to gas power, while slightly noticeable as it is in all hybrids, was seamless and smoother than most.
Whines: Although the ECVT is smooth and quiet, it’s a bit soft for my personal driving style.
Bottom Line: If you’re in the market for a true luxury sports sedan, while concerned about doing your part for the environment, the Lexus GS 450h is just the ticket for you.