Lexus makes automotive alchemy

 
Ryan Borroff
Believe it or not, this is the fourth generation Lexus GS model, a car that has been in production since 1993, quietly going about the business of offering buyers a unique alternative to the more familiar premium saloons like the Audi A6, BMW 5 Series and Jaguar XF.

Unique? Really? Well Lexus does things a little differently. Whereas competitors have relied on improving the efficiency of their petrol and diesel engines, Lexus has stuck with its petrol/electric hybrid technology. It’s something that other manufacturers are catching on to now that big hybrids are increasingly in vogue, thanks to high fuel prices and tax advantages for hybrid cars – Audi, BMW and Mercedes-Benz are all bringing hybrid versions to market.

And the GS450h is impressive. It has the best horsepower to CO2 ratio of any car on sale. In combination, its 3.5-litre petrol V6 engine and electric motor produce a massive 341bhp. It can accelerate from 0-62mph in just 5.9 seconds, all the while emitting just 141g/km of CO2 and returning 46.3mpg (combined). In practice, this means you get big car performance with low economy and emissions: you can have your cake and eat it too.

As far as Lexus is concerned, its GS is a grand touring sedan, which is one reason why we drive the car from Munich and into Austria and on to the South Tyrolean mountain roads. In this generation of GS, Lexus has produced a more youthful, engaging and convincing alternative to the diesel-powered saloons of its premium competitors. Remember this is a car that you can drive on electric power only – albeit over a limited distance and to a maximum speed of 25mph – yet on the unrestricted autobahns of southern Germany the GS450h had impeccable manners at speeds above 240km/h. That’s 150mph in real money and even at such a speed the driving was effortless and the GS was stable, quiet and the ride extremely comfortable. As a motorway cruiser it proved an excellent companion.

More surprisingly, in top spec F Sport guise, Lexus’s hybrid saloon was also capable in the corners. I drove both the GS450h and the GS450h F Sport with its additional Lexus Dynamic Handling system. Here Lexus has used technology to improve the handling of this car, which was always going to be fairly heavy. Though the body is stiffer, the GS450h still weighs in at 1,800kgs, so the dynamic handling system works to improve the car’s agility. It cleverly monitors speed, steering direction and driver input, then calculates the best angle for its four wheels to be at to improve turn-in and rear grip. The result is a more dynamic driving experience.

The latest generation GS has an entirely new exterior and interior. From the outside the car looks younger and more aggressive. The new face takes cues from the CT200h compact and LFA supercar and has an unusual spindle-shaped grille between striking daytime running lights and a three-light headlamp design. The car has flared wheel arches – the new GS has a wider running track – and in F Sport guise has bigger 19-inch wheels and a rear spoiler.

But it is the inside where the new GS design is the most impressive. The interior is simply excellent. Dominated by the largest LCD screen in production – the 12.3in display is perhaps the most flamboyant feature of the interior – all of its menus are accessed via a joystick on the centre console. The cabin is swathed in leather aluminium and chrome and the layout is driver-focused so all of the controls are easy to reach. The GS is packed with technology – bluetooth, a head-up display, lane departure warning, adaptive cruise control, the list goes on. The car can be driven in “Eco”, “Sport” and “Sport Plus” – the instrument display switches its readout depending on the mode – and you can manually control the CVT transmission using paddle shifters. Amazingly, the air-conditioning system makes use of nano technology to release particles which purify and deodorise the air and even moisturise your skin, apparently.

So if you thought green was dull, you’d better think again. Lexus has built a cleaner, greener, more powerful, autobahn-eater of a hybrid saloon. It’s automotive alchemy. Skincare included.

THE FACTS:
LEXUS GS450H F SPORT
PRICE: £50,995
0-62MPH: 5.9 SECS
TOP SPEED: 155MPH
CO2 G/KM: 141G/KM
MPG COMBINED: 45.6MPG

THE VERDICT:
DESIGN ***
PERFORMANCE ****
PRACTICALITY ****
VALUE FOR MONEY ***