Lexus GS 450h — it can make you a believer

By Al Vinikour  

For as long as I can remember I’ve heard the philosophy: you pay for what you get! Like everything else in my life I put this on the back burner, figuring I’ll make up my own pearls. However, I’ve been test-driving a Lexus GS 450h, the hybrid model of the Lexus GS mid-sized luxury sedan. Previously I’d not been a big fan of hybrids. I am now, because “You pay for what you get.”  

Nobody outside a Gulag is going to believe there’s such a thing as an inexpensive Lexus, and the GS 450h doesn’t disappoint. However, there’s also no dispute that Lexus is among the finest production cars on earth – something I’ve believed since I drove my first one in 1989. The brand changed forever the belief that true luxury vehicles had to carry a European passport.

Through the years there have been many Lexus models, covering almost every vehicle segment. The third generation GS, debuted in 2006, was the first of the line to offer a hybrid – actually a performance hybrid. Hybrids have never been particularly noted for their speed nor great handling. Apparently the GS hybrid hasn’t made the rounds of all its critics.

Let’s get the cost out of the way right now so you can get over it. The GS 450h begins at $56,580. With destination and delivery fees of $825 my test vehicle bottom-lined at $63,675. Is a vehicle worth that much? It depends on how financially-secure you are and what your expectations are from a car – especially a luxury sedan. In the case of the GS 450h I’d say, “Yes. Cost being no object, I’d consider it a good buy.”

The GS 450h is not made of balsa wood. It’s curb weight is 4,134 pounds. But with a 0-60 mph time of 5.2 seconds you know something special is nestled under the hood. Even its quarter-mile times of 14.0 seconds equals those of dual-quad high-performance Mopar Hemis of the halcyon muscle car era.  It’s powered by a 3.5L DOHC 24-valve V6 with dual continuously Variable Valve Timing with intelligence (VVT-i). A full hybrid, it’s capable of operating in gas-only or electric-only modes or a combination of the two. With its unique electronically-controlled Continuously Variable Transmission (ECVT) with two-stage torque multiplication, power and snow modes, the GS 450h was the first hybrid vehicle to enable the electric drive motor to contribute to highway performance – not just slow-speed driving. Collectively it develops 340 horsepower – more equal to the power of a V8. Yet EPA estimated fuel economy is 22 mph city/ 25 mpg highway/ and 23 mpg combined. Not much to write home about but far better than most of its ilk.

The interior is everything you’d expect in a Lexus. Rich leathers, bright, elegant instrumentation, power everything and lots of room, at least in the front. I can’t say the same about leg room for those in the rear. While those up front have 43.5” of legroom the people in the back have 36.4”. If the front seater has his seat all the way back and also has his seat back reclined, ingress, egress and legroom is tight. EPA passenger volume is 110.5 cubic feet. The trunk is rather small, with a cargo volume of 10.6 cubic feet.

There’s a lot of interior storage. Lexus has done a good job maximizing space in the GS by uniquely bundling and hiding some of the controls you’d generally use once…but would perpetually get in the way.

All Lexus hybrids are easily identified by its unique, blue hybrid badging. It also distinguishes the GS 450h from the GS 460 and GS 350. Other features of the GS 450h include its low 0.27 drag coefficient that greatly eliminates wind noise and maximizes highway fuel efficiency, special 18” light-alloy wheels, a Lexus Hybrid engine cover, HID headlamps, LED clear lens tail lamp covers and a power meter that replaces the tachometer. It sports a pair of slick-looking chrome exhaust tips.

You might as well combine safety and handling because they’re intertwined. The GS 450h is equipped with the brand’s highest level of dynamic handling technology, the Vehicle Dynamics Integrated Management system that is miles beyond (pun intended) the capability of other stability and traction systems. VDIM is designed to anticipate the onset of a vehicle slide while cornering then helps to automatically correct the situation with a combination of braking, throttle and steering control that’s easily identifiable to the driver. VDIM integrates Electric Power Steering, Variable Gear Ratio Steering, Antilock Braking System, Electronic Brake-force distribution, Brake Assist, Vehicle Stability Control, Electronically Controlled Brakes and Traction Control. In other words, Cal, you pay attention to your driving…VDIM will oversee your safety.

Even starting the GS 450h is noticeably different. It’s equipped with SmartAccess with push button start/stop. When you push that start button you will hear nothing…and basically have no idea the vehicle is running. Thus is one aspect of a hybrid…particularly a good one. After using it a few times the trait becomes second nature. Acceleration is one of the more satisfying aspects of driving a high-powered vehicle like this.

There are tons of convenience and luxury features. Lexus has always had one of the best Navigation Systems in the industry and the current 5th generation and all the technology it contains more than justifies the $1,500 added cost. For years the cost of navigation systems has hovered around the $2,000 mark…with a fraction of the content of this one.

As good as the standard audio system is the optional Mark Levinson® Premium Surround Sound System with Navigation my vehicle came equipped with is an audiophile’s most erotic dream. It has 14 speakers with 7.1-channel architecture, 330 watts of continuous power, CD and DVD audio/video capability, Discrete 5.1 Surround Sound and a bunch of other stuff I don’t understand.

Sometimes I’m all-too-happy to give a vehicle back to the delivery company after I’ve had it awhile. Other times I feel like they’ll have to pry the keys from my cold, dead hands. They’re on the way here as we speak to pick up the GS 450h. If I have my way…they’re leaving empty-handed.

Base price: $56,580, price as tested: $63,675 

Engine:  3.5L DOHC 4-valve per cylinder w/Dual VVT-i  

Horsepower: 340 @ 253 kW (combination gas/electric); 292 @ 6,400 rpm, gas only 

Torque: 267 pound feet @ 4,800 rpm, gas
Drive: RWD

Transmission: ECVT w/two-stage torque multiplication, power and snow modes 

Seating: 2/3

Wheelbase:  112.2 inches

Length: 190.0 inches

Curb weight: 4,134 pounds

Turning circle: 36.7 feet
EPA Cargo Volume: 10.6 cubic feet 

Fuel capacity: 17.2 gallons (87-Octane unleaded)

EPA rating: 22 mpg city/25 mph highway/23 mpg combined

0-60: 5.2 seconds

Also consider: Audi A6; BMW 5-Series 

The Good:

• Good looks
• Good road quietness
• Ergonomically-friendly comfort features
• Smooth powertrain 

• Rapid acceleration

The Bad:

• Small trunk and limited rear-seat leg room 

The Ugly:

• It will soon be gone from my driveway