The Japanese performance sedan ups the ante with a very handy inline motor assist and the ability to switch roles to a fuel saver. Lexus’ GS 450 hybrid brings a new dimension to the segment
Author: Raj Warrior | Photography: Elvis John Ferrao
The premium D-segment has had a lot of activity over the past couple of years and for a change Lexus has been rather proactive about the way it has changed its connect with the market. Product styling and modernisation is happening at a frenetic pace and we are seeing the new generation of the spindle grille transitioning to an increasingly new line-up. And where the model is still some time away from being an all-new one, the aim is to make the difference intangible.
That is not the case with the GS. It has been through a complete renewal last year and along with the renewal it went through it now has a more extensive range of drivetrains. At the entry level the move has been to the new 2.0-litre turbocharged engine, while the top end has now been defined by the newest generation of the Lexus hybrid drivetrain. This model is labelled the 450 hybrid and it reflects the positioning although the petrol part of the drivetrain is still the 3.5-litre unit although this engine’s been tuned for efficiency.
Externally, the styling stays very Lexus with the large spindle grille sitting in the middle of the new fascia. The headlights are the two level unit with the higher spec cars having the three eyed LED projector lamps sitting atop of the LED DRL lights. A secondary effect of the spindle grille styling is the deliberate manner in which the air stream is moved towards the flanks and the wheel bays. The bonnet gets its share of positive and reverse contouring, giving the impression of a beefy engine underneath. Sadly. this elaborate styling treatment skips the side panels and doors moving straight over to the rear deck. In someways while the GS presents one of the best profile silhouettes of any Lexus the lack of panel definition lends the side some blandness even when compared with the IS, which has a nice rising swage line to cinch in the doors.
The interiors of the car carry over a degree of familiarity while offering a sea-change in terms of what it offers the driver. The new GS is still very much based on the rear-wheel drive performance platform and the driver’s seat and cockpit essentials still reflect the old bias towards performance driving. But now you are welcomed into a cockpit that is dominated by a large 12.3-inch central display. The IP binnacle is built around a smaller 4.2”-inch display that allows the car to offer a customisable readout that includes the digital speed as well as tach and an integrated power readout that shows when you are driving in a really economical manner as well as a whole choice of other readouts. Added to that is the integrated HUD that projects speed and direction readouts on the windshield. Unlike previously, the controls for all those bits and pieces including alignment of the display and the mirrors is shifted into more traditional zones, out of the little pocket it used to be in.
The cabin continues to be extremely comfortable, with seating that looks straight out of a sumptious limousine. In certain respects the driver’s seat reflects that degree of give as does the ebony insets on the dashboard and doors. However the theme of our test car was still very sporty, especially with the choice of leather colour and the brushed aluminium trims and pedals. Even the steering wheel is made to reflect the car’s sporty background, complete with tightly padded rims, brushed metal insets and paddle shifters sitting in the usual position behind the assembly.
The centre console on the other hand is dominated by the by now familiar shape of the haptic controller that allows you to move the on screen mouse tracker without taking your eyes away from the dashboard. There is also a rotary drive mode selector that allows the driver to switch from an economy mode, through Normal to a sport S and sport S plus mode. The Normal mode is also customisable in terms of response although it stays clear of becoming a defacto sport mode.
The biggest difference that the 450 Hybrid has is of course with its drivetrain. The petrol engine is the 3.5-litre unit but this one’s tuned to deliver a default higher efficiency than normal with its Atkinson cycle and combination of direct injection and port injection that is selectively used to most effectively get a higher thermal output.
The petrol engine on its own is rated at 286hp while the total system output is 338hp. The extra 52 hp is provided by the inline motor assist but on its own the motor is rated for 197hp. Of course, hybrid engines tend to average the outputs across both the systems so as to offer the best median output so don’t be surprised by the inconsistency.
The car also offers an EV button on the centre console that allows the car to trundle around in only battery powered mode but you wouldn’t get more than a few kilometres until the battery pack was completely depleted. The battery pack has a 41hp output and that’s what you will operate under and a rating of only 6.5 Amp hours.
It is interesting to watch the visuals of the hybrid system under operation on the central display. The initial roll off is done under battery power but even the lightest tap on the accelerator brings on the petrol engine to add to the drive. Then you get feed from the brakes (or regen braking) and the engine depending on whether you are accelerating or braking. This pushes up the bars on the battery and its only when you really push down hard on the pedal that you again see the battery begin to feed the system. You can of course go to sport or sport plus mode and the scenario changes. The engine and motor tend to kick in faster and the pickup is definitely way better. You also tend to see the difference on the IP in terms of colour.
The transmission is a new generation of CVT but then that’s truly the best way to handle the combination of two drivetrains. The complexity of a traditional gearbox would have resulted in a too jerky transfer of power and the CVT averages this out.
That’s even better on the F-Sport version of the car that adds some performance trims along with the usual minor styling differences. The badging is visible both on the exterior as well as inside the cabin, alongwith the single dial IP and ancillary readouts.
The selection of Sport or Sport Plus mode also effects the active variable dampers that tighten up response and provide a harder ride.
The creature comfort features of the cabin include an 17-speaker Mark Levinson sound system with an output of 835W. The media display on the 12.3” high resolution display switches between your paired phone, the disc and any other auxiliary input and controls include voice and the haptic controller along with teh complete set of buttons for climate control and many ancillary functions on the dashboard.
The GS is also fully kitted out with a host of safety features and driver assist functions including cross traffic warning for reversing, lane keep assist that actively steers the car as it follows lane markings, blind spot monitoring, intelligent cruise control that tracks and slows down with traffic ahead of you and even self dimming mirrors both outside and inside the car.
The F-sport package also brings an extra in the form of the Lexus dynamic handling system.
We have had our share of driving a hybrid with Toyota’s Prius earlier this year although the little pioneer is nothing like the GS 450 Hybrid in performance. The principles are the same however and you do spend a lot of time initially into trying to read the system as it switches, often without being actively aware that it has switched the petrol engine on or off. The other thing that you note is that the ride quality and steering response from the electric power steering makes you switch as soon as possible to the harder responses of the sport S mode. What this does is to settle the car into a more aggressive utilisation of the grunt available from its two drivetrains and provide for a real meaning to the F-Sport package that the top of the line GS comes with.
You can dial in a certain degree of customisation but the stock Sport mode is actually good enough to give you a great drive pattern. Now all you need to do is decide to stay in performance mode.
If it is economy you really want you can save a bit of fuel and be really responsible, but that isn’t the true nature of the GS.
In Sport, the Atkinson cycle engine is supplemented by the extra 52-odd horsepower of the electric motor, but all its extra instantaneous torque. Pickup is better than you can expect from the regular 350 and it offers a combined output that is almost in the V8 segment.
The car still remains purely rear-wheel drive and the handling stays true to the nature of the older generation of the car. You can get the car to oversteer, or even slide in Sport plus mode, and the electric power steering gives a better than expected steering feel.
The harder response of the dampers in the F-sport pacakge is also complemented by additional bracing across the suspension components to provide for better tracking. In any case the larger 18” wheels are with the aggressive spoke treatment are definitely the better choice on the profile of the car. Braking is surprisingly good although it stays on ferritic discs.
The question you really need to ask yourself is whether the extra money and complexity of the hybrid is really what you want. In some ways it may be better to just opt for a 350 F-sport but where’s the adventure in that? The hybrid does bring a performance upside but you can convince your neighbours that it was because you wanted to save fuel.
The Lexus GS 450 hybrid is a thinking man’s car, albeit packed with comfort, features and a degree of future-proofing that will make it as relevant at the end of product cycle as it is now.
But that’s not why we would buy the GS. It has a certain irreverance to it that makes it different from any other Lexus we’ve driven and brings it on our interest level to just behind the RCF. It shares some of the intenseness and somewhere under the skin there is a feeling that a beast is lurking under all the technology and trims. It just needs the right pair of hands and feet to bring it out.