First drive: Lexus GS 450h
The old GS, with its un-European styling and hybrid-only range, couldn’t quite cut it against the tactile plastics and low-CO2 diesel engines of the German rivals. But it seems Lexus has learned from those mistakes, because the new one looks and feels much more European and comes with two powertrains – the GS 450h hybrid and GS 250 petrol.
Not that the latter is due for huge things in the UK market. Powered by a very smooth 2.5-litre V6 petrol engine, its unremarkable 206bhp and 207g/km CO2 will make this a tough sell in the UK. It emits a wonderful, guttural snarl under full throttle, but just doesn’t feel fast enough to warrant its thirst for fuel. In a segment where downsized, forced induction petrol and diesel engines are firmly established, the GS 250 will slip off the radar for most of the corporate sector.
But the GS 450h is a seriously impressive machine. Where its predecessor returned 36.7mpg and emitted 179g/km CO2, the new car combines a 3.5-litre V6 petrol with Lexus’s latest hybrid drive, bringing fuel consumption and CO2 emissions down to a much more palatable 46.3mpg and 141g/km in its most efficient trim – the best figures for a petrol hybrid in this class.
It’s a good car to drive, too. It’s predictably not as sharp as a 5 Series, despite Lexus’s strides to boost driver involvement, but it rides beautifully, is incredibly refined and the powertrain offers up 286bhp which makes for brisk straight-line acceleration and a responsive throttle at just about any speed.
But even with so much power on tap, this is more of a cruiser than a sports saloon and the CVT gearbox is an acquired taste. There are steering wheel paddles to shift through the “ratios”, but by revving based on engine load gives the car a tendency to sound like it’s in the wrong gear. This is nothing existing Toyota and Lexus hybrid owners won’t be used to, but doesn’t give the driver a feeling of really being in tune with what’s going on under the bonnet.
The only other sacrifice for the hybrid is boot space. There’s a huge, wide opening and no obstructive compartments behind the rear arches but the battery is mounted upright behind the rear bench, leaving a shallow load area front to back. Where rivals have fitted the hybrid battery under the boot floor, or in the engine bay, to retain boot space, the GS’s layout could make trips to Ikea tricky.
But the rest shapes up well. New GS looks distinctive and aggressive and the interior is a giant leap forward in quality, awash with soft, stitched leather and aluminium. Moisturising, energy-efficient air conditioning, a powerful audio system and the largest display screen in its class should please Lexus’s technology-loving customers and adds to the premium feel.
It’s also easier to understand the new trim range. Available for both engines, Luxury and F-Sport grades feature options befitting their naming, while the GS 250 is offered as an entry-level SE and the GS 450h gains a range-topping Premier version.
But for all the improvements, what the GS really needs is the small-displacement hybrid version due next year. Likely to use a four-cylinder engine and claimed to offer diesel-rivalling CO2 emissions, if it’s priced correctly it’s the model which could just put this sublime executive car firmly on the corporate map.
GS 450h might not be the most efficient car in its class, but its improved styling, better materials and vast reduction on consumption and CO2 emissions will at least allow it to compete. But to really take on its biggest rivals, the small hybrid can’t come soon enough.
Type: Petrol-electric hybrid
Electric range: 0.62 miles
CO2 emissions (tailpipe): 141-145g/km
Charging port: N/A