Features: 92 / 100
Look/Design: 90 / 100
Performance: 95 / 100
Safety: 95 / 100
When you think of hybrid cars, boring designs and yawn-inspiring performance figures immediately come to mind. That’s because it started with the boring looking Prius, and then every other manufacturer who made a hybrid vehicle, used that as a template, and tried to make their version even more boring and bland than that. Lots of function… no form. Thankfully though, there’s a camp in the motoring industry who decided that hybrids should not have to be boring and that it could actually add to the excitement of your driving experience. Enter Lexus and the GS450h F-Sport Hybrid.
Of all manufacturers, Lexus has probably worked the hardest and has the most expansive range of hybrid vehicles on offer . The GS range has always been the ugly duckling of the family. There were many reasons why the GS didn’t work. Luckily, Lexus took the criticism and turned the new GS into what it should have been all along. Whereas most of the German trios’ larger, executive saloon cars look like burgeoning versions of their smaller cars, Lexus decided to keep the new GS series fresh and unique. It is a stand-alone design. The GS essentially got the LFA treatment. The same team that was involved in developing Lexus’ supercar, the LFA, were responsible for the new GS. And it shows. It looks exceptionally lithe, and only once you get close does it reveal how big it actually is. It has striking lines and an aggressive stance and the aggressive front grille treatment works really well. Although, it has to be said, the new Lexus grille treatment will not be to everyone’s taste. The rear of the car is beautifully sculpted with everything nicely in proportion. The rear lights look fantastic. Coupled with the pearlescent paint job, the car is truly something to behold in the flesh.
Once you get inside, things only get better. The interior is basically black stitched-leather all-round. Even the dash is covered in leather. Then there are some exquisite touches like the analogue watch in the middle of the dash and the brushed aluminium treatments for the F-Sport version. And the centerpiece of the interior, the in-dash screen is the world’s largest built-in screen on offer at 11.3”. It’s a huge screen – even larger than an iPad/Galaxy Tab. It also forms the control unit for everything in the car, from the audio, to the connectivity to the navigation, to the diagnostics of the car. You can essentially check any and every detail you want to. The control mouse/joystick is situated in a comfortable position to operate and, although a bit fiddley, you get to grips with it very easily.
In the centre console, next to the joystick, there is also the mode dial, with which you can change the car’s mode from Eco to Normal to Sport. The different modes changes driving settings subtly and the most interesting change is the digital rev counter. When in Eco or Normal modes, the rev counter doesn’t show revs, but is in an EV mode. It shows three stages, the Power, Eco and Charging phases. When the cars accelerates, the needle gets pushed into the power phase, and then when you cruise, it falls into the Eco phase, and then when freeing or stopping, it falls down into the charging phase. The whole console also shines blue when in one of these modes. But switch the car to Sport mode and the console turns red, the in-dash screen tells you are in Sport mode and the rev counter turns back to revs.
The interior is also kitted out with every comfort you can think of. From 16-way electronically adjustable front seats with 4-way electronic lumbar support, to a Dolby Digital sound system with 12 speakers. The SE version gets a 17 speaker Mark Levinson 5.1 surround system. There’s dual climate control, cruise control and rain sensing wipers. It feels as though every detail has been thought out and that a lot of care has been taken into putting the GS interior together. Incredibly, the boot didn’t suffer in size, due to Lexus managing to make a much smaller, yet high-capacity battery.
The car is also extremely safe, with front, knee-protection and side airbags for both the driver and passenger and rear-passenger side airbags. It also has curtain shield airbags and every form of electronic help with traction you can think of, including ABS, EBD, BAS, VSC and traction control. But that makes for a very safe and boring car right? Luckily not!
The electronic help doesn’t come into play too early and through Lexus’ VDIM (Vehicle Dynamics Integrated Management) the car feels as lithe as it looks. Coupled with AVS (Adaptive Variable Suspension) the car feels extremely nimble through corners. When in Eco mode, the car will automatically go into EV mode when the car is travelling slowly enough. The whole system is very clever, with the EV battery charging whenever the car frees or under braking. It’s a self-sustaining unit that doesn’t need any form of charging. Under hard acceleration, especially in Sport mode, the whole EV is put to use to add extra kick to the conventional petrol engine. The EV helps boost the car’s outputs from 213kW to 252kW that helps speed the car along to a quick 0-100km/h in just over 6 seconds and on to a limited 250km/h top speed. The EV, unfortunately, only works at speeds of up to 40KM/h and under very slow acceleration. I would have liked to see that speed up to around 60km/h as it seemed just to slow, even for morning traffic.
The drive train is extremely smooth. You just plant your right foot and watch the speed pile on at an incredible rate. And it doesn’t slow down much when passing 100km/h. That 3.5l V6 monster under the hood is one powerful engine. Oh and that engine note!! Lexus claims a mere 6.2l/100km combined cycle consumption with only 139g/km emissions, but I got closer to 8l/100km, which still is astonishing, considering the amount of power this large vehicle has.
When driving at 120km/h in Sport mode, the revs sit at a mere 1500rpm! That’s just above idle. No matter how steep the incline, the massive torque means that the car never struggles to maintain its speed, and overtaking is a cinch. This is not the sort of car you’d be thrashing around corners, but if you’d need to, it can actually keep up with you. The only negative would be the braking, which felt hard to be able to work with at speed. At normal speeds though, braking is fine.
Looking at the price, it becomes a little harder to justify buying this vehicle. Lexus has done a wonderful job at bringing a nicely finessed entrant to the executive saloon segment, with the added benefit of the EV, great specs and good consumption. Lexus has also managed to stay as low as possible with pricing, considering the sheer amount of tech pack into the vehicle. If R800 000 is too steep though, there’s the “normal” GS350 that parts with the EV and battery and has a slightly updated version of the same 3.5l V6 engine, going from [email protected] and [email protected] to [email protected] and [email protected] This model retails for R584 900.
All in all, the best thing Lexus could have done was to hand over the development and design of the GS to the LFA team. They did a splendid job and the result is a very smooth and refined vehicle that has all the ingredients to shake up the executive saloon establishment.
Find out more about the Lexus GS450h F-Sport Hybrid at www.lexus.co.za/