This week see Lexus sending us their take on the Sports saloon – the Lexus GS 450h SE-L – for review and road test. Is a hybrid Sports Saloon a joke or a fact?
Another week, another Lexus.
Having decided to let us loose on their cars, Toyota has done so in spades. From the Marmite car that is the Toyota Prius to last week’s hybrid SUV – the Lexus RX 450h – we now get the ‘Executive’ take on the hybrid – the Lexus GS 450h – in for review and road test. And we still have the new Auris hybrid and the LS 600h to come in January. From famine to feast.
As with last week’s RX 450h, this Lexus GS is the range-topping Lexus GS 450h SE-L. Not that the standard spec on the GS is exactly designed for non-sybarites, but the SE-L adds stuff like posh alloys, Mark Levinson Sound, Leather, Hot & Cold Seats and a plethora of other toys. It’s not poorly equipped.
It’s also not a bad place to be. True, the wood does look like it came from the Mercedes school of car wood rather than that of Jaguar or Bentley, but it’s flawless. Just like the fit and finish on everything else on the car. Which is perhaps the defining quality of Lexus.
Whatever jibes are aimed at Lexus – derivative, soulless, boring – the route of much of the criticism is its perfection. The stitching on the seats is perfect, the panel gaps minute and consistent, creaks and groans non-existent and the car just feel hewn from a solid. It’s very reassuring – but just a tiny bit boring.
Still, it’s massively unfair to criticise a car for being too good. If all cars were made this way we’d only need a new car once or twice in a lifetime. Boredom threshold permitting.
But does that tinge of boredom make the idea of a Lexus Executive Sport Saloon almost oxymoronic? Can you have a sports saloon that can feel boring? Doesn’t a Sports Saloon need character to appeal? Doesn’t it need a quirk or two to make you fall in love with it? Probably – even if that is an absolutely daft attitude.
Yet the GS 450h makes a very creditable stab at being a Sports Saloon. And a Sports Saloon that companies will probably be happy to buy for top-end management. It appeals more to the corporate than the individual, but there’s still plenty on offer to keep you awake.
Unlike the hybrid setup in the Prius or in the RX, the hybrid setup in the GS seems designed to help the performance. It seems unlikely that was the primary motivation, but mash your foot in to the carpet and the GS 450h is decidedly lively. It feels like a proper sports saloon as it defies its apparent raison d’être with a convincing impression of a traffic light ‘Q’ car.
That it will also turn in to a very economical urban car as a well as a traffic light surprise is a big plus. In slow moving city traffic you can – for a while at least – run on the batteries. And even when the V6 kicks in it’s a very quite and serene place to be, this GS 450h. Which as a fast and luxurious executive express makes it a very appealing option.
But is all that enough to make the GS 450h a credible Sports Saloon?
The off-the-line performance of the GS 450h is impressive – and addictive. The delivery of torque – thanks to the assistance of the electric motor – makes the burst from stationary feel quicker than the 5.9 seconds to 62mph the official figures say. Which is a small problem, at least if you bought the GS 450h to be economical.
Because just like every other hybrid powertrain, the GS 450h doesn’t take too kindly to being driven enthusiastically – at least not as far as fuel consumption is concerned. Enjoy the ability of the 450h to jump away from stationary quickly and smoothly (and it’s very tempting) and you’ll see fuel economy plummet. We managed to get it down to low 20s at times (and no, we weren’t trying to see how bad it could get).
But if you can curb your enthusiasm to take off like a scalded cat at every opportunity, economy does recover. Overall we managed 28.1 mpg, which although a long way off the claimed 39.8mpg is creditable for a swift, luxurious and decent-sized sports saloon.
In part we think the recovery to almost 30mpg was helped by our lack of enthusiasm for chucking the GS 450h endlessly round the back roads. We started off – as always – eager to play and let the Lexus strut its stuff round our favourite bends. But we soon discovered that although very brisk progress could be made, that was more about the bits in between the twists and turns than the prowess on the twists and turns themselves.
The GS 450h feels a bit lardy in the bends. There’s nothing particularly wrong with the way it handles, it just doesn’t goad and encourage you to push through a bend. In part that’s due to the slightly uncommunicative steering and in part the CVT ‘box – not an ideal transmission for a sport saloon. But a big part seems to be some lardiness.
What the GS did brilliantly though was float through the bends briskly – if not seriously swiftly – and make up the difference with its ability to drag along the straighter stuff. That doesn’t make it a bad sports saloon, just one you end up driving differently than you would something like a 5 Series or an XF.
Which leaves us with a bit of a quandary. The GS 450h is certainly a desirable sports saloon from the build quality perspective. It’s as well made as anything you could consider competition (in fact it’s probably better made) and there’s no lack of toys to entertain. It’s not cheap – £47,875 – but it is on a par with something like the Jaguar XF Diesel S.
If you’re carrying a few passengers on a regular basis the back seats are a bit tight, and you’ll need to curtail the luggage for a week away as the boot isn’t the most commodious on offer.
But the straight-line performance is addictively good and betters most in its class. However, the back road blast – so integral a part of the Sports Saloon experience – is marred by the steering, the gearbox and a perception of weight. And yet there’s still a lot of appeal.
The appeal that a hybrid powertrain can be used for fun instead of self-flagellation. The appeal of a car that won’t break and which can, if you modify your driving style a bit, be capable of being a fuel miser much of the time but offer you the ability to blast if you want it. The appeal of a car that is swift, luxurious and perceived to be eco-friendly – but doesn’t shout about it.
Ultimately, the appeal of the GS 450h is still unresolved for us. Just like its SUV sibling – the RX 450h – we ‘Get’ the appeal. Just like the RX 450h we understood and enjoyed the GS 450h more at the end of the week than at the beginning. And we do see that by changing your driving style it could be possible to get enjoyment from the ‘Drive’.
We just don’t think that we could learn to love the GS 450h over time enough to take it over an XF, 5 Series or E Class.
Lexus GS 450h SE-L Quick Specs
- Engine: 3456cc Petrol– 341bhp (total with electric motor)
- Performance: 0-62mph 5.9 seconds / Top Speed 155mph
- Economy: 39.8 mpg - Official / 28.1 Test
- Emissions: 180g/km
- Price: £47,875
Full Lexus GS 450h SE-L specification, data and price
Lexus GS 450h SE-L Photo Gallery
(29 photos – click any thumbnail for full gallery)