What is it?
Believe it or not, you’re looking at the fourth generation of Lexus’s mid-sized GS; a car whose predecessors have played perpetual underdog to the BMW 5-series and Mercedes E-Class. So, the big question is, can the new car (and its slashy styling) get any closer to the executive pack?
We drove the range-topping GS450h F-Sport hybrid, which combines a 285bhp 3.5-litre V6 engine with assistance from a 39kW electric motor. Although prices haven’t been confirmed it will cost around the £50,000 mark. A basic V6-powered GS 250 will also be available when the car goes on sale in the UK next spring.
Where to start? As always, the Lexus is absolutely packed with tech. The powertrain is mostly familiar, in principle at least, with the petrol/ electric power blended by a CVT gearbox and delivered to the rear wheels. The engine uses an Atkinson cycle – effectively over-compressing the mixture to boost economy. As before, the car can also operate for brief periods, and at low speeds, in pure electric mode.
F-Sport trim also brings the option of a ‘dynamic handling’ package that incorporates variable ratio steering with electric assistance and active rear-wheel steering. This uses an electric servo ‘rack’ to turn the rear wheels in the opposite direction to the front wheels at low speeds, and in the same direction at higher speeds.
Other kit includes active everything – from collision avoidance to a night view system – plus a 12.3-inch wide LCD dashboard display screen that’s claimed to be the biggest ever fitted to a production car.
What’s it like to drive?
It starts off well, with the low-down boost of the electric motor giving strong off-the-line acceleration. We drove cars both with and without the dynamic handling package, and the rear-wheel steering certainly sharpens cornering responses, especially at low speeds. But although the GS450h feels keener than its predecessors, it’s no sports saloon – throttle response is – depending on how kind you’re feeling - either leisurely or hesitant and the CVT gearbox responds to requests for serious acceleration with the usual noise of a (muted) food blender on high speed.
On the plus side, it’s good at wafting with air suspension and excellent noise insulation making it a very relaxing place to spend time.
How does it compare?
Lexus acknowledges that its failure to offer a diesel engine will affect sales in Europe. The company’s relatively modest ambitions are to sell 2500 a year in the UK – a fraction of what BMW, Merc, Audi and Jaguar manage with their equivalent models. The official line is that the GS 450h’s combination of combined 40mpg economy and CO2 emissions of 137g/km allows it to be fairly compared to big-engined diesel rivals, although we’ll need to drive the car properly in the UK to see how close it can get to its official mpg – something hybrids always struggle to do.
Set to be more expensive than rivals like the BMW 535D M-Sport – although with more standard kit – the GS450h looks set to have what could be termed an ‘exclusive appeal’.
Anything else I should know?
The hybrid battery pack has been relocated to live between the boot and the rear seats, increasing luggage space by 60 percent compared to the previous-gen GS450h.