On my lunch break I casually stepped over to Fashion Island in Newport Beach to stretch my legs and found Lexus there offering test drives of some of their latest vehicles including a dark blue GS450H hybrid. I jumped at the chance.
Sitting in the GS450H you notice the plush leather seats and wooden dash, everything that you would expect from a luxury car, but this car has more.
Like other Lexus and Toyota hybrids this car has keyless operation. Kevin, the Lexus rep had the key fob in his pocket. No surprise here, I drive a Prius. Like the Prius, the car is started by pressing firmly on the brake pedal and pushing the Power button. There is no noise when the car starts.
The GS450H has a standard shift leaver. I moved it into drive, pressed gently on the accelerator, and the car glided silently out of the parking lot into light lunch time traffic. Once the car's speed increases to about 16 mph the gas engine turns on.
Approaching the first traffic light I backed off the accelerator and watched the energy flow monitor go blank meaning the car was gliding along pulling no energy from either the electric motor or the gas engine. As the corner approached I hit the brakes and the energy monitor showed the energy flow from wheels to battery indicating that regenerative braking was slowing the car.
The light changed and I swung right into a wide street with no traffic ahead of me. Kevin told me to “floor it” and as the accelerator went down the car took off like a rocket. The 3.5 liter V6 combined with the high torque of the electric motor drives the GS450H from 0 to 60 in 5.2 seconds. Kevin explained to me that the engine and electric motor combine to put out 339 horsepower. Unlike other Toyota and Lexus hybrids this is a rear wheel drive car, a configuration considered essential for high performance as forward acceleration shifts weight to the rear wheels.
The ride in the Lexus is smooth as silk and ultra comfortable. Steering is firm and precise. The suspension automatically adjusts to your driving style so the car corners well with no appreciable body roll. The built in stability control helps to keep you out of trouble if you push things too far by applying the brakes to individual wheels to prevent the skid.
All too soon it was time to head back to Fashion Island. On our way back along Newport Center Drive, Kevin demonstrated the manual shift function. Now, the GS450H has a continuous variable transmission or CVT so it doesn't really downshift but when you place the drive in manual mode you can change gears with the click of a button. The system appears to use higher levels of regen to simulate downshifting. This allows the driver to increase regen when slowing instead of using the brakes which should improve fuel economy.
Returning back to the mall, Kevin had me reverse into the parking space to demonstrate the rear view camera. When I put the car into reverse the view behind is displayed on the info screen. The fish eye view takes a bit of getting used to but will show obstacles behind the car for those like me who are backup challenged.
Price for the Lexus GS450H Hybrid starts at $55,595 and the fully loaded model I test drove, which comes with a voice activated navigation system and an eight speaker sound system with enough volume to make your ears bleed comes in at a little over $60,000.
I can only describe this car as awesome. The only negative is the tepid 25mpg city, 28mpg highway fuel economy but on the plus side the GS450H does meet California's SULEV emissions standard. For comparison, the V8 GS430 gets 18mpg city and 25mpg highway and does 0-60 in 5.7 seconds and is rated ULEV. The GS450H isn't about fuel economy though; it's about performance. For those looking for a luxury sports sedan that kicks ass and still has low emissions, this might just be the car for you.