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Review

First Drive: Lexus GS450h car review

13/06/12

LEXUS has been fighting an uphill struggle for the last few years as the effects of the global recession have taken their toll, but a company with Lexus’ depth of resources will always bounce back.

Cue the revitalised GS line, designed to reenergise the company’s E-segment game with new styling, sportier specification choices and an advanced flagship hybrid model that showcases the engineering excellence Lexus prides itself on.

More than anything, this new model is targeting one thing: desirability. It makes a superb start with by far the best looking front end of any of its competitors, plus excellent proportions and a nicely poised stance. It’s different – in a very good kind of way – in the face of the obvious German competition; sharper and more toned. On the move it looks superb, especially in red.

The range has been modified to reflect the GS’s new-found style, with the addition of F Sport trim – a sports-biased specification level priced on a par with the more traditional Lexus ‘Premier’ top trim choice – although the latter is only yours with the 450h drivetrain. Buyers of the hybrid can have a straight choice between more aggressive styling details or extra luxury kit.

Those sticking with the more basic V6-powered GS250 can choose SE, Luxury or F Sport, with £3,000 and £4,000 hikes in the price between them respectively. SE covers most of the key bases with 17-inch alloys, leather seats with electric adjustment and both heating AND ventilation at the front, a rear parking camera and electric steering wheel adjustment.

Luxury has in the past been Lexus’ staple mid-range trim level and it adds notable extras to the SE. There’s a blind spot warning system, 18-inch alloys, front and rear parking sensors (maintaining the camera), an auto-dimming rear-view mirror and a satellite navigation system with a ‘Remote Touch’ controller. The controller is physically a little wobbly by Lexus build quality standards but is absolute genius in operation.

The main differences between F Sport and Premier spec are larger 19-inch wheels on the former compared to 18s on the latter. F Sport also gives you Lexus’ Dynamic Handling System, a package that includes rear wheel steering where the trailing wheels can turn by up to two degrees to aid cornering. Premier spec exchanges the wheels and handling package for 18-way electrically adjustable front seats, plus other goodies.

There are essentially two engines available. After speaking to around 1,000 existing GS owners Lexus decided to field an entry-level 2.5-litre V6; a modern evolution of an engine that past owners have adored for its smooth, quiet drive and delicious growl under load.

Above the GS250 is the GS450h, which uses a second-generation version of the now-familiar Full Hybrid Drive system. It incorporates a V6 petrol engine as well, but a larger 3.5-litre one. It’s the better of the two to drive, with more immediate torque thanks to the electric motor and a more neutral handling balance thanks to the batteries at the rear.

F Sport GS450h cars aren’t as playful at the back wheels as some of the alternatives for similar money, but the engineers’ work in stiffening and lightening parts of the chassis has paid dividends – and don’t forget the trick rear-wheel steering. It boasts a solid and confident drive but it’s equally happy dealing with a tricky, undulating road at speed in a much more impressive way than the old one did.

The CVT transmission effectively removes any possibility of reaching true handling heights, but the car retains an overall air of Lexusness that needs to be there to maintain the brand image. Another key aspect of what defines a Lexus is quietness, and on smooth European tarmac it’s at least as quiet as anything else you care to mention for less than £60,000.

Gear shifts are remarkably smooth as well. If passengers close their eyes and cover their ears they can often be completely unable to tell when shifts are happening.

It’s not too shabby on the autobahn either, flying up towards its limited 155mph top speed with gusto. The 250 struggles a bit more with the GS’s weight, but both stay well planted at typical speeds. It’s only at extremely unsociable velocities that aerodynamic lift begins to play a part and lead the GS to wander a little in its lane.

Everything you come to expect from Lexus is there. A stunning Mark Levinson stereo, high-quality materials, a well thought-out cabin and peerless build standards are what make the brand so massively popular with the people who own them. But this new GS fills in some of the old car’s deficiencies in driving talent, and for that it’s right on target.

FACTS AT A GLANCE Model: Lexus GS450h F Sport, £50,995 on the road.

Engine: V6 petrol and electric motor parallel hybrid system producing 341bhp (total) and 260/203lb.ft (engine/motor).

Transmission: Geared and constantly variable transmission driving the rear wheels.

Performance: Top speed 155mph, 0-62mph in 5.9 seconds.

Fuel economy: 46.3mpg.

CO2 rating: 141g/km.

  • Engineshybrid
  • Power4 (higher than average performance)
  • 0-60 mph
  • Economy3 (average fuel economy)
  • CO2g/km
  • Insurance groups3 (average costs)
  • Airbags
  • Seats5

Motors.co.uk value verdict:    stars

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