Unveiled for the first time in 1991, the design work of the latest GS model (codenamed L10) begun in the summer of 2007, and in August 2011, the Japanese automaker unveiled the fourth generation GS during the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance in California.
We’ve seen and tested the old GS, the 2011 model, and let me tell you it wasn’t a bad car (basically it was the first rear-drive full-hybrid vehicle) – but the new one is completely different – better in almost every aspect. It has the same length as the previous one, but the 2013 model is wider (+20mm ) and is 14 per cent more rigid according to the Japanese automaker (due to an increased number of spot and laser welds).
Engine, hybrid powertrain and transmission
Lexus engineers took the 3.5-liter, port- and direct-injected V-6 engine rated at 286 hp @ 6,000 rpm increased the compression ratio from 10.5:1 to 13.0:1, and adapted it to run on the Atkinson combustion cycle (sounds great in terms of efficiency but the downside is that it has a narrower power band – however not a problem when you have a second power source on-board). On the same time, because this is the hybrid version of the GS – the petrol is mated to a high-output, water-cooled electric motor powered by a high performance 240 cells nickel-metal hydride battery pack.
The result – 338 hp (253 kW).
What is it like? With a top speed of 155mph and 0-62mph in 5.9sec this is fast.
Some say the system is complicated, some say it is not. But the way they succeeded to integrate these thee components – the petrol engine, the electric motor and the CVT transmission is just fantastic. You get into the car; push the brake pedal and then the start button. If the car has enough power in the batteries the petrol will not start. Otherwise, the petrol will start quickly but inside you’ll notice almost nothing – no noise, no vibrations no nothing. The same happens on the highway for example when you push the brake pedal. Basically the car shuts the petrol and the kinetic energy produced is captured and converted into electricity (almost all hybrids do this). But again it’s almost impossible to feel the moment when the car disconnects the petrol or when the petrol kicks in to help you accelerate.
The GS450h has been criticized for having a continuously variable automatic (CVT) transmission. To be honest, it’s complicated. From the perspective of a real buyer that gets the car with the F-Sport package, the ECVT transmission may be disappointing. But those paddles really help and if you move to manual – it may get very interesting as the gearbox changes almost instantly.
Suspension, handling, breaking
The F Sport is packed full of clever tech including adaptive variable suspension, Lexus Dynamic Handling (rear steering), a variable-ratio steering rack and electric power steering.
The result? One of the best vehicles we’ve ever driven in terms of stability and joy to drive. Basically the car invites the driver to just push the pedal because it gives that “safety” and makes to feel that in almost any situation you can steer, brake, accelerate or do anything you want without being in the “risk” area.
Even if you are in normal mode the car feels perfect on the road – but moving the knob to Sport + the steering and the suspension gets extremely sharp. This, combined with rear-wheel-steering, but in the way Lexus does (rear wheels steer two-degrees in the opposite direction to the fronts under 50mph for that nimble feeling and in the same direction at higher speed for stability) makes the car extremely stable at almost any speeds and conditions. It doesn’t matter if you are speeding, and you are into a corner with a lot of bumps – this car will stay glued to the road – no matter how challenging the conditions.
At the same time, what’s equally impressive is how they succeeded to combine sportiness with the elegance of a smooth ride that you expect from a true luxury sedan. So even if the car comes with 19-inch wheels, the Adaptive Variable Suspension (AVS) with electronically modulated damping does a great job and when you are in normal mode, on a bumpy road for example – you will have no problem with your neck; it is a very relaxing car to drive both around town and on the highway, a pre-requisite for most GS 450h buyers.
In terms of braking, because this is a hybrid and of course it will regenerate some of the energy wasted, you may expect that un-natural pedal feel. Lexus engineers managed to solve this issue; the pedal doesn’t have that “on-off” effect when you are going slowly. There is still only one little “issue” here: still there is an abrupt initial tip-in – but only sometimes.
According to the automaker, the GS450h is capable of 41 mpg U.S. (5.7 L/100Km). On the highway we managed to achieve 5,8 L/100Km, with almost all gadgets off.
Turning on the AC, LED headlights, seat ventilation and the Mark Levinson audio system, from Milan to Venice with the Adaptive Cruse control set at a maximum speed of 130 km/h the car indicated an impressive 6,3 L/100km.
Top Safety Pick from IIHS and 5 Stars from EuroNcap. Adaptive Front-lighting System, Driver and front passenger knee airbag, Front and rear side-curtain airbag, Tire pressure monitor system, Vehicle Dynamics Integrated Management (VDIM) system integrates and manages ECB, ABS, BA, EBD,
VSC and Electric Power Steering (EPS), backup camera, pre-collision warning … all standard. The F Sport gets a pre-collision safety system including an all-speed active cruise control feature that will bring the car to a stop.
Therefore … expect the best.
Interior and gadgets
Compared to the old model, the 2013 model is completely different. It looks reach and feels luxurious. The seats are soft and comfortable, then giving the vehicle capable handling the driver seat is great and the lateral support is perfect. The front seats in the F-Sport are bucket seats with 16-way adjustment for the driver and 10-way for the co-driver. Heating and cooling are included as well.
Regarding the navigation and the LCD multimedia screen, the GS comes with one of the largest screens we’ve ever seen. 12.3inch (yes Tesla has a 17-inch screen we know). Lexus smartly made their mouse like remote touch controller standard in the GS, thereby minimizing the number of buttons that might otherwise fill the dash. It works great but you have to get used to it because at the beginning you may thing it is too sensitive – or too heavy when is over a menu. The voice command system is a good listener – but sometimes you have to wait too long until it ends explaining what you have to pronounce.
The GS450h F-Sport comes with the 12-speaker Mark Levinson premium sound system. It sounds great. Connectivity includes USB Memory (with iPod Support), Auxiliary audio 3.5mm Jack and Bluetooth Audio.
The battery pack is now stacked rather than laid flat in the rear. The result – cargo room is up by nearly 3 cubic feet. With a total of 13.2 cubic feet (up from 10.6 on the old model) is almost two cubic feet more than what’s available in the GS Hybrid’s closest rival, the Infiniti M35h.
More interesting is the size of the trunk is the sheer size of the trunk opening which makes loading cargo extremely easy.
Infiniti M35h ( tested here ) Audi A6 Hybrid, BMW 5 Series Active Hybrid, Mercedes E-Class Hybrid
For: Impressive handling, joy of drive, standard equipment in the F-Sport is generous, great fuel economy, fair cargo space for a hybrid.
Against: The list price is very high