2011 Lexus GS 450h Expert Review:Autoblog
The love affair with batteries begins as a child. By the time your fifth Christmas rolls around, the moment you unwrap an electronic gadget your mind is already processing the thought, "Santa better have brought batteries..." Not only does that relationship continue as an adult, but what was once a simple tryst – "Mom, I need batteries for my Coleco Football" – has turned into a full-on romance (with every associated frustration) of our beloved battery-powered gizmos.
Like, for instance, the Lexus GS450h. One of the sleepiest of sleeper sedans, its batteries aren't responsible for keeping it running, only for supplementing the power of its 3.5-liter V6. And while hybrids have generally left us tepid, after a week with the Lexus, we're almost ready to ask automakers for another Christmas gift: Put batteries in everything, and do it just like this.
Photos by Michael Harley / Copyright ©2009 Weblogs, Inc.
The IS and GS are the runners in the Lexus pack, but we see the GS so rarely that we tend to forget it exists. And no wonder. The GS is the second slowest-selling Lexus in the brand's lineup. The first? The SC. A base LS is $20,000 more than a base GS, but the top flight sedan outsells the sport sedan nearly two-to-one. It's a pity because the GS represents a fine combination of performance and Lexus-ness, much more so than the IS because of the GS' larger, more luxurious cabin. Yet that could be the reason it rarely occupies a spot in most would-be buyer's minds: It's a Lexus, but it's the most un-Lexus-like pup in the litter.
In the looks department, it's definitely a dues-paying member of the club. Lexus' design language is so comprehensive that you would need the eyesight of a flatworm not to recognize it. Yet even among the L-Finesse lines, the GS has always stood out because of its rear end. It's abridged backside has always come off as excessively hefty compared to the much sleeker front, particularly on the first-generation model. Thankfully, that unbalance has been addressed over the years, yet there remains something about the liftback-looking C-pillar-into-trunk treatment that works on a Jaguar XF in a way that doesn't quite settle with us on the GS.
Nevertheless, for all of our grousing, the GS is a decent looking car. We were never unhappy to grab the keys and take it absolutely anywhere.
Inside, it's a similar story. A Lexus cabin is a room at the Ritz – you know what you're getting. Everything was there, and it's a quick job to figure out where it all is. The GS' center console has the same number of buttons as its stablemates, but they're round instead of square, and each one enjoys about a half of an inch of separation. That layout makes them easier to find and use, and dispels the Mission Control sensation some of other cars in its class evoke.
A special mention goes to the steering wheel, which is nothing short of fabulous. Perfect size, perfect weight, perfect tactile feel (the wheel, not the steering). At first we were delighted to find it bereft of paddle shifters, imagining good ol' common sense had prevailed and the higher-ups realized that no one was going to be playing Jensen Button in their GS. Later, though, we wondered if they would've added to the experience and allowed us to enjoy the GS a little bit more.
Keep the Lexus key nearby, press the start button and the sounds that greet you are the sames sounds you enjoyed before the starter was depressed. Silence. The GS starts in electric mode and there's nary a noise to be had inside the cabin. There's no thrill in creeping noiselessly down an alley in a Prius or an Insight; that's what those cars are for. It's goofy, we know, but we got a serious kick out of rolling in silence, especially in a car one wouldn't expect to be mute. Bring on the electric Murcielagos already...
Better than that were the sounds it made when we finally did get on it: This is a Lexus that actually sounds like a car, not a library. There's wind noise and tire noise and the sounds of thumps while going over bumps. That's not an indictment – far from it. The GS actually sounds like a performance sedan. And when you finally stand on it, there's more than just a bit of aural activity coming from the engine compartment.
The GS 450h is the world's first performance luxury hybrid, and we loved its performance. That's right, love. Why? Because batteries rock. They make things happen right now, and anytime we dabble in acceleration our preferred phrase to begin the proceedings with is "right now." Acceleration from a stop isn't cheetah fast – cheetahs take time to get up to speed. This is gazelle fast. When you're being chased by something with teeth that's already running 60 mph, you don't have time to meander up to speed. The GS 450h accelerates like it doesn't want to be eaten. Instant torque, party of one, your stoplight is ready. And this is in any gear, at any speed. Hit gas and there's no "and," you just go. We were surprised to find out that it takes 5.2 seconds to get to 60, but over a sustained acceleration the limited battery power can only do so much. Oh, and the 450h does weigh a hippo-riffic 4,132 pounds – about 200 more than the GS 460.
In corners, the GS remains perfectly horizontal through turns due to its Active Power Stabilizer Suspension System – flat as week-old soda or a zombie's EKG. It is not at all concerned with mid-corner bumps, either. Yet when the driving is hard and the road turns, we found the GS does as well, into two different performance sedans: One with the Traction Control on, another car with it off.
The steering is fine. It isn't pinpoint precise, but we never had any questions about wheel placement. However, play the throttle with anything less than virtuoso finesse – something we challenge anyone to do in any Lexus that isn't the LFA – and the transmission will hunt its way through gears both in turns and coming out for reasons we couldn't understand. Over the course of several drives we were never able to get it right. The GS 450h has 340 total horsepower and 267 pound-feet of immediate torque, plenty of goose to keep it lively if it could just choose the right gear. This is where we thought paddle shifters could help, since we would have no problem choosing the proper ratio for the task. Yes, you can use the tunnel shifter manually, but it's set so that upshifts are forward, and this particular driver finds that counterintuitive and ends up hitting the rev limiter at the exit of a turn.
But never mind that. The larger distraction was the traction control, so severely intrusive it could wear an honorific like Master Joykill or King of Pain. The front outside wheel does a lot of work and its limits are reached quickly, and as soon as it starts squealing the TC shows up and hoses everything down. Power is cut, brakes start dancing, lights start flashing, the rear wheels do a little hop step to get things back in line. Effective, yes, like blowing out the candles on your birthday cake with a fire brigade ladder truck. It's homicide for fun, and it keeps the car at about a fifth grade level.
Then we turned the TC off and discovered that the system sells the car and its driver short. It was like unlocking an easter egg. That one little dash light transports you from elementary school to graduate school, maybe even postgraduate. Going hard into bends was an invitation to an understeer party, but you can kick the back out with a bit of throttle (if it manages to remain in the right gear) and get it to come around. We didn't think we'd be doing such things in a Lexus – let alone a hybrid – but yes, we did, and we liked it. When you stand on the gas again and give the transmission something to do, the electric boost gets you going again immediately. If you get carried away with the two-plus tons and the GS detects things going bonkers, the TC snaps on again for last-minute bacon-saving.
Surprisingly, we preferred the way the brakes performed after they'd been worked hard for a while. When fresh, nothing happens during the first bit of brake pedal travel, but when things firm up engagement is about a half-inch away. After the car has run some laps, the huge power remains, but you've got more pedal travel with which to modulate. It's not a setup for trail braking; it's better done with a stab to shed speed once you learn the timing. Of course, that makes it more challenging to use the throttle as best as one can, and that helps to keep the car hunting through the gears.
For comparison we also drove the GS 460. That's the rear-wheel-drive V8 version with 342 hp and 339 lb-ft, and the kilowatt meter from the GS 450h swapped out in favor of a tachometer. Other than that, and the aforementioned 200-pound weight gap, there isn't much difference between the two. Except that the 460 doesn't just sound like a car, it feels like a car. First gear puts the power down quickly enough, but after that it... slowly... builds like any ol' engine. That's the feeling, at least. In reality, it's but 0.2 seconds slower to 60, clocking 5.4 seconds. But it feels like driving a glacier after the 450h.
That acceleration is most noticeable on the highway where the 460 needs to downshift when duty calls, but the 450h just runs away. We didn't test it, but we wouldn't be surprised if the 50-70 mph times showed even more separation.
To make the 460 even less compelling, it packed one regrettable surprise: Its exhaust note. Unless you're beating up on the throttle, the V8 version drones with a limp, soggy burble. It's as if they forgot to tune it.
Something else we didn't expect: The brakes feel different on the 460; easier to modulate out of the box, with less grabbiness. The 460's transmission, the same as in the 450h, still chases down gears through turns. Put it in Sport mode and the car drops a gear and behaves better, but it still needs to downshift and takes longer to get itself on the trot again coming out of turns. The normal setting in the 450h is almost like the Sport in the 460 because of the battery power, which could be why we didn't notice any substantial difference between Normal and Sport in the 450h.
And good luck getting frisky with the back end in the 460. There simply isn't enough power immediately available to yank itself out of turn, a state aided by the transmission's indecisiveness, so you'll only find yourself heading for the oncoming lane – or the cliff – if you want to play Formula D-style. Thankfully, the spirited stuff means you leave behind the leaf-blower-under-water exhaust noise, and the car gets its raucous on, joined by a quiet rush of wind and the tires doing a hard day's work.
The GS 450h, then, is a much more lively prospect, although hobbled by one minor and one serious hurdle: The surge and the price.
Cruising down the highway it feels like there are minute surges in electric power, as if your foot is resting on a transformer. It didn't affect anything – the speedometer remained unmoved – but it took a couple of days to get used to.
And then there's the sticker. The base GS 450h is $56,550. The GS 460 is $53,470, the new Mercedes E550 starts at $56,300 and the new BMW 550i at $60,400. The E has 382 hp and is just as quick to 60, the BMW has 360 ponies but is just two-tenths of a seconds slower, and both are slightly larger inside and out. Highway mileage is a dead heat, but predictably the Lexus beats the others in the city by a not-insignificant six or seven mpg.
It might be asking a lot for Mercedes and BMW buyers to switch to a Lexus whose only monumental advantage is urban fuel sipping. And it might be asking a lot to have Lexus buyers stump up for a car that looks like, but doesn't sound or act like, any other Lexus, and must be driven for thrills to be fully appreciated. That could explain the car's sales numbers: Not enough people can appreciate what they're supposed to get from it.
Still, it's a fine car on paper and on the road, and in spite of all the six-figure vehicular phenoms we've driven, we won't forget pulling away from a light on PCH and thinking, "More!" If we had to have a Lexus and our budget was limited to $200,000, we would forget all the rest. The GS 450h is the one. Well, there is the IS-F, too...
Photos by Michael Harley / Copyright ©2009 Weblogs, Inc.
New Car Test Drive
New technology for smooth luxury car.
The Lexus GS is smooth and responsive, a nice luxury sedan for commuting. It's easy to drive and delivers strong performance. Luxurious appointments, convenience and comfortable seats make for relaxing travel. The Lexus GS does everything you ask, and yet it always feels effortless. The 2010 GS offers a choice of powertrains.
The Lexus GS 350 features a 303-hp, 3.5-liter V6 and six-speed automatic with manual shift gate. All-wheel drive is available. We found the GS 350 thoroughly enjoyable to drive. The V6 is quite responsive, propelling the GS 350 from 0 to 60 mph in an impressive 5.7 seconds and it gets an EPA-estimated 19/26 mpg.
The Lexus GS 450h combines a hybrid 3.5-liter V6 with two electric motors for improved power and fuel economy. The GS 450h hybrid is actually the quickest of the GS sedans, getting from 0 to 60 mph in 5.2 seconds. Fuel economy for the GS 450h is rated 22/25 mpg City/Highway on the government's EPA cycle. For 2010, GS 450h sports a more distinctive look, with a new grille, clear taillight lenses, and 18-inch wheels.
The Lexus GS 460 features a 4.6-liter V8 makes 342 horsepower and comes with an eight-speed automatic. For added performance, the eight-speed transmission includes a Sport mode that enables you to manually make sequential shifts with the console-mounted gear lever. The GS 460 is the fastest of the models, with a top speed of 149 mph and 0-60 in 5.4 seconds.
The GS 350 AWD features all-wheel drive with a fast-acting, clutch-type center differential that sends 70 percent of the power to the rear wheels under normal circumstances to help foster the sportier dynamics of a rear-wheel-drive car. When wheel sensors detect slippery road conditions, as much as 50 percent of engine power is diverted to the front wheels to increase the car's overall traction on the road.
For 2010, the standard sound system has been upgraded with iPod and USB connectivity, streaming audio via Bluetooth, and an integrated XM satellite radio receiver. The navigation option is now a hard disc drive (HDD) system that retains Voice Command casual-language voice recognition and Bluetooth connectivity, but adds Bluetooth phonebook download capability as well. The new navigation system also comes with integrated XM NavTraffic/Weather capability and includes a complimentary 90-day trial subscription.
For added safety, all 2010 Lexus GS models come with active head restraints. The 2010 Lexus GS also leads with two new telematic products. Models without navigation come standard with Safety Connect, which provides Automatic Collision Notification, Stolen Vehicle Location, Emergency Assistance Button (SOS), and Enhanced Roadside Assistance (which adds GPS data to the already included warranty-based Lexus roadside service).
HDD navigation comes with Lexus Enform, which includes all Safety Connect functions plus Destination Assist and eDestination. Destination Assist agents are available via the on-board cellular equipment and can help drivers find a specific address, a business by name, a type of business (e.g., gas station, movie theater, etc.), and even Zagat-rated restaurants; and then send the coordinates to the navigation system for routing. With eDestination, drivers can go online via LexusDrivers.com to save and sort destinations in up to 20 folders, each holding as many as 10 destinations. Both products are available with a complimentary one-year trial subscription.
The 2010 Lexus GS is available in four models. The GS 350 ($45,600) sports a 303-hp 3.5-liter V6. The GS 350 AWD ($47,550) adds all-wheel drive. Both GS 350 models have a six-speed automatic transmission with a manual shiftgate.
The GS 460 ($54,070) has a 342-hp V8 and an eight-speed automatic transmission. The GS 450h ($57,450) features a hybrid powertrain that combines the 3.5-liter V6 with two electric motors. It has a continuously variable automatic transmission with six preset gear ratios for the manual shiftgate.
Standard equipment on the GS 350 includes thick, regency-style leather upholstery and color-coordinated wood trim (golden or gray bird's-eye maple, or red walnut); dual-zone automatic climate control; interior air filter; power tilt/telescoping steering wheel with audio controls; cruise control; heated 10-way power-adjustable front seats; memory for the driver's seat, mirrors and steering wheel; trunk pass-through; heated auto-dimming power exterior mirrors with tilt-down back-up aid; power windows; power locks; SmartAccess keyless access and starting; sunroof; 10-speaker AM/FM/XM stereo with six-disc CD changer; WMA/MP3 playback, auxiliary and iPod/USB input jacks; vehicle information system with a seven-inch touch screen; Bluetooth wireless cell phone link; auto-dimming rearview mirror; universal garage door opener; power trunk closer; automatic HID headlights; theft-deterrent system; and fog lights. The GS 350 comes with P225/50WR17 summer tires on alloy wheels; 18-inch summer ($870) or all-season run-flat tires ($1,190) are optional. The GS 350 AWD comes only with P225/50R17 all-season run-flat tires.
The GS 460 adds heated and ventilated front seats, wood and leather steering wheel and shift knob, adaptive headlights, an adaptive variable suspension with sport and normal modes, a faster (and variable) steering ratio, more sophisticated stability and braking electronics, rain-sensing wipers, headlamp washers, and P245/40ZR18 summer tires. All-season run-flat tires are optional ($320).
The GS450h is equipped similarly to the GS 460, plus it gets front and rear park assist, a rearview camera, and a power rear sunshade. It loses the trunk pass-through, but share's the V8 model's P245/40ZR18 summer tires. All-season run-flat tires are optional ($320).
Options include HDD navigation with Bluetooth, casual voice recognition, Lexus Enform, Safety Connect, rearview camera, XM NavTraffic/NavWeather and XM Sports & Stocks; front and rear park assist ($500); Mark Levinson 330-watt audio system with 7.1 surround sound, DVD Audio playback, rearview camera, HDD navigation; active vehicle stabilizer system for the GS 460 ($3,000) or GS 450h ($3,320); adaptive variable suspension for GS 350 ($620); wood-and-leather steering wheel for GS 350 ($330); pre-collision braking system with radar-type cruise control ($1,500); rain-sensing wipers with adaptive headlights and headlight washers for GS 350 ($525); power rear sunshade ($210); ventilated front seats ($200); and a rear spoiler ($200).
Safety features that come standard include dual front air bags, front and rear side airbags, driver and front passenger knee airbags, curtain-type head-protection air bags both front and rear, active front head restraints, and a tire-pressure monitor. Front and rear park assist and a rearview camera are standard on the GS 450h and optional on the other models. Active safety features that come standard include anti-lock brakes with electronic brake-force distribution and brake assist, traction control, and electronic stability control (ESC). The GS 460 comes with Vehicle Dynamics Integrated Management.
The Lexus GS presents a low, stretched shape, long hood, set-back greenhouse and short rear deck. It expresses simplicity, yet the car is thoroughly sculpted throughout its length. The design is perhaps a little predictable, yet the combination of this sleek shape and careful work to reduce aerodynamic turbulence beneath the car has produced a remarkably low 0.27 coefficient of aerodynamic drag, and this promotes a quieter interior and fuel efficiency.
The Hybrid version has been given a unique look for 2010. Most noticeable is its horizontally themed grille, whose body-color slats seem to fade from thicker at the top to thinner at the bottom; as if to contrast in every possible way with the simple vertical texture and glossy-black color of the standard air intake on the GS 350 and GS 460. Below the bumper, the GS 450h trades the standard subtly wrapped central air opening for three seemingly unrelated holes. Around back, Lexus has imposed clear lenses over the Hybrid's red tail lights, so it looks as if it's wearing spectacles at the wrong end. Even the Hybrid's new wheels present an odd mix of thick and thin spokes. In every way, we find the conventional models visually more simple and aesthetically more successful.
All models have high-intensity-discharge headlights with an available system that automatically compensates headlight aim for different passenger loads. The power-adjustable mirrors have defogging heat elements and tilt down when the car is in reverse. The available variable intermittent windshield wipers actuate automatically when raindrops are sensed. Fast-acting LEDs are used in the rear brake lights. Big 18-inch wheels are available.
The Lexus GS is very well appointed. Open the door and you're greeted by stainless-steel scuff plates, the scent of leather and cut-pile carpeting, and the gleam of highly burnished hardwood trim.
The tilt/telescoping steering wheel is handsomely trimmed in wood and leather (in all but the base model, and it's optional there). In the traditional Lexus style, the instrumentation is set deep within the dash to promote easy focus by far-sighted drivers and also features electroluminescent instrument needles for heightened visibility. Across the dash panel, each gauge, button, knob, lever and wheel is clearly identified by easily read words or symbols, so you can intuitively grasp the meaning. There's soft-touch electronic actuation for virtually every control, from the window switches to the trunk release.
Dominating the center stack is a seven-inch electronic screen with touch-screen controls. Two banks of menu buttons flank the screen. The driver uses this screen to operate the audio system, climate control, and optional navigation system with backup camera, though many functions are duplicated with nearby buttons on the dashboard. Navigating through the submenus doesn't take too much brainpower, but like most multi-tasking electronic systems, a day spent with the owner's manual on a quiet side street is the best way to figure out the way to work everything properly.
Lexus has made a quality audio system a key component of its brand identity, so it's no surprise that the GS sedan has a premium system. The standard 134-watt system features an AM/FM/XM tuner and an in-dash, six-disc CD changer that accepts both MP3 and WMA formats. It plays through a 10-speaker sound system. An auxiliary audio input jack is provided, as well as an iPod/USB connection. Audiophiles can opt for the Mark Levinson Premium Surround Sound system, developed especially for the GS interior. Utilizing 5.1 surround sound playback via a 7.1-channel speaker topology, its 330-watt amplifier sends the vibes through 14 speakers.
For 2010, the Levinson sound system is integrated with the new HDD navigation, which includes Lexus Enform, a new telematic product that combines all the functions of Lexus Safety Connect (Automatic Collision Notification, Stolen Vehicle Location, SOS Emergency Assistance Button, and Enhanced Roadside Assistance) plus Destination Assist and eDestination. Destination Assist agents are available via the on-board cellular equipment and can help drivers find a specific address, a business by name, a type of business (e.g., gas station, movie theater, etc.), and even Zagat-rated restaurants; and then send the coordinates to the navigation system for routing. With eDestination, drivers can go online via LexusDrivers.com to save and sort destinations in up to 20 folders, each holding as many as 10 destinations. Then drivers can send the locations, up to 200 at a time, to their vehicle, where they will be available for download into the navigation system. Online, drivers can create personalized location names (e.g., Favorite sushi, 1 PM Appt, Kids' doc, etc.) and even list notes about their saved locations. XM traffic, weather, financial and sports services are included, as is Bluetooth phonebook download.
Intuitive Park Assist considers steering angle input as well as the usual distance-warning sensors to offer contact avoidance advice through graphics in the dashboard-mounted information screen. This advice also is displayed in the lower center of the speedometer, an area that is also used to show information from the trip computer, radar cruise status, distance monitoring and various warning messages. This system is the last word in ding prevention in the supermarket parking lot.
We found the GS a very comfortable car. The combination of the 10-way power-adjustable driver's seat and a thick-rimmed steering wheel with an electrical tilt/telescopic control helps you find a comfortable driving position. The driver's seat itself is sculpted with an extensive set of bolsters that support you, though they are not so restrictive that they encumber easy ingress and egress. Despite the multiple controls, one of our test drivers didn't like the seating position because the front of the seat bottom doesn't tilt upward. And tall drivers might not like the GS because head room is limited.
The same goes for the back seat. Both head and leg room will be tight for anyone over 6 feet, 2 inches, and the front seats have little toe room if the front seat is at its lowest point. The seat is comfortable, however, and a center armrest folds down to reveal the pass-through. That pass-through is handy, but not as handy as a split-folding rear seat, which the GS doesn't offer.
The trunk is relatively small, measuring 12.7 cubic feet in volume. And the trunk opening is small, caused by the short overhang. The GS 450h is worse, with only 10.6 cubic feet of capacity.
Lexus is known for a smooth ride and luxury appointments, and the GS has accomplished road manners. Its fundamental sense of balance makes driving enjoyable. Even during a morning commute, you can seize a few moments of driving enjoyment.
The GS can rip down the road. Wide tires furnish plenty of cornering grip: P245/40ZR18 tires are standard equipment for both the GS 450h and GS 460, while the GS 350 carries P225/50WR17 tires. We found the 17-inch tires on the GS 350 rode nicely. The available 18-inch tires can make the ride a bit harsh, however. In our test of a GS 460 on Chicago streets, the suspension reacted harshly to sharp potholes, sending the types of sounds into the cabin that make you feel like you're in danger of popping a tire or doing suspension damage.
The suspension geometry provides good handling, while gas-charged dampers and coil springs promote a resilient, long-legged ride. The GS 450h and GS 460 both have two-position, electronically adjustable damping control to help the car adapt to driving conditions, as well as available Power Active Vehicle Stabilizer, which minimizes body roll during fast driving and further enhances the sensation of effortless speed.
The high-tech electric power steering is exceptionally sophisticated on all models, but on the GS 460 and GS 450h Variable Gear Ratio Steering quickens the mechanical ratio (while at the same time reducing effort) at very low speeds, then provides a slower ratio (for more precision) and higher effort at higher speeds. The system matches wheel angle to the speed at which the driver is turning the steering wheel in order to offset any delay in the car's response to steering input. This works especially well on winding roads. A correction feature offsets the effects of crosswinds, making small steering adjustments automatically.
The steering makes it possible to manage a powerful, rear-wheel-drive car in all kinds of driving and (more important) all kinds of weather. But we felt that both the electric power steering and electric brake system occasionally deliver an unnatural feel through the controls. During ordinary driving, we adapted quickly, but the combination of these electric systems with VDIM proved faintly distracting during enthusiastic driving. In fact, the hybrid GS 450h actually annoyed us because the transition from conventional friction braking to hybrid-style regenerative electrical braking frequently proved clumsy and unpredictable. For this reason, we prefer the GS 350 and GS 460.
Overall, the heavy, 4,134-pound GS 450h is the quickest of the GS sedans, getting to 60 mph in 5.2 seconds, though it's capable of just 131 mph. The 3,945-pound GS 460 launches to 60 mph in 5.4 seconds on the way to a top speed of 149 mph, and the 3,795-pound GS 350 sprints to 60 mph in an impressive 5.7 seconds on its way to a top speed of 143 mph. The figures for the GS 350 AWD are 5.8 seconds and 130 mph.
Fuel economy for the GS 450h is rated 22/25 mpg City/Highway on the government's EPA cycle. The GS 460 is rated 17/24 mpg, the GS 350 gets 19/26 mpg and the GS 350 AWD is rated at 18/25 mpg.
Overall, we think the GS 350 is more enjoyable to drive than the other models. The V6 is responsive and just plain fast. The gear changes of the six-speed automatic transmission are virtually undetectable. The GS is not the sort of car that encourages manual shifting, but it is a performance car, and the feeling of acceleration is a large part of its appeal.
More conventional steering and braking help the GS 350 feel more natural than the more-expensive models with all their drive-by-wire technology. The 17-inch wheels provide the best ride quality and the 18-inch tires are available to provide more cornering grip for drivers who feel they need it. In particular, the all-wheel-drive model feels surprisingly alert and maneuverable thanks to its rear-biased power delivery.
The GS 350 gives up some dynamic control at the outer limits of its performance envelope compared to the GS 450h and GS 460, but it's more enjoyable to drive at socially acceptable speeds. The all-wheel-drive version of the GS 350 copes with a wide range of weather conditions and doesn't seem to offer many compromises in terms of speed, handling or even fuel economy.
The GS 460 is a paragon of responsiveness, with its V8 engine providing ready power from a stop that makes it seem even faster than it is. While the GS 460 is slower in a sprint than the GS 450h, the V8 seems to provide more willing power at midrange and highway speeds. We did find, however, that the eight-speed requires a deep stab of the throttle to coax the downshifts needed for maximum passing punch.
The GS 450h uses the same 3.5-liter V6 as the GS 350, but it is teamed with two electric motors to produce an equivalent 340 horsepower. The GS450h's powertrain is a technological marvel. The gas engine doesn't start until it's needed, and it shuts off at stoplights, so the car can be on and the engine off. The electric motors are capable of powering the car at low speeds. The powertrain is more impressive, though, when you stomp the throttle and find it's faster than Lexus's impressive V8. The smooth CVT will leave many drivers missing the rewarding climb through the gears of a conventional automatic, but using the manual shift mode with its six preset gear ratios can remedy that. Still, we're not sold on the hybrid.
Vehicle Dynamics Integrated Management is an electronic stability control system that processes steering angle, yaw rate, deceleration, brake pressure and wheel speed, and then uses the car's entire range of electronic controls for the engine, brake, and steering controls to help the driver control the car in an emergency handling situation. In contrast to conventional ESC systems, which react to a car's loss of control, VDIM has been developed to anticipate a dangerous situation, and then by making certain corrections, allow the driver to continue without even realizing the system is at work. The available Lexus pre-collision system uses a radar sensor to detect the onset of a collision and will automatically optimize chassis calibration for quick steering response, retract the front seatbelts, initialize brake assist and even decelerate the car at 0.3 g if the driver fails to take avoiding action.
The Lexus GS is rewarding to drive with the calm, intuitive personality we associate with the Lexus brand. All versions of the GS have capability to get you to your destination as quickly as you dare. We like the GS 350 for its balanced handling, its performance. The GS 450h offers a combination of power and fuel economy unique among midsize luxury/sport sedans. The GS 460 delivers strong performance from its V8. Passenger room in the GS models is good but not generous and cargo room is limited.
New Car Test Drive correspondent Kirk Bell contributed to this report from Chicago.
Lexus GS 350 ($45,600); GS 350 AWD ($47,550); GS 460 ($54,070); GS 450h ($57,450).
Options As Tested
Mark Levinson 330-watt audio/navigation system with surround sound, rearview camera, and HDD navigation ($1,945); rear spoiler ($200); intuitive front and rear park assist ($500); all-season run-flat tires ($320); rear sunshade ($210).
Lexus GS 460 ($54,070).
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