Drive – Lexus GS450h Review

27 Mar 2015 | Author: | Comments Off on Drive – Lexus GS450h Review

Lexus GS450h

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Electric dream machine


Lexus expects to sell only 10 of its new GS450h mid-size saloons per month, but it is still a significant vehicle.

That’s because it is the world’s first luxury car to go into production employing a petrol-electric hybrid powertrain. Yes, parent Toyota already sells the Prius here with fundamentally the same system, but that’s a small car with a large-car price.

At $121,990, the GS450h is hardly cheap, but it undercuts the Lexus GS430 V8 by $16,210. It also comes even better equipped, adding rear-guide assist for the rear-view camera, MP3/WMA compatibility to the superb Mark Levinson stereo and DVD video and audio to an already long standard equipment list.

In some markets the 450h is more expensive than the V8, but Lexus in Australia has taken a conscious decision to promote hybrid as a significant difference and advantage compared to its rivals. With petrol tipped to pass $1.50 a litre and two more hybrids (the RX400h crossover and LS600h luxury saloon) arriving by April next year, this looks like a clever strategy.

But not half as clever as the Hybrid Synergy Drive (HSD) technology that makes all this possible.

In essence, electricity generated by the petrol engine or converted from kinetic energy created by the braking system is stored in a nickel metal hydride (NiMH) battery and used to power the car along with the petrol engine. Sometimes the car is only petrol-driven, or running solely on electricity. Sometimes it employs both simultaneously.

Where the GS450h breaks new ground is by mating HSD to a longitudinally mounted V6 3.5-litre petrol engine and rear-wheel drive. The adaptation is brilliant in itself, two motor generators and planetary gearsets fitting in the transmission tunnel where a traditional six-speed auto is found in all other GS models.

As a result, the GS450h delivers better fuel economy, emissions and straightline performance than many more expensive rivals with larger petrol engines – including Lexus’ own GS430.

It is the performance aspect that Lexus is promoting, and no wonder. Independent results show the 450h is quicker than the V8 in standing and rolling acceleration tests. Achieving a low 6.0 sec 0-100 km/h time puts it into rarefied company.

Add an official 7.9 L/100 km fuel claim and the GS450h has few rivals. Our testing produced a higher 9.2 L/100 km average, but that is still far ahead of most large-capacity petrol-powered luxury saloons.

Then there’s the environmental impact, which naturally benefits from lower fuel consumption. The GS450h emits 30 grams less of climate changing carbon-dioxide per kilometre than the GS430 V8.

The GS450h’s technology isn’t restricted to the transmission. The all-alloy V6 also combines traditional port injection and direct injection, running on either or both depending on load conditions.

The hybrid combination produces a sometimes eerie experience, something accentuated by the use of a continuously variable transmission that means step-free linear acceleration. At idle, ultra-low speeds and in reverse, only the electric motor drives the car. But the petrol engine is so smooth that it is hard to tell when it kicks in.

Only when revs climb high in the range does induction and exhaust noise become anything more than a background hum. We can’t say at what point in the rev cycle that occurs, as the GS450h substitutes a traditional tachometer for a power meter measured in kilowatts.

In fact, the whole measurement of outputs is a somewhat tricky business. The V6 makes 218 kW, the motor generator 147 kW. But combined they never exceed 254 kW.

Lexus GS450h

The petrol engine makes 368 Nm of torque and that is also the maximum blended figure. But while that kicks in at 4800 rpm, the motor generator’s peak 275 Nm is available from zero revs.

And this is where the GS450h feels most different to traditional petrol-engine luxury cars. Its standing and low-speed acceleration is outstanding, making it brilliant for the cut and thrust of city driving, overtaking and conquering the steepest slopes.

It’s also great for punching out of corners on your favourite winding road. But the traditional Lexus inability to include steering feel and handling authority means the earlier parts of the curve aren’t so enjoyable.

The GS450h employs the same over-arching family of electronic handling aids as the GS430. Known as VDIM (Vehicle Dynamics Integrated Management), they include traction, stability and steering controls that are non-switchable. They are also too intrusive, making flowing progress difficult.

Similarly, the sports setting for the active dampers is too aggressive for all but the smoothest roads.

What the GS450h enjoys most is long-legged cruising, ensconcing its passengers in its high-tech cabin. That is all part of the usual GS experience, as is the tight rear leg and head-room.

It’s only a performance car in a straight line but it is a technical achievement that points to our automotive future. Outstanding value makes it more compelling.


What’s it got?

Sunroof; powered and heated front seats; dual climate-control; radar cruise control (for stop/start traffic); trip computer; six-CD audio; DVD satellite navigation; security alarm; remote central locking; parking sensors; xenon headlights; front and rear fog lights; leather trim; parking sensors; alloy wheels.

What’s missing?

Lexus GS450h
Lexus GS450h
Lexus GS450h
Lexus GS450h
Lexus GS450h
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