When Lexus introduced the GS 450h hybrid sport sedan in 2007, it confused a lot of folks. The automaker proudly brandished its performance credentials such as acceleration from 0 to 60 mph in 5.2 seconds, making it both the quickest Lexus and the quickest hybrid vehicle at the time.
As for fuel economy, the raison d’être for hybrid vehicles, the 450h’s combined mileage rating of only 23 mpg didn’t come close to hitting the high notes associated with a gasoline engine combined with electric motors.
Straight-line performance may have been impressive, but driving enthusiasts weren’t overly enthused with the GS’s road handling characteristics, and hybrid geeks scoffed at the miles-per-gallon numbers.
For 2013, Lexus has taken a different approach for the GS 450h. This time the attention is on fuel economy, as in a 33 percent improvement in fuel mileage compared with the 2011 model. (There was no 2012 model.)
More impressively, performance wasn’t sacrificed for the newfound efficiency. Zero to 60 mph is just a couple ticks slower at 5.6 seconds—still close to V8 powered sport sedans. Complementing the engine power, steering is more responsive and handling is sharper which will appeal to those who want a car that is fun to drive.
But wait, there’s more. The 2013 GS boasts a redesigned stylish interior with more room, new features and new looks that broadcasts a new found bravado.
What hasn’t changed is the price. The new 2013 GS 450h hybrid starts at $59,450-the same price the company charged for the 2011 GS 450h. Check off all of the option packages and the price nudges $70,000.
There are two additional models in the GS lineup. The V6 powered GS 350 has a base price of $47,250 for rear-wheel drive, $49,800 for all-wheel drive. While it appears there is a $12,000-plus price premium for the GS 450h, it has a long list of standard features that are optional on the GS 350. When the 350 is comparably equipped, the price difference is closer to $5,000.
Also offered is the GS 350 F Sport that starts at $52,940 for rear drive and $55,495 for AWD. Although the powertrain is the same as the standard trim level, the F Sport adds a dose of aggressiveness with features like the Lexus Dynamic Handling system with active dampers, four-wheel steering and variable steering ration.
Of note, it’s a given that Europe takes sports sedans seriously and Lexus offers the GS 450h in F Sport trim for Euro markets. The automaker is considering the hybrid F Sport for the U.S, for which we say, what are they waiting for?
Lexus Hybrid Drive, Version Two
The 2013 GS 450h is equipped with a second generation Lexus Hybrid Drive system that combines a gasoline engine and two electric motors. It requires no plug-in charging; the nickel-metal hydride battery pack’s electricity is replenished primarily by capturing energy dissipated during braking and coasting.
Lexus names its hybrid models differently than those with conventional powertrains. It calculates the GS 450h has the comparable power of a 4.5-liter gas engine when the hybrid’s 3.5-liter V6 engine is combined with the electric motor.
The 450h continues as a series-parallel hybrid, or “full hybrid,” meaning it can travel on the electric motor alone, the gasoline engine alone, or a combination of the two determined by onboard sensors that balance power and economy.
Changes to improve fuel economy begin with the normally aspirated 286 horsepower V6 gas engine carried over from the previous model.
Part of the improved consumption is the result of increasing the engine’s compression ratio from 11.8 to 13:1. Additional fuel savings comes from Lexus’s dual-injector system that combines direct fuel injection with port fuel injection for each cylinder, which also achieves improvements in torque and emissions.
Lexus says that changing from the conventional four-stroke Otto cycle to the more fuel efficient Atkinson cycle contributes fuel savings of 12 to 14 percent. While the Atkinson cycle relinquishes some power in exchange for efficiency (in this case, six horsepower), it is made up with the electric motor, so total output remains at 338 horsepower.
That extra power to drive the rear wheels is produced by a water-cooled 200 horsepower 650-volt electric motor generator. A secondary 180 horsepower motor is the primary generator as well as fulfilling the roles of engine starter and engine speed controller.
Also aiding reduced fuel consumption is improved cooling of the hybrid’s power control unit (PCU). In the GS hybrid’s Eco mode, the PCU takes it a step further by limiting the drive motor to a maximum of 500 volts. And lastly, the system’s regenerative braking operation range has been expanded, contributing to further improvements in fuel efficiency.
The 30-kilowat battery pack is carried over from the 2011 model but the battery layout has been redesigned. A new stacked configuration increases trunk space from 9.5 cubic feet to 13.2 cubic feet.
Like many hybrid vehicles, the GS 450h employs a continuously variable transmission, or CVT. It plays the role of an automatic but uses a belt-pulley system instead of a finite set of gears. The intent is continuously adjusting gear ratios through a planetary gearset that more precisely matches engine output with acceleration and fuel economy. Steering wheel paddles allow drivers to “downshift” and “upshift” but these are programmed virtual shift points, not actual fixed gears.
As in other hybrid models, the Lexus Hybrid Drive’s electric motor, generator, power-split planetary gear mechanism and motor-speed reduction gearing are all housed in one lightweight, highly compact transmission housing.
What are the fuel economy results of this second edition hybrid system? An EPA estimated 29 city, 34 highway and 31 combined mpg, an astounding improvement compared to the previous GS hybrid’s rating of 22/25/23 combined mpg.
Of course if you drive it like it’s capable of being driven, you won’t achieve anything like those numbers.
Design Gets An Injection Of Adrenaline
With the 2013 GS-series, Lexus broke away from its reputation of styling blandness and presents a visual intensity of passion and drama. The 2013 Lexus GS introduces the new Lexus family styling, called L-finesse. The design establishes an emotional connection not unlike a BMW or Mercedes-Benz owner experiences.
It starts with an aggressive, angular front with a new “spindle” grille flanked by deep-set headlamps that will most certainly encourage other road users to move over swiftly. Distinctive air inlets on either side of the wide lower grille make the statement that this is a serious sport sedan.
In profile the GS hybrid isn’t quite as expressive and has a more formal look. But burly fender bulges and a sculpted lower skirt again confirm the car is an authentic sport sedan. At the rear, taillights establish a style that carries over to the LS and ES models.
The GS 450h can be distinguished by concealed tailpipes and Lexus’ now signature blue hybrid badging.
A Notably Richer Interior
With an all-new exterior comes a fully redesigned interior. In the Lexus tradition it is finely crafted marked by contrast-stitched leather upholstery and aluminum accents that contribute to a casual-luxury ambience. GS 450h cabins have bamboo accents to reinforce the environmental-sustainability message of the hybrid powertrain.
The top zone, or display zone, includes the instrument cluster and LCD screen – 12.3-inches-wide when equipped with the optional navigation system. Centered below the screen is a new analog clock with LED indicators, carved from a single ingot of aluminum.
Below the screen, the lower zone is placement for the audio and climate controls. A substantial center console houses the selector for “Eco”, “Sport” and ”Sport Plus” modes and a conventional auto shifter with a leather-trimmed shift knob.
Instruments are all analog, presented using digital technology. That means that the rev counter only appears when the car is in Sport mode, otherwise it displays the battery state-of-charge.
The new GS hybrid carries over the same wheelbase and overall length, but is 1.2-inches taller and two-inches wider, gaining head, shoulder and hip room. Up front, the driver and passenger are cosseted in firm, supportive seats that can be heated or cooled. Passengers in the rear will find the seats all-day comfortable for two, not so much with three.
Today, the battle to gain a luxury car buyer’s attention goes beyond luxurious surroundings and comfort; it includes the latest high-tech infotainment gear for connectivity and entertainment. Here, Lexus can stand shoulder-to-shoulder with any competitor.
Standard electronic features include Bluetooth connectivity, text-to-speech text messaging and a surround-sound audio system with a CD changer, satellite radio, an iPod/USB interface and an auxiliary audio jack.
With the optional navigational system, the 12.3-inch screen is split in to two sections, displaying simultaneous viewing. On the driver’s side, a large panel shows a map display, audio or other similar info that needs to be large and easy to read, while a second smaller section covers less important details and some menu options.
The system is also the gateway to the Lexus Enform application suite. Pair a smart phone via Bluetooth or a physical connection, and you can tap into Internet search engines, apps such as Pandora, OpenTable and Yelp or access your Facebook.
The electronic wizardry continues with available features such as blind-spot monitoring, lane-departure prevention system, adaptive cruise control, head-up display, pre-collision warning system and an automated parallel parking system.
Unseen, but significant, body and chassis changes to the 2013 GS 450h brings precision to the driving experience that luxury buyers demand. It’s effortless, but there’s now a sense of involvement that was lacking in previous Lexus offerings.
The new platform is more rigid, and the track-the distance between opposite wheels-is wider by almost two inches. Engineers increased the use of aluminum for the front double wishbones and a revised multilink setup in back uses a new rear subframe and more aggressive geometry. With the stiffer platform and lighter components, shock absorbers use lighter-viscosity oil, so they move easily and respond to small inputs more quickly.
The most notable ride and handling enhancement is the Lexus Adaptive Variable Suspension. It’s an option on the GS 350 but is standard on the hybrid model. The system constantly adapts to driving and road conditions and is driver adjustable.
The ride’s absorbency suggests the sponges in the suspension are from Neiman Marcus. Even in the sportiest Sport Plus driving mode the ride is taut, but still comfortably compliant. Bumps and those pesky expansion joints have a negligible impact.
Weighing some 4,190 pounds, the rear-drive 450h is no lightweight, but its variable-geared electronic steering, the well-sorted chassis and suspension and adaptive suspension contribute toward making the car manageable, nimble and grippy on twisty roads, while also helping it feel very stable and planted at high speed.
There is nothing like a well-balanced rear-drive sedan on a winding road in terms of feedback combined with comfort. I particularly liked the steering, which communicates quite well with the road surface, is responsive and offers just-right levels of steering assist.
The arresting characteristic about the GS hybrid is its vivid performance when both the engine and the electric motor are at maximum output. The machine smoothness of the V6 and the sheer punch of the electric motor are distinct, delivering the sense of pure, naturally aspirated performance.
In all honesty, though, most of the time we had the GS 450h in Eco mode-where the dials go blue, as opposed to red in Sport Plus mode-with most of the 126 miles consisting of in town driving trying our best to conserve fuel and not frustrate other drivers with our moderate speeds. The results were 29.7 mpg, slightly better than the EPA’s estimate of 29. That’s compared to 24.7 mpg during our 89 miles of “let ‘er rip” backcountry road driving.
Our consensus is the GS hybrid’s best trick is being an excellent luxury sport sedan and an excellent hybrid at the same time.
The Hybrid Sport Sedan For You?
When introduced in 2007, the GS 450h was the only luxury hybrid sport sedan available. Today, however, there are other highly respected competitors who are vying for the same buyers, each offering performance and credible fuel economy numbers to go along with their presentation of luxury.
The closest GS hybrid competitor is Infiniti’s M35 Hybrid. Its hybrid system gives consumers a different flavor of hybrid technology. Unlike the Lexus, which uses a CVT, the Infiniti drives the rear wheels with a conventional seven-speed automatic transmission, the intent being more spirited performance. With a sticker price of $54,650 the M Hybrid is $4,800 less than the GS hybrid but its fuel economy of 27 City/32 Highway/29 Combined is bested by the Lexus numbers of 29 /34 /31.
If German engineering is your preference, BMW’s ActiveHybrid 5 should be on your shopping list. Starting at $61,100, the price of entry is higher than the GS 450h plus, fuel economy numbers of 23 /30 /26 are markedly less than both the Lexus and Infiniti. But laudable engineering, driving excitement, strong resale value and, yes, prestige, are part of the BMW package.
Mercedes-Benz’s entry into the luxury hybrid segment is the E400 Hybrid that offers fuel economy numbers of 24 /30 /26. Unlike the others, the E400 is more about the luxury experience that Mercedes is known for rather than performance, even though the starting price of $55,800 is the least expensive entrant.
Perhaps the pinnacle of luxury hybrid sport sedans is Porsche’s Panamera S Hybrid. It brings with it what Porsche is all about, a performance and handling distinction that takes a back seat to no one. Those credentials also brings a high price tag-$96,150-but the fuel economy stats of 22 /30 /25 take the back seat compared to the other offerings.
The 2013 Lexus GS 450h is a standout for a car of its size, performance, luxury and comfort. Yes it’s pricey, but it is evidence of how skillful engineering can make a hi-tech car that simply gets on with the job while delivering relatively good fuel economy and low emissions.
Prices are Manufacturer Suggested Retail Price (MSRP) at time of writing and do not include destination charges, taxes or licensing.