Lexus has been gradually making its move from ‘soft luxury’ to ‘premium sport’ and in this week’s issue, we exploit the trappings of their latest exa-mple — the top-spec 2014 Lexus GS 450h F-Sport... and it is a hybrid!
The term ‘hybrid’ sure sounds fancy, fancy enough to fill chat voids at charity balls. But what is it? In the general sense, it is a vehicle that uses two sour-ces for propulsion — a burden shared commonly between the gasoline engine and an electric motor.
Hybrids are thought to be docile commuters that have mastered the art of stretching the dirham for more kilometres. But these days, even lightning-quick supercars like the Ferrari LaFerrari, Mclaren P1 and Porsche 918 Spyder have ultra-complex hybrid powertrains, and are giving hell to conventional sports cars. The GS 450h doesn’t qualify as an extreme machine in either sense, but is claimed to serve the right compromise between speed and frugality. And with that thought, we took the wheel...
DESIGN & AESTHETICS
The story of the GS — short for Grand Sedan — began in the early 90s. It was built to slot in between Lexus’ compact executive — the IS and their full-size flagship, the LS. Drawing from a desi-gner’s aspirations, the all-new GS is now 4850 mm long, matching its predecessor; its 1840 mm width is about 20 mm greater and 1455 mm height makes it 30 mm taller. The good news is that structural rigidity has increased by 14 per cent, and drag coefficient is a slippery Cd 0.26.
The beloved fluidity of the previous generation has all gone now. Things are more angular, more cutting edge, so to say. Besides the application of the L-Finesse ethos, the metamorphosis of the GS began with the addition of a new spindle grille. The hybrid gets the F-sport treatment that builds on the spindle form, making it more pronounced, and adds a honeycomb-like mesh to it. Larger, angular slits and slants have been added to the lower apron area, allowing the car to gasp for air as the engine heats up at speed. Like the IS F-Sport, the headlamps are underscored by an arrow-shaped motif lit by LED day-time running lamps, except this time, they are not independent, but fused to the headlamp cluster.
The side profile is rather conservative as it takes on the larger, marginally more stylish form of the modern day Toyota — nothing to get you emotionally inv-olved, except for the F-Sport badge and the chrome-framed slingshot window design. The rear end design is recog- nisably Lexus and the fact that it is Japanese is written all over. Bringing some distinction are the LED lamp clusters with aero-stabilising fins and bumper infused exhaust outlets. The F-Sport gives it a lower bumper with the grey metallic diffuser, a subtle spoiler and striking 19-inch 10-spoke alloys finished in gunmetal. The right kind of accessories that would turn you on.
The GS adorning the F-Sport pack makes for a beautiful piece of machinery. It may seem a tad conservative, but it just means that if you are a rockstar, you don’t have to wake up looking like members of Kiss everyday. To keep the distinction, the hybrid gets front, rear and side badging — all in blue. The smart access feature senses your proximity and allows you settle into the cabin without reaching out for the key fob.
Like the exterior, the interiors of the new GS have been thoroughly refurbished. It carries forward the next-generation Lexus interior styling first seen in the CT 200h, one that incorporates a horizontal theme across the dashboard, seamlessly accommodating the air vents and high-quality materials on key touch points. Lavish satin finish trims, contrast stitching and brushed aluminium knobs liven up the F-Sports’ otherwise dark theme, and Lexus have done a good thing by replacing that 80s-inspired digital timepiece with a more contemporary analog clock.
The upper dash gets the 12.3-inch multi-media display deeply embedded into it. It provides an ergonomic interface for entertainment, HVAC and navigation. The screen size allows it to display two types of information simultaneously, such as map/audio, navigation input/incoming call etc. It is not touch sensitive, instead you navigate menus using Lexus’s Remote Touch, which is a mouse-like controller found on the lower centre console. It is inno-vative, but the cursor movement needs practice. The other thing is that there isn’t a convenient ‘Back’ button.
The front seats are generously cozy, owing to the 16-way power adjusta-bility; 4 for lumbar alone. And a big plus is the soft padding on the centre console armrest, kneepads and door arm rests; it enhances comfort over long-distance drives. Three adults can comfortable fit in the rear, as long as the middle passenger if of average size. The usual choices for upholstery shades in the GS are in garnet maroon, saddle tan, ivory, and black. All varieties impose a soft and satisfying feel of luxury.
Adding some extra zing are the F-Sport 3-spoke steering wheel with controls for audio, cruise control etc, and the drilled aluminium sport pedals. Do note that the steering wheel is power adjustable for rake and reach; and I quite liked the driving position.
Nothing feels out of style, shape or feel in the GS. Every element feels researched and cultured for a better fit, comfort. By vanity alone, the GS 450h is a definitive replacement for your German fetishes.
POWERTRAIN & PERFORMANCE
Now, on to the main event... the Lexus Hybrid drive. As we mentioned earlier, a hybrid has two sources of propulsion. The GS gets a 3.5-litre V6 petrol engine, which runs on an Atkinson-cycle engine. They have cranked up the compression ratio to 13:1 and allowed for port and direct injection, helping it produce 286 bhp at 6,000 rpm — not quite as potent as the 306 horse on the GS 350, but remember this engine focuses on efficiency. In the mix is a kW electric motor, for which Toyota refrains from spelling the torque numbers; in totality it makes 338 horses — quite a handful, but the 130 kg weight gain over the GS 350 negates the advantage.
The base GS gets the industry standard 6-speed automatic, but all other models including this hybrid gets greater mechanical advantage via the 8-speed auto. It may not have dual clutch magic but it works in mechanical harmony even when pushed. You also have steering mounted paddle shifters, if you wish to play a little more.
When you start up the car, you don’t get a rumble or cranking sound — ins-tead, you are treated to the silence of a working electric motor. The petrol eng-ine kicks in only after you have crossed a certain speed or if you require more pull. The GS is capable of running on electron power alone, to about 65 km/h, but the range is a bit of a joke.
Travelling from a stop sign to a speedy 100 km/h takes 5.9 seconds. There is a satisfying surge of power as it notches the markings on the speedo’ and this may not be the sort of demeanour you expect from a hybrid, but is sure a habit you can get used to.
The stoppers on the 450h F-Sport are special, with 356 mm discs up front, and 310 mm at the rear. They bring it to a 100 km/h in 116 feet — the added mass of the battery and motor gives away some performance. We loved the feel from the pedal too, and the fact that the more you brake, the more the batteries get charged to eventually give you more range is mystifying!
The GS offers a plush ride with the almost-complete absence of road and wind noise in the cabin. On the outside, it may look a bit sporty, but its double wishbone front and multilink rear setup work up a stately affair on the inside. That said, it doesn’t sacrifice handling characteristics. It has traction befitting its speed and stays flat around corners. This hybrid is a hoot to drive!
Also, there is proper distinction between Eco, Normal and Sport modes. In Eco, the car does get sluggish, dulling throttle response and attempting to keep the transmission locked in higher gear ratios. In ‘Normal’ it trots about smoothly and unfazed, and suits your everyday driving needs. In ‘Sport’ it ups its game both in terms of propulsion, handling and steering feel without being over-worked or exaggerated. By switching to Sport S or S+ modes, the power indicator within the instreument panel turns into a tachometer, giving you a better indication of manual shift points. Gimmicky but neatly done!
On a mixed cycle, this GS will achieve 5.9l/100 km, and on an average it only emits 137g/km of CO2. Both figures advocate its ‘Sustainability’ case well. You can travel across vast expanses in speed, knowing that the 66-litre tank won’t run out of fuel quite as soon. But given the performance on tap, zipping can become second nature and then suddenly it doesn’t do so much better than its GS 350 sibling.
FEATURES & FUNCTIONALITY
Lexus has been the rich man’s beacon of practicality from the east for decades, and more recently, of technological wizardry too. Let me start with the boot. The compact rear suspension layout, a wider opening, increased deck length and reduced deck height combine to make it more practical, and its 566-litre volume is a 31 per cent increase over its predecessor. Except, in this new hybrid GS model, the battery eats up some space and downs that figure to 482-litre. Still a respectable figure!
Perking up your senses is a 835 watt 17-speaker Mark Levinson system. The quality is immense, but a few panels vibrate when you turn the volume knob to the extreme right. Bluetooth connectivity, aux-in and USB ports are all there. GS customers get a more advanced 3-zone climate control, keeping front occupants in separate temperatures from each other, and the rear passengers too. The new S-Flow technology uses sensors to determine occupancy and automatically closes all vents serving any seat — if not occupied — improving efficiency.
Keeping you and your family away from road dangers is an exhaustive list of safety features. Lexus offers night vision, which uses infrared imaging, but in a well-lit city like Dubai I’m not sure how relevant this is. It projects driving data on the windshield so you don’t take your eyes off the road; it has a cruise control smarter than most drivers and is capable of keeping you at premeditated distance from the traffic ahead; it checks driver alertness; scans the road ahead and prepares the brakes, just in case; it keeps you in the lane and keeps an eye on your blind spot. It inflates as many as 10 airbags in case of impact. If you can crash this car, your licence should be revoked!
The 2014 Lexus GS450h is your highly stylised, high-quality and highly reliable Japanese sedan, with more power and added fuel economy... and it just maybe the best amongst the lot. Buying the hybrid gives you the opportunity to become part of a movement, for Mother Earth and the future of mankind. Yes, it wears a hefty price tag and the extent of damage of producing and disposing large batteries after use is questionable, but for the apparent future... hybrids seem like the way to go.
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