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Lexus updates its 'performance' hybrid

Rafay Ansar



Introduction

Given the current hype about alternative fuels for cars and the imminent arrival of a crop of new hybrid models, it's worth remembering that Lexus has sold a hybrid version of its GS sports saloon since 2006, though it uses its technology more for performance than for outright economy.






What is it?





Lexus claims that the GS450h was the world's first rear-wheel drive full hybrid sports saloon. Two years after its introduction we can't think of another car that falls into that category. There's little to tell the GS450h apart from its conventional siblings on the outside, with subtle 'Hybrid' badging and a blue hue to the Lexus logo, where as the interior is as luxurious as ever. Don't look in the boot though, as space for luggage has been substantially reduced to accommodate the electronic gubbins.



Golf bag swallowing ability aside, the GS450h does, for all intent and purposes, offer luxury car buyers a hassle-free hybrid option. However, look a little closer at the claimed figures and this GS doesn't appear quite as green as the hybrid tag suggests. Certainly 35.8mpg and 185g/km are commendable when compared to V8 petrol alternatives, but take a long hard look at the figures achieved by the best of the current turbodiesel models from BMW, Mercedes and Audi before you start boasting that you're saving a fortune on fuel.



How does it drive?

Where the GS450h does score highly is on performance. Using all of the engine and the electric motor's output, up to 314bhp can be channelled to the rear wheels, though it's the GS's standing start acceleration that has to be experienced to be believed. Lexus claims a 5.9-second sprint to 62mph, which is more sports car than luxury saloon. That's made possible by the inherent characteristic of the electric motor to produce its full torque at zero rpm. The engine produces up to 271lb.ft, while the motor adds 199lb.ft to the equation from a standstill.



Acceleration is seamless too thanks to Lexus's advanced E-CVT (continuously variable transmission) and engine revs are kept to a minimum despite serious forward thrust. Performance is undoubtedly this hybrid's trump card, as it's no hot hatch in the corners. Plenty of grip is on offer from the large tyres, but there's little interaction between car and driver, despite the fitment of an adaptive damper system and variable steering ratio, though the car does corner with very little body roll. Even with all the fancy electronics the GS450h doesn't ride as well as the conventional GS models, so think of it as a more sporting version rather than an out-and-out luxury car.



Planet hugger or planet mugger?

London still allows drivers of hybrids free entry to the city, whether that is a fuel-sipper or the likes of the Lexus GS and LS 'h' models. It seems a little unfair given that there are many many cars that have less of an impact on the environment than these. Put simply, the Lexus GS450h couldn't be called kind to the environment, well, not in isolation in any case. However, when you consider that a sports saloon buyer may demand a certain level of performance and that the GS delivers that with relatively less emissions and fuel consumption than regular petrol alternatives it does make a case for itself, albeit a weak one in comparison to the latest generation of turbodiesel engines.



Verdict


Forget about the hybrid aspect of the Lexus GS450h and it begins to make sense as a high-performance sports saloon in its own right. Buyers should be aware that its technology is used to boost the abilities of the V6 engine to those of a V8 rather than reduce its emissions and fuel consumption to that of a smaller engine. However, it remains a highly desirable car; that and the little 'Hybrid' badge on the flanks may be all that matters to some.
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