Fleet News

Lexus GS450h

Lexus

Review

DOES your boss brag about the wind turbine on the top of his house? Does he cycle to work while the chauffeur follows behind in the car? Does your boss moan about the emissions produced by airlines, then uses a private jet to fly to Finland to look at receding glaciers?

If so, then your boss is Tory leader David Cameron, one of the country’s first users of the new Lexus GS450h hybrid. Critics are arguing that it’s token environmentalism for rich people and, to be honest, looking at Cameron, they may well have a point.

The hybrid phenomenon is a contradiction. On the one hand it has had huge publicity, high profile buyers and nearly every manufacturer promising to build one. On the other, the jury is still out on whether they actually deliver in terms of financial viability and environmental impact.

But Toyota/Lexus has to be applauded for putting its money where most manufacturers are still just putting their mouths.

The GS450h uses a 290bhp 3.5-litre V6 petrol engine. Lexus uses the moniker 450 because once the electric motor is added, the combined power output of 338bhp is equivalent to a 4.5-litre V8 petrol unit.

The hybrid system works in three modes. Either the electric motor or the petrol one can power the wheels alone, or they can both run together depending on the requirement of the moment.

When heavy acceleration is called for, the battery kicks in to give the engine help. If the driver then lifts off the throttle the engine dies and the motor takes over. The battery is recharged, as with other hybrids, through regenerative braking.

The 450h is an acronym anorak’s dream. There are seemingly more electronic systems than the Space Shuttle. It uses VGRS, EPS, AVS, VDIM, PCS, EBC, ABS, EBD, VSC, TRC and ACC among others to variously keep you on the road, make driving sportier or more comfortable, or attempt to avoid a collision.

The systems are too complicated and long-winded to go into here but as we didn’t crash, I’ll assume they all do their job.

Lexus expects to sell around 700 GS hybrids a year in the UK and one way or another nearly every single one will be funded by company money.

Prices start at £37,990, rising to £46,740 for the SE-L. While all versions come with typically high levels of kit, there are an awful lot of very fine BMWs, Mercedes-Benz, Audis and Jaguars at a considerably cheaper price.

Despite its low numbers, residual value predictions are not wildly encouraging. CAP expects it to be worth 31-35% after three years/60,000 miles, which is five to seven percentage points shy of top-end diesel BMW 5-series and Audi A6s. Expect higher lease rates as a result.

Despite Toyota’s assertion that it has virtually no failures with the hybrid system in the many hundreds of thousands that have been sold worldwide, it seems the used buyer is still concerned they are going to be saddled with an astronomical bill for repairing the hybrid technology.

What should sell the GS, to company car drivers at least, is the benefit-in-kind argument. CO2 emissions of 186g/km mean a BIK tax level of 21%, as hybrids get an extra 3% off.

This equates to a annual tax bill for the entry-level model of £3,172 for a 40% taxpayer – an equivalently-priced BMW 530d M Sport auto is nearly £1,400 a year more – and the Lexus is better specced too.

Combined fuel consumption is 35.8mpg, but to really get these sorts of levels – and above – of fuel economy it needs to be living in an urban environment, so the electric motor can be used to the full.

Once out on the motorway, which is the usual habitat for these sorts of cars, fuel consumption is much worse, being that of a nearly two-tonne car being pulled along by a 3.5-litre petrol engine.

Behind the wheel LEXUS claims that the GS450h provides ‘levels of refinement and silence that is difficult to match with a conventional V8 engine’. Like most aspects of hybrid technology, this is true. But then comes the caveat.

Obviously with the electric motor running, the car is silent. And cruising along under petrol power there are the usual fantastically high levels of Lexus refinement.

But give it some welly and the addition of that whining electric motor under stress is irritating. It’s like a bassy sewing machine whizzing away in your ear. And CVT gearboxes such as the one in the 450h, with their constantly expanding ratios, have a nauseating, droning quality.

Then there’s the handling. Lexus engineers reckon they built themselves a sports saloon, with its claimed BMW-esque 50/50 weight distribution, multilink suspension and high power, but there’s something very odd about the way the GS450h handles.

Get it on anything but the smoothest roads and it just doesn’t settle. It feels as though the 60kg battery over the rear wheels is throwing the car off course, asking the suspension random questions that it can’t answer.

Throw in lifeless steering and you’ve got a car that just doesn’t feel predictable. So the best thing to do is cruise. Use the car’s prodigious ability in a straight line (it does 0-62mph in a very lively 5.9 seconds) to whoosh along in comfort and silence – when the electric motor isn’t whirring, of course.

Driving verdict

THE GS450h is a mass of contradictions. It’s a very fast car that doesn’t handle especially well. It’s an expensive-to-run car that is very cheap in tax terms. The hybrid unit is both brilliant and irritating. Is it environmental tokenism or a significant step towards the goal of radically cutting vehicle emissions? To be honest, I’m none the wiser. And that’s disappointing.

Model: Lexus GS450h
Max power (bhp/rpm): 338/6,400
Max torque (lb-ft/rpm): 271/4,800
Max speed (mph): 156
0-62mph (sec): 5.9
Fuel economy (mpg): 35.8
CO2 emissions (g/km): 186
On sale: Now Prices (OTR): £37,990–£46,740

  • Click on the next page to see pictures of the GS450h

  • CO2 emissions and fuel consumption data correct at time of writing. The latest figures are available in the Fleet News fuel cost calculator and the company car tax calculator.

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