The other day I got one over on Ken Livingstone. If I hadn’t been concentrating on driving our new Lexus GS450h long-termer at the time, I would have rubbed my hands together with glee, thrown back my head and roared a Machiavellian ‘har, har, har!’
I had just driven through the London congestion charging zone, impervious to the cameras and the cost because the Lexus is a hybrid and is treated as a green car, and therefore escapes the charge. But this is no milk float. <> It’s a seriously big and fast executive sports saloon showcasing all the technology Lexus can bring to bear on a car.
And, despite some reservations about the environmental effectiveness of the hybrid technology at this level of performance, I’ve come to rather like the GS for the ease of travel it provides, the huge range of toys and some pretty spectacular straight-line performance.
For this is, as Peter Kay said of garlic bread, ‘the future’. Helped by its electric motor, which adds the equivalent of 48bhp, the 3.5-litre V6 petrol engine has an overall output of 338bhp, matching engines a litre, and two cylinders, larger.
As a result, the GS is a car that will blast along and, with the extra electric muscle particularly keen at low speeds to help push, it accelerates off the line with alacrity, helped by all manner of electronic aids trying to keep rubber in touch with the ground.
Unfortunately, it’s really not much help through corners and you soon learn not to bother pushing the GS. The extra 60kg of battery between the back wheels (which seriously hinders boot space to the point that some superminis offer more volume) soon dispels any notion this car should be put in the same handling league as the Germans.
And on many relaxed journeys, I’ve been lucky to get 28mpg out of it, while the battery will power you on its own only for very short distances before it needs recharging and the petrol engine kicks in.
So what is its strength over something like a 272bhp, 35mpg BMW 535d?
For a company car driver, the GS could be a very strong tax proposition. An entry-level £38,000 model with emissions of 186g/km would be in the 24% benefit-in-kind tax band. Then 3% is taken off for the fact it is a hybrid, getting it down to 21%, which means a 40% taxpayer would pay £256 a month – impressive for this level of executive motoring.
By comparison, an equivalently-priced 535d would cost £320 a month, almost exactly the same as our top-of-the-tree SE-L version, which comes in at a hefty £46,818.
And what a lot of kit our car has on it – hot and cold seats, radar cruise control, touch-screen sat- nav, electric rear blind, adaptive suspension, memory seats and rear view camera for a start. It’s got more buttons than Cadbury’s.
So many, in fact, that there are buttons hidden under flaps and behind doors, and every day brings a new adventure in discovery. I feel like Mary in The Secret Techno Garden.
But the plethora of technology doesn’t hide the fact that it’s still doing nowhere near its claimed fuel consumption. Allied to predicted residuals of 33% after three years/ 60,000 miles, that means it’s going to struggle in wholelife-cost terms against even a top-of-the-range £42,000 535d M Sport, which has then been lavished with extras.
Ironically, coming as it does from a company immersed in cold logic, the GS can’t really be looked at in such black and white terms. Its appeal comes down to something less tangible.
As its nominal owner, in 10 years’ time, when everybody else is driving a car with a little electric motor helping them along, I’ll be able to say: “I was there at the start of this.”
It seems to me that with green issues, being on the bandwagon at the moment is far more important than the reasoning for being there. If you drive an SUV doing 28mpg, you’ll be labelled an eco-bandit, while having ‘hybrid’ written on the side of the GS expunges you from all sin.
The GS doesn’t have all the environmental answers but it is pointing in the right direction.
The manufacturer’s view
Hybrid technology is now widely accepted in the fleet market and among professional and government bodies. This has led to the hybrid versions of the GS and RX models now out-selling their petrol equivalents so far this year, with the GS450h accounting for more than half of GS registrations. We will continue to build on this success throughout 2007 and, with the addition of the LS600h being launched in the autumn, this confirms Lexus as the world leader in hybrid technology.
Andy Simpson, national corporate sales and remarketing manager, Lexus GB
Equipment and options
Metallic paint: £550
Price (OTR): £46,818
Price as tested: £47,368
Price OTR: £46,818 (£47,368 as tested)
CO2 emissions (g/km): 186
Tax: £322 per month
Combined mpg: 35.8
Test mpg: 27.6
CAP Monitor RV: £15,250/33%
Contract hire rate: £981
Expenditure to date: Nil