Review: 2010 Lexus GS450h
By Roger Boylan
The hybrid Lexus GS450h is the answer to a question that was probably never asked, unless that question was “What would you get if you cross a muscle car with a Toyota Prius?” Answer: the Lexus GS450h, world’s quickest hybrid car (at least until the Porsche 918 Spyder hits dealers), and one of the most expensive (excluding Lexus’ own LS600h L and any hybrid sports cars from Stuttgart): $57K is the starting sticker, and the version I tested went out the door at an even $60K. Honestly, if I had that kind of dough, would I worry about saving a couple of bucks at the gas pump? Probably not. But that’s only part of the story, because after a week of driving this beauty I can confidently say that if I did have $60K to spend on a car, I might actually spend it on one of these for its all-round incomparable Lexusness.
Let me elaborate, starting with the muscle car angle. The first time I stepped on the accelerator, I expected a strong and steady forward surge, as with the GS’s bigger sibling the LS450, but what I got instead was a whiplash-inducing and almost totally silent rush of power. Before I knew it I was going 85, and the GS was just beginning to get up on its legs, eagerly looking forward to 90 and 100 and beyond. (We didn’t quite make it there, what with those black-and-white cars that lurk behind overpasses on Texas highways during the summer driving season.) For the record, the 0 to 60 trip took about 5 seconds, by my trusty old Swiss chronometer. Lexus claims 5.2. However you slice it, that’s quick. I disengaged the traction control for testing purposes, but it came on again above 30 mph, and didn’t seem to interfere at all with the rapid forward movement. The car stops fast, too, and its regenerative brake system (what will they think of next?) stokes up the battery every time you hit the pedal.
In light of performance like this, the fuel economy looks pretty decent, without being outstanding. I estimated a combined city/highway mileage of 23 mpg (premium fuel only, of course), exactly what Lexus claims, based on an average of 22 in the city and 25 on the highway: pretty good figures for a stealth rocket like this. We won’t talk about how the less-powerful non-hybrid GS350 is rated at 19 city/26 highway, thus topping the more expensive hybrid model (oops, just did), or that the more powerful GS460 is rated at a reasonable 17/24 and has a real V8 (oops, just did again). Let’s just say that people aren’t going to buy the GS450h to save fuel, or to save money, because its hybrid payback period exceeds the likely life of the car.
Unlike a true red-blooded muscle car like the Dodge Charger SRT8, the GS, relatively speaking, is a wolf in sheep’s clothing. It’s a fine-looking sedan, mind you, with a fastback roof and long, low lines that flow like liquid mercury, but it’s a discreet presence, like all its Lexus brethren, so you don’t expect this car’s get-up-and-go to be quite so staggering.
Contributing to that seamless rush of power is a continuously variable transmission (CVT), with Sport, Snow, and Normal driving modes, which you can shift manually, if for some reason you want to pretend you’re driving a Lexus GS with a stick and three pedals. I was quite happy with the single mighty gear, or infinite tiny gears, of the CVT in automatic mode. Adding to the experience was the steering, which delivered a reasonable amount of feedback to make the driver feel involved.
Under the hood, a gasoline 3.5-liter, 24-valve V6 with variable valve timing and 292 horsepower and 267 pound-feet of torque at 4,800 rpm joins forces with a high-output electric motor-generator rated at 197 hp; with the gas and electric motors together, total power comes to 339 hp. As with all hybrids, one cannot add the two powertrains’ output numbers together because of different power and torque peaks. And like other Toyota-clan hybrids, the GS450h can run on one or both of its power sources, but realistically not much above 15 mph in all-electric mode.
Goodies and add-ons on my test car included (deep breath here) self-leveling xenon headlights, a moon roof, leather upholstery, dual-zone automatic climate control, a 10-speaker Mark Levinson CD audio system, Bluetooth, ABS, sat-nav system, Sirius XM radio, adaptive cruise control, traction control, the Pre-Collision accident preparedness system, an antiskid system, curtain side airbags, front side airbags, rear side airbags, front knee airbags, and keyless entry and engine start-up–to name but a few. Many functions are administered from a dashboard touch screen that also displays the view aft, from a backup camera, of obstacles such as kids, dogs, boulders, old people, and other vehicles: an excellent idea, as I’ve opined many times. All cars should have one.
The interior is plush and low-key, Lexus-style, with perforated leather and dark rosewood trim. The heated and cooled front seats are sumptuous and ergonomically designed to take the aches out of highway travel. Dashboard and center console are elegant and well-designed, with a brushed-aluminum shift-plate frame and clear, readable gauges, including a KW meter (that’s for kilowatts) in place of the expected tach. A techno-geeky display at the bottom of the speedometer shows the car’s battery charge levels, with cute little wheels spinning and arrows wiggling back and forth; fortunately, I found it informative, rather than distracting. These gauges are situated beneath a cowling forming part of an undulating expanse of soft-touch plastic that in my test car was a dark gray with a tendency to attract and display every particle of lint and dust within a wide radius.
And the real wood trim somehow managed to look fake, a phenomenon common, I’ve noticed, to many high-end cars, whereas the plastic fauxwood in your average Corolla or Altima often looks like the real thing; go figure. At cruising speed, all these interior parts are, as you’d expect in a Lexus, as silent as the tomb of King Tut. Indeed, there’s no noise at all, apart from a steady thrum on coarse surfaces from the 18-inch Z-rated tires (Dunlops, on mine; run-flats are optional). But wind noise is absent, and the engine, as noted, is nearly inaudible, even under hard acceleration.
One of the few drawbacks to this splendid car is the dinky little trunk, which, because of the placement of the battery pack, sacrifices about half of the non-hybrid GS’s 13 cu. ft. of storage space, offering only 7.5 cu. ft. So you can fit a couple of small suitcases in there, but forget the golf clubs, or throw them in the back seat, where there’s plenty of room–although the roofline may graze your pompadour if you’re much over 6 feet.
Basically, the only question that remains unanswered after a week behind the wheel of this beauty is “What’s not to like?” The price tag, of course. But once you’ve overcome that minor detail, either because you’re so loaded it doesn’t matter or because you decide to go for a used certified model (the wise choice), you’ve got yourself a stone-reliable, luxurious performance machine that could cruise easily all day long at a hundred-plus m.p.h. down that mythical Highway of No Speed Limits. And I’d sure like to be that lucky fella in the driver’s seat.