The Lexus GS450h is proof that there is such a thing as too much torque. The hybrid system teams up with the 3.5-liter V-6 to produce V-8 levels of power to the tune of 340 horses. The problem is that the accelerator pedal is so sensitive that the torque is available at the slightest -- and I mean the slightest -- twitch of a toe. That may sound cool, but it's actually extremely annoying in this Lexus and makes the GS hybrid very difficult to drive smoothly at steady speeds. Surging to 60 mph from a standstill in 5.2 seconds (according to Toyota) is pretty impressive for a largish luxury sedan that's EPA rated at 22 mpg in the city and 25 mpg on the highway.
A few weeks ago I answered the phone here at Automobile Magazine and ended up speaking with a local Ann Arbor retailer who has owned a Lexus GS450h for about six months. He wanted to know why he wasn't getting fuel economy that matched the EPA ratings. I didn't really have an answer but suggested that it must be due to his particular driving style and the driving conditions he finds himself in. He was annoyed that his $60,000 rolling environmental statement wasn't allowing him to make much of an environmental statement. As Rusty Blackwell points out, this hybrid powertrain serves up the torque in spades with only the slightest application of the accelerator pedal, so maybe our friend on the phone has a heavier foot than he thinks.
Fuel economy concerns aside, this GS450h definitely delivers the Lexus experience. The car is refined, isolated, and comfortable and is a great highway driver. I didn't have any issues managing the accelerator pedal, but did enjoy the smooth spurts of power that could be called on when desired. While Joe's story suggests otherwise, I would think Lexus has room to tune this powertrain in favor of a slightly better fuel economy label. Like several other Toyota and Lexus vehicles, I think the GS450h's center stack looks a bit dated. It is, however, so simple that it may suit Lexus clientele perfectly.
Like my colleagues, I was amazed by the gobs of forward thrust that results from the slightest prodding of the GS450h's throttle. While all that power makes for quick highway merging, around town it can be a little irritating especially because of the touchy throttle that Rusty mentioned. Like Rusty, I was surprised at how difficult it was to keep a constant speed on the highway. I initially thought that it was the hybrid system turning on and off but then realized that it was the overly sensitive throttle and my apparently unsteady foot causing the speed variations.
I'm glad Jen mentioned the BMW 5-series, because the GS450h's fuel economy numbers (22/25) don't seem that great when you compare them to the 535i. That car (which is now out of production, about to be replaced with a new, more efficient one) manages 17/26-with 300 hp, 300 lb-ft of torque, and no heavy hybrid system to haul around.