This black Lexus GS450h looks slick, provides a comfortable ride, and has a very quiet cabin. The "h" at the end of the model name means this Lexus is a hybrid, and I'm quite impressed with its operation. The gasoline engine kicks in almost silently and with very little vibration, and the brakes feel as natural as those on a non-hybrid car.
That's the good news. There is a lot of bad news.
The interior is filled with hard, dull plastics that look too cheap for a car stickering at $60,690. The whine of the electric motor/generator is annoyingly loud at low speeds, which might be acceptable in a Toyota Prius but not in a luxury car. Although Lexus touts this car's performance credentials, there's a noticeable delay in power when you gun it from a stop. The GS450h is not a bad car, but nothing about it -- driving experience, comfort, interior design, and so on -- stands out as particularly special compared to other luxury sedans available for the same money.
Jake Holmes, Associate Web Editor
Lexus has a mixed bag with the GS450h. Some surfaces are spectacular to touch, for example the lovely leather and wood steering wheel, and others are rather boring, like the dashboard covering. There's no denying the Lexus is a supremely comfortable highway cruiser and nothing short of Rolls-Royce can match the quietness of a Lexus cabin at speed. That same sense of isolation carries over to the driving experience, but anyone expecting a BMW-level of driving engagement is probably heading to a BMW dealership anyway.
It has been a long time since I've driven a GS hybrid and I was pleasantly surprised by the strong acceleration the system offers. Highway fuel economy suffers in comparison with a BMW 535i, but the city fuel economy is pretty good. This is one of the last hybrids on the market that attempts to use the electric motor to boost performance more than fuel economy and the market has clearly demonstrated most hybrid buyers want better mpg with their hybrid badges instead of a 5.2-second 0-60 mph run. I was disappointed to see the trunk shrink so much due to the battery pack. The next generation Lexus GS will be out in just a few months and battery technology has come a long way since the GS450h debuted, so hopefully Lexus has found a way to better package the battery pack in the upcoming new GS hybrid.
Lexus has promised a game changing new GS for 2012. I really wonder what the finished product will be. Lexus is trying to establish a performance image these days, with cars like the IS-F and LFA, but I'm not sold. The soft suspensions, over-eager traction and stability control systems, and overall lack of sportiness in the rest of the brand's portfolio don't disappear just because two halo performance cars have been thrown into the mix.
Phil Floraday, Senior Web Editor
I wasn't in the GS450h for more than five minutes before it began screaming for my attention. "OIL MAINTENANCE REQUIRED," read the display in the instrument cluster, accompanied by a red triangular warning light. The car just needed an oil change, but until the fluids were changed it wouldn't let me forget.
A minor gripe, but it left me no more inclined to love the human-machine interface in the GS. In an era where infotainment and computer-controlled systems reign supreme, dashboards have become cluttered with buttons. The solution in the GS is to hide as many as possible. Controls for seat heaters, damper settings, and power modes are tucked beneath the forward edge of the armrest, while buttons pertaining to instrument cluster lighting, mirror controls, and headlamps are found on a panel that pops out of the dashboard next to the driver's left knee. Interesting ideas, I suppose, but other automakers can craft simple, ergonomically pleasant control arrays without resorting to such trickery.
Evan McCausland, Associate Web Editor
As with the Lexus GS350 we recently had in, this Lexus's strength is its smooth-as-silk powertrain. That's not surprising, because both the GS350 and this GS450h feature Toyota's excellent 3.5-liter V-6 under the hood. Having said that, I'm not sure why anyone would opt for this GS450h over the GS350. As you'd expect, the hybrid gets slightly better fuel economy (22/25/23 vs. 18/25/20 for the GS350), but at a price premium of $10,000.
As with the GS350, the interior of this car is quite nice but needs to be updated. The controls are uncluttered and easy to use, but the interfaces look dated. The wood has a very glossy finish that used to be the epitome of luxury but now looks old-fashioned, as other luxury makers have started to feature matte-wood trim on their interiors. On the plus side, it has a power-adjustable steering wheel, which was missing on the last two premium cars I drove - the Porsche Panamera and the BMW Z4.
Amy Skogstrom, Managing Editor