It should have been so easy to trash the 2018 Lexus GS 450h. It hasn’t exactly been aging all that gracefully, soldiering along with minimal changes since the 2011 model year. As if to underscore that point, Lexus of Europe recently announced plans to drop it in favor the similarly sized ES. When a rear-drive, would be 5 Series-beater like the GS gets thrown over in favor of an up-market Toyota Avalon, that’s the definition of a bad sign.
But a funny thing happened during my time with the Lexus GS hybrid: I started to like it.
The powertrain of the GS 450h, which delivers 338 electrically-augmented horsepower to the rear wheels by way of a CVT, had me at first stomp. Lexus claims a 0-60 time of 5.6 seconds, and it felt quicker than that. The power comes on with no delay and no fuss—as if it were being served up by a well-trained English butler.
With this much hustle on tap, I figured the Lexus Hybrid Synergy Drive system for the GS wouldn’t deliver in the fuel economy department; after all, doesn’t this car date from the time when hybrid drivelines gave you either power or fuel economy? With Toyota’s well-worn 3.5-liter V-6 at its heart, I expected the GS to skew towards the former. Nope. I didn’t put a lot of miles on the GS (this is a Quick Take, after all), but in a mix of traffic-choked L.A. commuting (where hybrids excel) and some late-night curvy-road hoonerism (where they don’t), plus some normal suburban and highway driving, the GS returned 30 mpg—just 1 mpg shy of its EPA combined estimate.
Surely, I thought, the GS will fall apart in the handling department. To be clear, not every luxury car needs to handle like a wannabe BMW. But if the cost of cosseting is inept handling, I heartily disapprove. Turns out the GS gave me little to disapprove of.
I headed out to one of my favorite local curvy roads, where I found the GS reacted to driver inputs with reasonable enthusiasm, and while its steering feedback is lacking (isn’t it always?), it tracked straight and true. The suspension kept body roll in check and the tires provided way more grip than I expected. But the real eye-opener was its composure—the GS resolutely refused to be thrown off its line, even when I sawed at the wheel like a six-year-old playing Mario Kart.
Don’t misconstrue my evaluation—a competently-driven Kia Stinger could wipe Mulholland Highway with the GS. But the Lexus didn’t embarrass itself, which is exactly what I was expecting it to do.
As I spent more time with the GS, I found lots of pleasant surprises. When you change from Eco to Sport mode, the hybrid’s blue “power meter” turns into a red tachometer. In these days of video-screen dashboards, this isn’t that big a deal—but the GS doesn’t have an LCD gauge panel. It changes by lighting up a different set of marks on the gauge, while the others go so dark as to disappear. Call me old-fashioned (senior editor Kirill Ougarov calls me worse on a fairly regular basis) but I think that’s pretty frackin’ cool. Ditto the digital temperature displays on the climate control panel, which scroll up and down like the numbers on an old gas pump. Crazy, daddy.
It would be easy to dismiss the interior of the GS as dated—mostly because it is—but the buttery leather and glossy wood trim still hold up and the stereo sounds pretty good. The back seat is reasonably roomy, too. In fact, the GS 450h is a pretty practical car, though the trunk, which is wide but not particularly long (oh, behave!), does look a bit like it’s been short-sheeted.
I do wish the dual-zone climate control had a few more buttons; synching the left and right temps requires going through the menus, which is a pain. That brings me to the dreaded Lexus Remote Touch system. The mouse-like controller is a nifty idea, but many of the things you’ll want to do are buried deep in a menu structure, and the controller requires your eyes to be on the screen rather than on the road where they belong. Years of writing about cars has given me a passing familiarity with many of the more complicated infotainment systems, but even after several go-rounds with it I still don’t feel comfortable using Remote Touch while driving.
And so went my brief test drive of the Lexus GS 450h: By the time I returned to the office to hand in the key, I was surprised to realize I’d grown quite fond of it. (Er, the Lexus, not the key.) Sure, the GS has its problems; what car doesn’t? Eight years on the market with only one half-hearted, spindly grilled facelift means Lexus isn’t giving it the love it deserves, and one can see the business case: Mid-size luxury yachts like the GS aren’t racking up the sales they used to.
The GS also faces some tough competition. Audi’s new-for-2019 A6 is a gem. The Mercedes E-Class goes from strength to strength, thanks to a full lineup that includes coupe, convertible, and hot-rod variants. The Jag XF has an elegance the GS can only faintly imitate. And a recent 1,500-mile road trip in our Four Seasons M550i has convinced this BMW skeptic of the merits of that car. When compared to any of these vehicles and given its advanced age and Euro-wannabe roots, the shortcomings of the GS become painfully obvious.
Still, the GS isn’t totally lost in this crowd. It’s comfortable and quiet, reasonably affordable compared to the Germans, fuel efficient, and built like the proverbial brick outhouse. The latter is nothing to sneeze at, as anyone who has had to foot the bills for long-term life support of a complex European luxury car will attest.
The Lexus GS should have been easy for me to dismiss, but it wasn’t. I might even recommend it to a friend, though I’d probably do it through a third party. I’m glad I drove the GS 450h, and I’d gladly drive it again, though I’d rather wait to get behind the wheel of the new one—that is if there is one.
2018 Lexus GS 450h Specifications
|PRICE||$64,660/67665 (base/as tested)|
|ENGINE||3.5L DOHC 24-valve V-6/286 hp @ 6,000 rpm, 257 lb-ft @ 4,500 rpm|
|MOTOR||Permanent magnet synchronous, 2x/180 hp, 197 hp|
|COMBINED OUTPUT||338 hp|
|BATTERY||Ni-MH/288V, 6.5Ah, 41 kW|
|TRANSMISSION||Power-split-speed continuously variable|
|LAYOUT||4-door, 5-passenger, front-engine, RWD sedan|
|EPA MILEAGE||29/34 mpg (city/hwy)|
|L x W x H||192.1 x 72.4 x 57.3 in|
|0-60 MPH||5.6 sec|
|TOP SPEED||137 mph|