Are you one of the countless anonymous identities on the Internet threatened by the influx of alternatively propelled vehicles for reasons that go on ad infinitum? If so, you’ll be devastated to learn the all-new 2013 Lexus GS 450h we recently tested did not self-implode.
While V-8s and luxury sedans are a vintage union, there’s been a divorce with the new GS. Further evidence of the auto industry’s pervasive powertrain downsizing trend, the new, 338-horsepower GS 450h has replaced the V-8-powered, 342-hp GS 460 and the 340-hp GS 450h. Lexus’ edict to spruce up the GS lineup’s handling for the 2013 model year has also furnished the GS 450h with startlingly amenable dynamic behavior, a quality that didn’t feel like a priority on the previous gen car. Hybridized, luxurious, and genuinely sporty — how many vehicles today fit that bill?
The GS 450h has been fitted with much of the latest technological wizardry of the Toyota empire, starting with the second-gen version of Lexus Hybrid Drive. The gas portion of the power-split hybrid system is a 3.5-liter V-6 programmed to operate on the Atkinson cycle with an upgraded D-4S direct/port injection system, a first for the company (the preceding GS 450h had D-4S but ran the Otto cycle). The end result: a 13.0:1 compression ratio (up from 11.8:1), 286 hp (less 6 hp), and 254 pound-feet of torque (less 13 lb-ft). Increasing engine efficiency plays a hefty role in improving fuel economy from a humdrum 22/25 mpg city/highway on the ’11 model to a that’s-more-like-it 29/34 mpg city/highway on the 2013 GS 450h (up 33 percent combined mpg).
Refining the electric side helps too. A 200-hp motor handles the glamorous tractive and regenerative braking responsibilities, whereas a secondary 180-hp motor acts as a generator, engine starter, and engine speed controller. Lexus won’t divulge the torque output of each motor, claiming the hybrid-averse individuals of the world just combine engine and motor torque into one erroneous figure, and that’s not how these specs add up. (The same can be said for hp as well, notice the GS 450h’s combined system hp rating is 338 and not 486 hp.) A 1.9-kilowatt-hour nickel-metal-hydride battery stores and doles out electrons, and the pack design has been reshaped enough to permit a relatively roomy 13.2-cubic-foot trunk. The electric system’s cooling performance was also beefed up. And we can’t disregard the continuously variable transmission, accountable for keeping the 2013 GS hybrid moving under electric, gas, or blended electric/gas power.
The Lexus Hybrid Drive system is mechanically complex (the related planetary gear set diagram we saw demanded sharp eyes), but the tradeoff for seamless operation pays dividends. The CVT, uninspiring in the twisties even with paddle shifters, works just fine during sedate driving. The hybrid system appears to be very protective of the NiMH battery, constantly charging it to maintain a high state of charge (per the car’s readout). You can be traveling on the freeway with the gas engine shouldering most of the motive load, with the battery showing more than three-quarters full on the digital display’s energy monitor, and the system will still divert some engine power to top off the battery. In addition to the Eco, Normal, Sport, and Sport+ settings on the Drive Mode knob, separate Snow and EV buttons (selectable in any of the four principal modes) add a greater range of efficacy. If driven leisurely in EV mode, the driver can coast up to 40 mph on the electric motor and battery alone. Throttle action is dulled significantly in Snow to help in icy conditions.
As a luxury car, the GS 450h should deliver flawless acceleration. And it does, zipping from 0-60 mph in 6.0 seconds and gliding through the quarter mile in 14.4 seconds at 101.8 mph with beguiling composure. But to hit these marks, the six-cylinder latches to 6000 rpm where peak horsepower is developed, and the car wails into the distance with an apathetic, monotone note that reminds enthusiasts why CVTs aren’t for them. The numbers don’t fully stack up against the last GS 460 we tested – 5.6 seconds to 60 mph, 14.0 seconds at 102 mph – but it’s a solid baseline for future hybrids.
Despite weighing 118 pounds more than said GS 460, the GS 450h shows its cards in feats of dexterity. With the Drive Mode selector in Sport+, which dials in more shock damping (Lexus calls it Adaptive Variable Suspension), tightens the steering, and sharpens throttle response, the figure eight was lapped in 26.3 seconds at 0.70 average g. The aforementioned GS 460 managed the same course in 27.0 seconds at 0.65 average g. At 4132 pounds with the weight split 51/49 front/rear, the GS 450h is a heavy car, and it shows through the steering and when transitioning side to side. Nevertheless, it’s well-mannered with less roll than anticipated when reacting to driver demands, and even allows brief tail-out strokes (with stability control on!) if provoked. Heavy, yes; cumbersome, not at all.
The rejuvenated, quite un-Lexus-like roadholding has plentiful vehicular enhancements to thank: wider tracks (plus 1.6 and 2.0 inches, respectively, front and rear), a 14-percent stiffer body, all-new double A-arm front and multi-link rear suspension that doesn’t skimp on aluminum, and traction-management electronics with respectable thresholds. My scale tells me the 18-inch wheels and 235/45-18 Dunlop SP Sport Maxx 050 summer tires weigh 52 pounds apiece, and gripping the asphalt never feels like it’s a burden.
Critically for brand loyalists, there’s no degradation in ride quality. The utter road isolation we’ve become familiar with in the Lexus family is gone, but what’s left is an appeasing setup that easily soaks up the road. Road and wind noise are minimal, and the ride isn’t so firm in Sport+ that you couldn’t drive it daily in that mode. The Luxury Package’s masterfully crafted, 18-way power front seats have not one, but two switches for four-way lower lumbar support, and it’s obvious a high level of importance was placed on improving occupant comfort. For the more enthusiastic drivers, you can adjust the side bolsters for greater torso containment. About that backseat: I’m typically the guy who gets the fifth-passenger middle seat, but even I’d hesitate getting into the GS 450’s last-resort position.
Centered in the dash is another piece of technology we all knew was inevitably coming to the automobile: a very big multimedia screen for drivers to play with that will dazzle tech geeks. Required with the optional navigation system, the 12.3-inch rectangular display is recessed within the dashboard and benefits from a well-structured and user-friendly graphic interface with an ingenious split-screen layout. The bad: If your family is patched in via a Bluetooth-enabled phone call and tells you to hurry to the hospital post-haste, you’ll need to come to a complete stop before you’re allowed to put the address into the nav system. There’s also no physical “back” button near the non-self-centering mouse dedicated to accessing the GUI, which would make scrolling through the menus a little easier.
The cars of today (and tomorrow) are expected to be even more uncompromising than their forbears. Understandably, sophisticated and multifaceted vehicles like this Lexus are scrutinized fairly severely, given their numerous declared talents. The GS 450h probably won’t have much of a sales impact when it goes on sale in May as it’s a niche car for now, but it proves that good hybrid-luxury-sporty cars are a reality. It’s also established a beachhead for a future that guarantees more exotic vehicular combinations, whether they’re initially appreciated or not.
|2013 Lexus GS 450h|
|DRIVETRAIN LAYOUT||Front engine, RWD|
|ENGINE TYPE||Atkinson cycle 60-deg V-6, alum block/heads, plus AC electric motors|
|VALVETRAIN||DOHC, 4 valves/cyl|
|DISPLACEMENT||210.9 cu in/3456 cc|
|BATTERY TYPE||Nickel-metal hydride|
|POWER (SAE NET)||286 (gas)/200 (elec)/338 (comb) hp|
|TORQUE (SAE NET)||254 (gas)|
|WEIGHT TO POWER||12.2 lb/hp|
|TRANSMISSION||Cont. variable auto|
|SUSPENSION, FRONT; REAR||Control arms, coil springs, anti-roll bar; multi-link, coil springs, anti-roll bar|
|BRAKES, F;R||13.1-in vented disc; 12.2-in vented disc, ABS|
|WHEELS||8.0 x 18-in, cast aluminum|
|TIRES||235/45R18 94Y Dunlop SP Sport Maxx 050|
|TRACK, F/R||62.0/62.6 in|
|LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT||190.7 x 72.4 x 57.3 in|
|TURNING CIRCLE||34.8 ft|
|CURB WEIGHT||4132 lb|
|WEIGHT DIST., F/R||51/49 %|
|HEADROOM, F/R||38.0/37.8 in|
|SHOULDER ROOM, F/R||57.3/55.7 in|
|CARGO VOLUME||13.2 cu ft|
|TEST DATA </strong|
|ACCELERATION TO MPH|
|PASSING, 45-65 MPH||2.8|
|QUARTER MILE||14.4 sec @ 101.8 mph|
|BRAKING, 60-0 MPH||116 ft|
|LATERAL ACCELERATION||0.89 g (avg)|
|MT FIGURE EIGHT||26.3 sec @ 0.70 g (avg)|
|TOP-GEAR REVS @ 60 MPH||1050 rpm|
|PRICE AS TESTED||$70,000 (est)|
|AIRBAGS||Dual front, f/r side, f/r curtain, front knee|
|BASIC WARRANTY||4 yrs/50,000 miles|
|POWERTRAIN WARRANTY||6 yrs/70,000 miles|
|ROADSIDE ASSISTANCE||4 yrs/Unlimited miles|
|FUEL CAPACITY||17.4 gal|
|EPA CITY/HWY ECON||29/34 mpg|
|ENERGY CONSUMPTION, CITY/HWY||116/99 kW-hrs/100 miles|
|CO2 EMISSIONS||0.62 lb/mile|
|RECOMMENDED FUEL||Unleaded premium </strong|