There's an unsettling initial period where the GS450h doesn't feel as planted as its European rivals.
Neil Dowling road tests and reviews the new Lexus GS450H F-Sport.
That's a clear, and timely, pointer to the disparate nature of the Lexus GS450h - the "h'' is for hybrid - that holds pieces of the past and melds with the future. The GS450h platform, for example, is virtually unchanged from the outgoing model yet the drivetrain reeks of a fresh look at creating a civilised handshake between electric and combustion power sources.
Now - if you want it - you have a spacious, luxurious and even sensibly-priced saloon that uncompromisingly offers big-bore performance with small car economy. The only question is that, stacked up against its more conservatively engineered rivals, is a hybrid worth the bother?
Out the gates at $99,900, the GS450h is already a winner. Only Euro diesels combine price, economy and features but even then Lexus keeps upping the equipment level. The test car is the F Sport model, adding even more kit and wearing new body adornments, that is $111,900.
An "enhancement pack'' with LED headlights, 17-speaker audio and the monster 308mm monitor lifts your invoice to $116,900. But across the board, equipment levels are exhaustive and will outpace rivals costing up to $50,000 more.
Self-healing paint (which I have subsequently used on my body), Volvo-inspired blind-spot warning, sunroof, five-mode selectable driving options, digital radio, HDD sat-nav, heated and vented front seats, head-up display and adaptive suspension are just some of the items on the base-model GS450h standard list.
It uses the same platform but this second-generation GS450h gets the corporate grille - shaped like a spindle - and ensures buyers find distinct ion in its 330 colour and trim combinations.
The new car's size is almost identical to its predecessor but boasts a bigger boot thanks to a new battery layout, upping space by 45 per cent on the old model to 465 litres. The F Sport gets mesh side grilles, unique bumper and lip spoiler, a rear spoiler and dark-finish 19-inch alloys.
The seats have diamond-shaped perforations and the cabin wears a sports theme accenting alloy and leather. Spacious seating is for five, though the saloon genre bette r suits four. Despite the apparent complexity of the dashboard and the wealth of functions, it's intuitive.
Lots here. The platform may be regenerated but the suspension is new, especially the rear that is now a multi-link system to better suit the rear-wheel steering and the bulky transaxle that comprises two electric motors - one for motive power and the other as a generator.
The 3.5-litre V6 petrol engine, which has an electric water pump and runs on standard unleaded, now is a more efficient Atkinson cycle design - as is Prius - yet together with the motor, is 20 per cent more fuel efficient than before and is faster with a 0-100km/h time of only 5.9 seconds. But Lexus claims an average of 6.3 L/100km.
The suspension is electronically adjustable through a drive-mode select function that includes five features from all-electric to sport and, including firming the suspension and steering feel and sharpening engine response, the sport-plus mode.
The transmission is a CVT with paddle shifters for manual gear selection. The new regenerative system that recharges the battery when the car is coasting and braking is responsible for lowering fuel use over the old model by 20 per cent.
Expect the best here and Lexus delivers with a five-star crash rating, 10 airbags, standard equipment Blind Spot Monitor - which uses two radar sensors to detect other vehicles in either adjacent lane - and tyre pressure monitoring.
There's also an eight-sensor parking sonar syst em, a reverse camera with rear guide assist, bi-xenon headlamps with cornering lights, the usual electronic brake suspects such as stability and traction control. The F Sport gets a pre-collision safety system including an all-speed active cruise control feature that will bring the car to a stop.
There's an unsettling initial period where the GS450h doesn't feel as planted as its European rivals. The steering is too light, too distant from the road to engage the driver. But familiarity exposes two things - you become accustomed to it and then you find the Sport+ button.
By default the car selects a lethargic, yet fuel efficient engine-transmission program. Dial in Sport or Sport+ and the big sedan tightens. It's nowhere near BMW in feel, yet strangely the electronics and rear-wheel steering make it surprisingly agile and quick through the bends.
Acceleration is sparkling, both off the mark - where the electric motor's instant torque bites hard on the bitumen - and when overtak ing. Invigorating as this all is, it's the comfort, serenity and sheer gadgetry of the Lexus that will win its buyers.
For me, the fuel economy benefits of a $111,000 car are almost futile. But the near-perfect build quality, the ocean of gadgetry, the urge of the hybrid drivetrain and the superb ride and comfort should win canny buyers.
Understated and clever luxury car at prestige-car prices.
LEXUS GS450H F-SPORT
Warranty: 4 years/100,000km
Resale: 57 per cent
Service interval: 10,000km/6 months
Safety rating: Five star
Engine: 3.5-litre V6 petrol 215kW/352Nm; 147kW/275Nm electric motor
Transmission: CVT auto; RWD
Body: 4.9m (L); 1.8m (w); 1.5m (h)
Thirst: 6.3 1/100km; 91 RON; 147g/km Co2
Audi A6 3.0TDI- compare this car
Engine: 3-litre, V6 turbo-diesel, 180kW/500Nm
Transmission: 7-spd dual-clutch auto, all-wheel drive
Body: 4-door sedan
Thirst: 6.0L/100km, CO2 158g/km
BMW 535i- compare this car
Engine: 3-litre, 6-cyl bi-turbo petrol, 225kW/400Nm
Transmission: 8-spd auto, rear drive
Body: 4-door sedan
Thirst: 8.4L/100km, 95 RON, CO2 195g/km
Mercedes E250 CDI- compare this car
Engine: 2.1-litre, 4-cyl turbo-diesel, 150kW/500Nm
Transmission: 7-spd auto, rear drive
Body: 4-door sedan
Thirst: 5.1L/100km, CO2 135g/km