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Lexus GS450h Sports Luxury 2012 Review

EXPERT RATING
8

Currency and competition mean a price cut and more gear are top of the highlights sheet for most new models coming into the Australian market - the Lexus GS450h is no different. The new model has no major changes in dimensions but plenty of improvement, now offered in three model designations - Luxury, F Sport and Sport Luxury - we're luxuriating in the latter.

VALUE

It's difficult to fit value into the same sentence as a Japanese luxury car that carries a $121,900 pricetag, but when you consider it is $5000 cheaper than the outgoing model, there's some scope to keep a straight face.

The features list is extensive - 18-in alloy wheels, keyless entry and ignition, sunroof, electronically-controlled suspension, leather and woodgrain trim, power-adjustable (Lexus says 20 ways) heated and cooled front seats, manual rear-side sunblinds, an electric rear windscreen sunblind, rear climate and sound system control, heated rear seats and tri-zone climate control.

The infotainment system in the top-spec model has a 12.3-inch control screen, which Lexus says is the world's largest, to control the 835-watt 17-speaker Mark Levinson sound system, the satnav and a number of the car's settings and functions, although strangely there's no TV receiver, which seems a waste of such a big screen.

It's all operated by the fixed mouse-like set-up that is the Japanese brand's take on BMW's iDrive, controlling access to the menu system, while some phone and sound system controls are also accessible from the buttons on the wood/leather trimmed steering wheel, which looks nice but isn't the best for grip.

TECHNOLOGY

The drivetrain is an upgraded version of the superceded car - using a 3.5-litre Atkinson cycle V6 direct and port injection engine, which has - says Lexus - improved by 20 per cent the engine's efficiency and emissions without reducing output. An Atkinson combustion cycle delays the intake valve closure for a smaller fuel-air mix, the company says.

Changes have also been made to the continuously variable transmission (CVT) to improve the drivetrain feel and reduce the "flare" inherent in these transmissions - the driver also has the choice of a manual mode via paddleshifts to liven up the drive a bit. More along those lines can also be achieved by playing with the Lexus Drive Mode Select system - which changes drivetrain, chassis and steering mapping in one of four modes.

Eco mode aims to make the most economical way from A to B, with a milder throttle map, less input from the petrol engine and a reduction to 500 volts on the electric side in most driving conditions. Eco and Normal modes both bring blue illumination to the dashboard, but when Sport or Sport+ are selected, the red mist descends on the instruments. 

Turn the controller to Sport and the ECU opts for more aggressive throttle calibration and the petrol-electric drivetrain leans more towards performance than economy. Flick it again and the Sport+ mode brings the chassis into the equation, tightening up steering and dampers and allegedly backing off stability control interference. 

Extra energy is also being recovered the via the company's most efficient regenerative braking package yet, which Lexus says contributes to a 20 per cent drop in fuel use reduction to 6.3l/100km. Other highlights include a climate control system that counteracts dehydration by putting microscopic ions with around 1000 times more water content than regular air ions - apparently it's gentler on skin and hair.

DESIGN

The second generation Lexus GS 450h hybrid is the fourth Lexus to get the new look, and the aggressive, angular look sits nicely on the big sedan. The rear end has lost the rounded rump of its predecessor and that's a good thing. There's also a classier clock - analogue, which is a big improvement over the old green digital unit.

The car's overall size hasn't changed much apart from a small increase in width height - the wheelbase remains a little shorter than its class competitors and that is displayed in a number of ways, including rear legroom. Thankfully the new nickel-metal hydride battery layout allows for 45 per cent more bootspace - now 465 litres - than the outgoing car and helps give the GS450h near 50/50 weight distribution.

SAFETY

The outgoing car was a five-star car and the new one has more than enough to suggest a similar rating. The Sport Luxury top-spec model has a blind spot monitor, a Head Up Display with speed, satnav and sound system info, active cruise control and pre-collision safety system, anti-lock brakes, stability and traction control, tyre pressure monitoring, automatic bi-xenon adaptive headlights with automatic high-beam system (although its more clumsy to use than the BMW system).

Also on the Sport Luxury model is the driver fatigue monitor, encased within the little red LED monitor on the top of the steering column, which uses an infra-red LED pulse and a camera to monitor the driver's face and eyes, to check if the driver's eyes are open and watching the road. The alert system warns the driver of potential drowsiness and can even jolt the brakes to further alert the driver.

There's also auto-dimming mirrors, ten airbags (dual front, dual front knee, front and rear side, full-length curtain and a ) and rain-sensing wipers. The features list also has parking sensors front and rear (part of the auto-parking system), a rear camera, LED front running lights and tail lights.

DRIVING

The old car looked a little droopy front and rear compared to the sharp new Lexus look, and it works. What is also very effective is the drivetrain - it's nearly two tonnes of Japanese luxury car but the smooth and unobstrusive petrol-electric system mimmicks a never-ending slingshot away from standstill.

The continuously-variable transmission (which doubles as a generator to re-charge the battery when coasting) lays claim to a sprint to 100km/h of 5.9 seconds and it is a deceptively quick conveyance. The ride is on the firm side but is still in the good range - tightening it up for corners over cruising doesn't turn it into a molar-rattler either, but nor does it become a vehicle that is going to match a purpose-built corner-carver either.

This definitely is a cruiser - swift in a straightline, but cruising is its forte. The soundtrack doesn't match the mumbo, sadly - it sounds like angry wasps on speed - but you can't argue with the outcome.

The soundtrack is easily overcome - crank up the Mark Levinson sound system, which is considerable in quality and volume of sound, topping a well-packed features list that is minimal for optional extras, unlike the German opposition. The cabin is perhaps not as cavernous for interior space as the overall dimensions might suggest, but four occupants can be comfortably transported - a fifth passenger is going to need to be vertically-challenged as the centre section of the seat is high.

Slow improvement has been made on the active cruise control front with Lexus, but they're still not there yet. The latest version brakes to a standstill and can move away again but it's not as dextrous as the opposing German systems. It still has trouble maintaining a set cruising speed downhill without a car in front to engage the braking function. Even the non-radar cruise systems of Benz and BMW can involve the brakes to do this, Lexus has taken too long to catch up.

Pricing has always been a plus for the Lexus and the Japanese luxury marque has kept it lean - it's the only hybrid in the segment until the three German brands get into the act, but preliminary numbers on the Beemer ActiveHybrid 5 suggest fuel economy on that brand's existing diesels is better.

Audi says an A6 hybrid is in the future and Benz has two hybrid E-Class models - a petrol-electric E400 and the E300 diesel-electric hybrid - but none of the aforementioned are imminent on Australian showrooms.

VERDICT

The GS series is a car that - by Lexus brass' own admission - hasn't done enough in Australia. The medium prestige market has a number of under-performers but Lexus might have given the GS the look to get it on more shopping lists.

Lexus GS450h Sports Luxury
Price: from $121,900
Warranty: 4 years/unlimited km
Resale:  43 per cent (Source: Glass's Guide)
Service interval: 15,000km/12 months
Safety rating: five star (predicted)
Engine: 3.5-litre dual-injection 24-valve DOHC 215kW/352Nm petrol V6, 650v electric drive motor 147kW/275Nm
Transmission: Six-step electronically-controlled continuously-variable transmission with paddleshift; RWD
Body: 4.9m (L); 1.8m (w); 1.5m (h)
Weight: 1910kg
Thirst: 6.31/100km, on test 8.1, tank 66 litres; 147g/km CO2

Pricing Guides

$30,000
Based on 15 cars listed for sale in the last 6 months
Lowest Price
$29,999
Highest Price
$36,990

Range and Specs

VehicleSpecsPrice*
GS250 F Sport 2.5L, PULP, 6 SP AUTO $29,999 – 30,000 2012 Lexus GS 2012 GS250 F Sport Pricing and Specs
GS450h Hybrid 3.5L, Hyb/PULP, CVT AUTO $23,650 – 29,260 2012 Lexus GS 2012 GS450h Hybrid Pricing and Specs
GS450h Hybrid F Sport 3.5L, Hyb/ULP, CVT AUTO $30,888 – 36,990 2012 Lexus GS 2012 GS450h Hybrid F Sport Pricing and Specs
GS450h Hybrid Luxury 3.5L, Hyb/ULP, CVT AUTO $22,220 – 27,500 2012 Lexus GS 2012 GS450h Hybrid Luxury Pricing and Specs
EXPERT RATING
8
Stuart Martin
Contributing Journalist

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Pricing Guide

$29,990

Lowest price, based on 3 car listings in the last 6 months

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