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Motoring review: Lexus GS450h

DOES anyone else think the side view of the latest Lexus GS emulates a BMW? The design around the boot edges and the lights looks very Bee Em to me. A GS is the Lexus brand’s understudy to the LS – this latter car is aimed at plutocrats and business leaders.

The GS is a family-sized saloon and the fourth generation has just gone on sale in Britain.

The standard GS 250 has a 206bhp 2.5-litre V6 engine and costs £32,995. It has a combined fuel consumption average of 32mpg and CO2 of 207g/km. The 0-62mph time is 8.6 seconds.

Uniquely in this class of car, Lexus does not offer a diesel model. Instead it has a petrol/electric hybrid from £44,995. It records 46mpg, 141g/km of CO2 and 5.9 seconds for the 0-62mph sprint.

These figures match the acceleration of the more expensive BMW ActiveHybrid 5 and just pip it on mpg and CO2. However, while diesel models from BMW, Mercedes-Benz and Jaguar beat the hybrids on mpg and CO2, they can’t match their power and pace.

In November you will be able to buy a hybrid eco class-leader. The 2.2-litre diesel Mercedes E300 Blue TEC records 66mpg and just 109g/km of CO2 and does 0-62mph in 7.5 seconds with a starting price of £39,645 for the saloon and £41,435 for the estate. It is significantly less powerful than the BMW and Lexus petrol hybrids but the economy figures would snare my money. It looks an idiot-proof first choice.

The only one of all these I have driven is the GS hybrid. It has an awesome mix of power, refinement, performance and everyday economy. Driven by no means serenely (I’ll come to the power thing shortly), it returned averages of 35 and 
37 miles a gallon. Admittedly, a diesel engine would improve on these figures.

Officially, the mpg figures run from 41mpg urban to nudge 50mpg extra urban. On my last drive, on a mixed route, I eschewed its massive acceleration and achieved 45mpg.

Under the bonnet is a 288bhp 3.5-litre petrol V6 and a 197bhp electric motor driving the rear wheels through 
an electric CVT automatic gearbox. Maximum torque is 259lb ft at 4,500rpm from the petrol engine and 203lb ft virtually immediately from the electric motor’s input.

The motor’s battery is charged by the petrol engine and the deceleration and braking of the car. You can see this working on a dashboard display. When the battery has enough power, the car will set off on a flat or downhill road solely using electric power – the electric vehicle mode. It is an uncanny serene feeling. 
It will not maintain this EV mode for long, and the petrol engine cuts in at around 30mph.

Toyota, which makes the Lexus, has introduced “plug-in” technology for its Prius hybrids. It means they can be charged from the mains and run for 15 miles in EV mode.

I liked the Lexus very much. Its hybrid power system gives higher economy and lower emissions than an equally powerful non-hybrid.

On test was the Luxury specification car, costing £44,995 plus £610 for the maroonish metallic paint.

I must tell you about Keith. I meet him at the village gymnasium. We are both trying to make some sense of 
bodies teetering on retirement. He has a Lexus GS, the first model, on the R plate, which I think makes it 15 years old. He bought it at 150,000 miles for £300, spent a bit on it and loves it. I can see the appeal. It’s OK-looking, almost anonymous actually, which is a plus in my mind, but smart and comfortable. He has no complaints about the performance of the V6 engine either, at 156,000 miles.

The GS hybrid would, I know, dazzle him. The interior is trimmed to a high standard, down to the saddle stitching on the dashboard edge. It is a genuine five-seater, with a paucity of luggage volume because of the battery installation, which means the rear seat does not fold flat. Nor do you get an overhead pouch for spectacles. In the past, Lexus GB has dismissed such a thing as fit only for sales reps, but I think they are useful, so there.

There are, I admit, plenty of other storage areas, including a shelf in front of the information screen, set deep in the facade to eliminate reflections in the windows.

My main memory is of its uncanny silence when running on electric power.

I managed the couple of miles through Ilkley with only one bit of petrol assistance on a slight hill. The car’s street pollution count was virtually zero as I edged past the hulking shoulders of the gas-­guzzling 4x4s which are de rigueur for the town’s oh-so-lovely ladies who drive into town. “Those hills, my dear, carrying home the cake from Bettys.” Their nearest Waitrose is a 13-mile round trip. In the GS Hybrid it would cost them hardly anything in fuel.

I wonder, though, if this car is more about effortless high performance while looking eco-good on company books and not being too punishing, vis a vis its mighty pace, for benefit-in-kind payroll tax. «

 

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