2013 Lexus GS 450h

Toyota has given the Lexus line freshened faces and a new focus on performance.  Lexus intends for buyers of the 2013 GS 450h to have it all : economy, luxury and performance. Does the 450h add up?  You be the judge.

Unlike the rest of the GS line, which features dual bumper integrated exhaust ports, the 450 hybrid foregoes them, clearly in the name of portraying an eco-clean façade.

Over the years, Lexus has garnered much criticism for becoming stale, soft and soulless, all traits that the refreshed for 2012 GS line seeks to erase.  In profile, the GS looks a lot like the outgoing model but walk around the nose and the tail and you are treated to some pretty radical changes.  The rear end has been tastefully updated with all new horizontal “L” adorned, LED tail lights and a glazed blue background Lexus emblem.  What you won’t find out back is an exhaust port of any kind, well unless you want to crawl under the car to find it.  Unlike the rest of the GS line, which features dual bumper integrated exhaust ports, the 450 hybrid foregoes them, clearly in the name of portraying an eco-clean façade.

Stroll around the front of the GS and you will find the biggest change and a strong point of contention amongst auto journalists globally.  Lexus took a daring gamble with its new “spindle” grill treatment, which has made an appearance on all of the models in the family, and to some degree, it works.  The grill seems to give the effect of the front end being ripped open, exposing another layer of vehicle bursting out, an aspect that is more dramatically evident on F SPORT models.  When I first saw it, I hated it, but after living with the spindle grill for a week, I have gained some appreciation for it.  Another new aspect to all Lexus models is the Nike’esque “swoosh” LED daytime running lights, which are bright and distinct and add a bit of visual flair.  The optional Bi-LED, adaptive headlights not only alter their focus from side-to-side, they also auto-level to reduce glare to oncoming drivers.  The units look great, but sadly, one of the high beams on this tester was malfunctioning and would turn on for a second before shutting off.

Overall, the interior is a pleasant, quiet and upmarket place to be, though some questionable material choices were puzzling.

The positive changes continue inside where Lexus has foregone the cockpit style, vertical-stacked theme of past GS’s and instead has gone with a horizontal orientation.  Gone now is the 1980’s LED clock and Camry style injection molded dash.  A tasteful analog clock with backlit details and a semi-aniline leather dash with contrasting white stitching takes their place.  Bravo Lexus!  The 450h comes exclusively with matte bamboo interior trim that is unique, but to this tester and everyone who rode in the car, it is too bright in hue and it feels like plastic.  The matte dark brown walnut or linear espresso accents available in other GS models should at least be an option.  The 18-way semi-aniline seats, both heated and cooled, look nice and feel very supple, though more aggressive side bolstering would aid in lateral support during spirited driving and an adjustable seat bottom would be nice for taller drivers like me.  Overall, the interior is a pleasant, quiet and upmarket place to be, though some questionable material choices were puzzling.  The top of the door card where your elbow rests while driving with the window down is outfitted with that old school, soft touch plastic, while the rest of the door card is swathed in stitched leather skin (even the far cheaper FR-S I tested had a stitched leather piece in the same area).  That same plastic is found front and center on the dash in places that I would have expected the stitched leather theme to continue.  These are details that are important to note in a car of this price range, but they are certainly not deal breakers.

Speaking of front and center, my favorite area of the 450h is the 12.3 inch, high resolution, split screen multimedia display with HDD based navigation, rear view camera display, Lexus Enform with Destination & eDestination services, app suite, SiriusXM, HD radio and, of course, the Mark Levinson premium 7.1 surround unit with a whopping 17 speakers and 835 watts of pulsing power.  The 12.3 inch display is sharp and resolute.  The menus are well thought out and they are manipulated with a “mouse” that functions well for the most part, though the simulated “clicks” that populated from one screen to the next seemed to get in the way of what I wanted to highlight on the screen and what the system thought I wanted to select.  However, once you learn how to deal with those clicks, menu navigation is a breeze, assuming you are on smooth roads or stopped, as the mouse can be a bit twitchy.  Inside these menus you can control standard functions like audio settings, navigation, climate control, startup screen and many others.  Honestly, there’s so much to talk about with this system that I could go on forever, so just know, this system is comprehensive and has your wants and needs covered at every turn.

The Mark Levinson sound system is one of the best audio systems I’ve ever heard in a vehicle.  As an audiophile, I walked away impressed with the level of separation, strong lows, mids and highs and the strong definition of the intricate details of stringed instruments and the sizzle of high hats.  Wow!  My only criticism is the tendency for the system to distort at the top ¾ of the volume level.  The mids and highs tended to become shrill and the sub was folding a bit, but stay out of that elevated level of ear-splitting volume and you will be in for a real treat.  I played music with the surround sound enhanced setting enabled and I recommend that you do the same for the widest soundstage and the most dynamic audio experience.  My unofficial test subjects were musicians who sat in the luxury appointed, tight leg roomed rear seats and reported a symphony of well-defined sounds that eventually erupted into an all-occupant sing along to Alice In Chains’ “Rooster”.  Do yourself a favor and pay for the upgraded sound system, it is money very well spent.  I must note that by the end of my week with the GS, the driver’s side door panel had developed a bass induced, intermittent rattle.

As an audiophile, I walked away impressed with the level of separation, strong lows, mids and highs and the strong definition of the intricate details of stringed instruments and the sizzle of high hats.  Wow!

According to Lexus, the GS 450h has a 306 hp, 277 lb.-ft., all-aluminum V-6 coupled with two high output, permanent magnet electric drive motors good for a total system output of 338 hp and a undisclosed amount of total torque, which by the way is more available power than all other GS models.  Lexus states that these figures are good for a 0-60 time of 5.6 seconds, the fastest of all of the GS variants, and a top speed of 138 mph, which is 6 mph short of the F SPORT.  In order to legally test these claims, my team and I ventured to the Mojave Desert for some asphalt-based road tests and finally to the El Mirage Lake for some top speed runs.  I was mostly impressed with the results, though as an auto enthusiast, some aspects of the GS’s performance left me scratching my head.

Sport+ tightens the electronically controlled shock absorbers and increases the engines output to maximum and does have a noticeable effect, though body roll is still present.  Maybe a Sport++ setting could be added?

The GS 450h is the only GS model that comes standard with a CVT which, when paired with the Hybrid Synergy Drive, is tasked with delivering an EPA estimated 29 city, 34 highway and 31 in combined driving.  I averaged a paltry 18.5 mpg over the week, but in the interest of full disclosure, I don’t drive like an eco-conscious person, I drive with the purpose of arriving at my destination some time this week.  Having reviewed a Prius c in the past, I was fully prepared for the driving experience that Toyota’s Hybrid Synergy Drive delivers, albeit with a considerably more powerful gasoline engine and stronger electric motors.  In order to extract the maximum amount of performance out of this propulsion setup, I turned the console mounted knob to Sport+ and held down the traction control button for 5 seconds to “completely disable traction control and VSC”, which by the way they are never completely disabled as evidenced by the elctro-nannies that constantly stomped on my attempts at driving, you know, sporty.  Sport+ tightens the electronically controlled shock absorbers and increases the engines output to maximum and does have a noticeable effect, though body roll is still present.  Maybe a Sport++ setting could be added?

The first test was to be a series of 0-60 runs.  I gently pressed the brake and attempted to do a brake stand to warm up the rear tires, but alas, the ECU would not let me do so.  All I was greeted with was the engine revving to about 3500 rpm and nothing else.  Oh well.  With my spirit saddened, I completed a total of four 0-60 runs, all with very disappointing results.  The best time was 7.2 seconds and the worst time was 7.9 seconds, both of which are far from the 5.6 second claim made by Lexus.  I made sure the a/c was off and all the windows were closed, but barring a mechanical malfunction or the high desert elevation, the GS just could not meet the claimed performance numbers.  My hopes were dashed again when I tried to whip the tail around after the test and again I was greeted with electronic intervention.  An aspect of luxury in a vehicle is having choices and it is in this realm that I think Lexus still has a lot of work to do.  I am the customer, let me decide how I want to drive my vehicle.

The second test was a basic 70-0 brake test, which the Lexus completed with flying colors, wrenching the vehicle to a stop brutally fast and in a controlled manner.

The second test was a basic 70-0 brake test, which the Lexus completed with flying colors, wrenching the vehicle to a stop brutally fast and in a controlled manner.  However, the regenerative brakes do take some getting used to because they have a non-linear clamping action that can leave you either not getting as much braking force as you expected or they can become jerky as the regenerative feature engages.  I feel that this braking system is best suited towards the hybrid side of this car rather than the sporting side.

The third test had us journey to the El Mirage Lake to see if the GS’s 338 total system output could propel it to top speed.  The dry lake, at an elevation of 2,840 ft is approximately 6 miles long. El Mirage Lake is part of the El Mirage Off-Highway Vehicle (OHV) recreation area. It is a popular filming location for automobile commercials and a playground for car enthusiasts and anyone else who wants to see how fast their machine of choice can go.  The real challenge here is avoiding those in lesser forms of transportation like dirt bikes, ATV’s and three-wheeled land sailors as you blast across the lake at triple-digit speeds on what amounts to hard-packed, ancient clay.  Very exhilarating to say the least!

After several test runs at pedestrian speeds to find a long, glassy surface and ample roadway, I made my first of 8 runs.  Upon launch, the CVT almost immediately pegs the tachometer near the 6500 rpm redline and keeps it there as the miles per hour tick off briskly at first and then lackadaisically as you hit around 105 mph.  With the strained V-6/Synergy powered driveline screaming in protest at redline, the next 33 miles per hour take what feels like an eternity.  Regardless, after the first 7 runs were dashed by lake traffic, I finally hit top speed.  Never mind the 160 mph speedometer, the GS, as expected, cut the fun at 138 mph.  Mission accomplished.

After several test runs at pedestrian speeds to find a long, glassy surface and ample roadway, I made my first of 8 runs.

I know that Lexus wants customers of the GS 450h to have a mechanical jack of all trades: a car that delivers economy, luxury and performance.  The GS approaches those goals and nearly accomplishes all them in my opinion.  The base price of the 2013 GS 450h is $58,950 and the price of this test vehicle was $70,045 before taxes and destination fees.  Is it worth that kind of coin?  I’ve given you the facts, now you be the judge.

Is it worth that kind of coin?  I’ve given you the facts, now you be the judge.

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