CAR OF THE MONTH JANUARY 2007
2007 Lexus GS 450h Review
Going Green at High Speed
Say you’ve got this problem. Not a huge one, just one of those minor quandaries that pop up now and then. Let’s say you love speed and thrust and a majority of Speed Channel programming. The sound of a loud exhaust makes your heart go pitter patter. But, that dang Al Gore made an awful lot of sense in that movie of his and now you’re feeling guilty about helping to kill penguins and drying up the snows of Kilimanjaro with your addiction to massive internal combustion engines. At the same time, the idea of a Prius is great, but the thing is about as exciting as a plankton documentary on PBS.
It’s quite the dilemma, but it’s one that Lexus believes it has an answer to. Meet the GS 450h, a car that shoots for the title of “best of both worlds” by applying gasoline-electric hybrid technology to a sports sedan. It doesn’t get anywhere close to Prius gas mileage numbers (that’s not the point), but it does turn in the mileage equivalent of a V6 family sedan while being able to blast off from 0 to 60 mph in a swift 5.2 seconds with a combined horsepower of 340. The hybrid GS is also certified as a Super Ultra Low Emissions Vehicle (SULEV), meaning that if times get really tough, running a hose from the tailpipe into the cabin won’t do anything (except actually clean the air should in certain polluted cities).
Without boring you with too much tech talk, the GS works very similarly to its distant cousin the Toyota Prius. A major difference is that the Lexus uses two electric motors (versus one) that power different vehicle functions in conjunction with the V6. The gasoline and electric systems can run the car by themselves or together, depending on driving conditions determined by the computer. The electric motors are used more frequently in stop-and-go driving, with an eerily quiet golf-cart-like buzz that often startles pedestrians who don’t hear the usual gas engine noise. That can be fun. It’s also fun to see how long you can go before the gas engine kicks in, but that requires accelerating slowly and what speed freak wants to do that?
Beyond its high-tech power plant, the GS 450h is pure Lexus luxury, coddling its occupants with supple leather and other materials that top-quality in both look and feel. Unique to the hybrid GS, the dials resemble the face of an Omega watch, which although somewhat hard to read with sunglasses on, fit perfectly with the car’s high-tech persona. A fusion of physical and touchscreen buttons combine to control the stereo, climate and navigation systems, which is a much better set-up than the iDrive-like devices that keep spreading in luxury cars like an epidemic of technological Bird Flu. One hiccup, though, is that the touchscreen constantly defaults back to either the navigation or menu screens after a few moments if you’ve selected the more often-used stereo display. Thankfully, it’s a problem that has been corrected in the LS 460. Another headache is rather literal, with a surprising lack of head room front and back.
Out on the road, the GS 450h is more high-speed cruiser than canyon-carving four-door sports car. The electric power steering feels numb and artificial on center at moderate speeds, but does weight up when going around turns. Our tester came with the $3,400 Power Active Vehicle Stabilizer and run-flat tire package that we’d recommend skipping. Just like on the SC 430, the combination of soft Lexus suspension and the rough-riding run-flat tires create a bizarre mix of cushy and jarring. It’s like mounting one of those Swedish foam mattresses on a granite box spring.
The GS 450h will soon be topped by the Lexus LS 600h L, which will solidify the idea of using a hybrid power plant to simultaneously add speed and fuel mileage. While it’s still impossible to have a performance sedan that gets Prius mpg numbers (at least until hydrogen, full-electric or dilithium crystals come along), this GS is a perfect stop-gap solution for those who want to cut down on their crude use of crude, while still worshipping at the alter of Saint Acceleration.
Read a review of the 2009 Lexus GS 450h
Warranty/Service: Four-year/50,000-mile basic warranty; six-year/70,000-mile powertrain warranty; 24-hour roadside assistance; free first maintenance.