By on October 6, 2006

2007_gs450h_01.jpgRemember the dorky kid who aced college, landed a great job, maybe even got married, but still never got a firm grasp on how to enjoy life’s rich tapestry? That’s the Lexus GS450h. For all its hybrid gee-whiz engineering, swanky trimmings and performance credentials, the Lexus GS450h is only really a great idea on paper. Sure, it’s got lower emissions, less fuel consumption than its petrol-powered equivalent and significantly more performance. But the Lexus Hybrid is a genius in dire need of a spiritual advisor.

The styling tells the story with its bold lines, broad shoulders and stunning lack of attention to detail. Up front, the GS’ trapezoidal grille– flanked by ovoid lenses and rhombus-like headlights– inflict geometric overkill on an otherwise cetacean canvas. Sadly, the GS' tall frame kills an otherwise sporting profile; everything south of the beltline looks obese and clumsy. Fortunately, multi-spoke 18" hoops with chrome accents help avert your eyes from the plump yet stunted posterior with its B-movie bug-eyed taillights. Clearly, the "L-Finesse" GS needs Giorgio Giugiaro’s loving hands.

2007_gs450h_15.jpgIn contrast, the GS’ interior is a symphony of chrome, leather, ebony wood and white LED accents. The cockpit’s squidgy polymers and tastefully arranged switchgear offer the automotive equivalent of a relaxing swim in an edgeless pool. In Audi and Lexus' sybaritic showdown, the Japanese automaker is gradually pulling ahead. For example, while the A8 serves-up an exquisite dash and console combo, Lexus' cohesive design motif delivers a perfectly layered, multi-dimensional gestalt. Audi’s dash may seem like it was carved from a single piece of granite, but Lexus’ seems lovingly sculpted from the same stone.

The GS’ sensuous wood and leather tiller alludes to the brand’s trademark perfectionism. Smoked disco ball gauge faces add a bit of visual excitement to the borderline OCD. The Mark Levinson beatbox adds brilliant highs, life-like middles and full-bodied lows– setting the new standard for factory tunes. The GS’ ventilated hides keep the backside cool, but finding the right fan speed involves one too many menus via the (otherwise excellent) touch-screen Navigation system. And that’s where the GS450h picture starts to lose focus.

2007_gs450h_25.jpgCheck out the mileage on the Lexus hybrid’s information screen. In urban stop/start duty, the GS’ gas engine kicks in frequently and abruptly, taking over from the batteries. With the Levinson blasting and the A/C cranked, the GS450h's mileage never once threatened to get out of the lower twenties. Lower the A/C, hit the open road, set the cruise control to 65mph and you’re looking at… 25mpg. This is not what a Prius driver would call a hybrid halo car. OK, so the Lexus is a “performance hybrid.” All is forgiven, right?

If you’re a straight line junkie, yes. Acceleration is muscle car brisk. Hit the GS’ gas from a standstill and the torque-rich electric motor satisfies with a shove in the seat and a hum under the bonnet. After a brief powerband intermission, the CVT transmission throws the rev-happy 3.5-liter V6 in the mix, facilitating 0-60 runs that last a scant 5.2 seconds. Keep your foot in the juice and the CVT pushes the engine closer to redline, catapulting the GS down the highway.

Now, throw a corner at the GS and you’ll understand why Lexus won’t let you give the electronic Nanny the afternoon off. Everything's peachy at 70% effort. The sedan’s delightfully firm steering, solid chassis and buttoned-down suspension let you run the hybrid through the twisties like an equivalent Bimmer. Push harder and the various subsystems start to fight for control. The traction control incorrectly modulates the finicky powerband, inducing all-you-can-eat buffet levels of understeer, triggering stability control. Diehard pistonheads are done before they begin. 

2007_gs450h_08.jpgThe large disc brakes feel a bit touchy– charged as they are with regenerating power as well as curbing momentum– but they stop the “fun” with genuine conviction. Unfortunately, dropping anchor at speed induces massive nosedive, which dramatically increases the chances of an understeer slide. Worst of all, the flawed underpinnings throw the famous Lexus ride in the trash, shaking the rearview mirror at every pothole. The 40-series tires take most of the blame, transmitting every surface imperfection directly to one's posterior. Top it off with a Porsche-sized cargo hole and the GS Hybrid's synergies seem less than entirely appealing.

Forget about the GS450h’s poor ride/handling balance (if possible) and consider the model’s real competition: the superb V8-powered GS430. Lexus’ gas-only model offers a perfectly linear powerband, a world-class autobox, 400lbs less in tow, better handling and a bigger trunk. The penalty: three to five miles less travel per gallon of gas and no planet saving feel-good factor. Like the childhood genius who struck it rich, the GS450h proves that appearances can be deceiving. Whether you’re a hybrid sedan or a Geek, developing genuine character is a bitch. 

[Lexus provided the vehicle reviewed, insurance, taxes and a tank of gas.] 

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28 Comments on “Lexus GS450h Review...”


  • avatar
    Yuppie

    Another analogy – The GS450h is like the college / med school applicant who took more than the required classes, got straight A’s, volunteered for 20+ causes to cover the bases, and turns in an incoherent essay because he cannot put all of the above together just so.

    And guess what? Colleges / med school still admit many of these types. And the same will happen for the GS450h. On paper, or on the surface, it got all the check marks of today – Lexus, check; hybrid, check; etc. Most purchasers do not understand vehicle dynamics.

  • avatar
    Jay Shoemaker

    Lexus has introduced a new V-6 for 2007 with 300 horsepower. It likely enjoys superior fuel economy to the GS 450h and equal performance so I am not what role the 450h plays in the GS line anymore.

  • avatar
    maxo

    or physics

    (is that what a dynamic is? that means nothing to me)

  • avatar
    qfrog

    IMO lexus hybrids are the antichrist to the prius’ anemic approach to fuel economy err emissions. The yang to the yin. Sure on one hand we could save a few mpg but lets make it go quicker not faster or farther.

    I think the GS is an answer to a question which was not being asked…. and wont be for the interim with gas dipping to $2.50/us gal for 93.

    I must ask, just what sort of accelerative performance would we see from a 3.5L Turbo Diesel GS? Because I’m sure 25mpg would be a walk in the park even for those of us with lead soles in our driving shoes. Shaving off the batteries and regenerative hardware would negate any added weight from turbocharger hardware…. likely at a weight deficit over the hybrid.

    I’m sure the image of “hybrid” is more palpable to the lexus customer base than say “turbo diesel” which is so icky sounding. Hybrid sounds progressive and new fangled… like it should be vacuum packaged and be all futuristic looking and have a place in the Guggenheim (sp?). Diesel… eeeew icky will that hurt my chi?

  • avatar
    qfrog

    maxo:

    I’m sure there are others here that can provide a better denotation of the term Vehicle Dynamics, but I’ll take a stab while I’m wielding the keyboard.

    If you read race or performance driving books much of what is discussed is the limit of performance and how to operate within if not just over those limits smoothly. Sure Physics is everything… the circle of traction, slip angle, understeer, oversteer, etc etc… there are many terms and quantified measures of performance. This is the essence of Vehicle Dynamics.

    A stark comparative contrast is a porsche 987 (cayman) to a buick lucerne. Our Lucerne will demonstrate poor vehicle dynamics while the 987 will likely let you make out with the limits leaving you all hot and bothered for more.

    Acceleration is maybe 1/3rd of what makes a vehicle sporty…. stopping and turning are the two really important areas. 0-60 time is the easiest most quantified comparative number in vehicle performance.

    On one end of the scale of Vehicle Dynamics you have a highly agile vehicle, at the other end is dangerous and non-responsive boat.

  • avatar

    cetacean: whale-like
    sybaritic: fond of sensuous luxury or pleasure

    Thanks for the vocab lesson again Sajeev =)

    Great review. As usual, unnecessarily harsh (but funny) remarks. Everything about the interior does look delicious though.

    But the main issue for me is how Toyota uses hybrid technology: as an end in and of itself. I just think that’s wrong.

  • avatar
    SherbornSean

    All the luxury makers are trying to leverage technology to develop something unique that sets them apart from the others.

    Audi failed with Aluminum, but has done well with AWD.

    BMW failed with active steering and iDrive, but has succeeded with its consistent efforts to minimize and balance weight.

    Mercedes failed with its advanced electronics, but seems to have gotten the bugs out finally.

    A few carmakers are trying with automated cruise control and lane warning systems, but I doubt they will succeed.

    Most successful lately have been Infiniti and Acura because they don’t go far out on a limb with technology, but focus on sweet sports sedans and CUVs (the Q and RL being sad exceptions).

    I’m not sure I have a point, other than that technology for its own sake isn’t moving the metal.

  • avatar
    Sajeev Mehta

    If you read race or performance driving books much of what is discussed is the limit of performance and how to operate within if not just over those limits smoothly.

    That’s it in a nutshell. Smooth transition from under to oversteer (if the chassis gives you that freedom) and following the fastest line around a corner.

    And yes, a Lexus Turbo D makes more sense in the real world, but Toyota’s Hybrid Synergies is the flavor of the month. Considering how disturbingly fast a modified Powerstroke/Cummins diesel is these days (14s in the quarter with a few bolt ons) you can make them as fast as a Hybrid too.

    ThriftyTechie: thanks for your kind words. Yes I’m anal when it comes to exterior styling, you would be too if you spent two years studying Industrial Design. :-)

    FWIW, Giugiaro styled the original Lexus GS/Toyota Aristo. It was a work of art and Toyota needs Italdesign back.

  • avatar
    Mrb00st

    the problem with the GS450h isn’t the 450h part – it’s the GS part.

    The GS is just a clinically boring car, honestly. My dad was shopping for a car in this class, and we looked briefly at the GS. So anodyne and anonymous. It was well put together but has no feel.

    Plus, it’s just totally ugly.

    He has an Infiniti M45 Sport now. he loves it to death. It’s another sign of how Lexus is making cars for people who don’t really care about cars.

  • avatar
    Jordan Tenenbaum

    FWIW, Giugiaro styled the original Lexus GS/Toyota Aristo. It was a work of art and Toyota needs Italdesign back.

    Sajeev, I didn’t know that. I’ll agree with you though, that was one sexy car.

  • avatar
    a_d_y_a

    Excellent article Sajeev.

    Some notes to author:

    1. Gasoline version does not include power sunroof, rain sensing wipers, ventilated seats, rear parking sensors, headlight cleaners, rearview camera and some other stuff as standard. If you select these options it adds $9,000 to the price. So the hybrid is actually cheaper by $6000.

    2. Emissions and gas mileage are not the only two factors that guage environmental impact of cars. A holistic picture considering all the materials that go in to the manufacture of the car is required. Lead acid batteries have a higher environmental impact than emissions.

    3. Hybrid version has 2.75% better Hp/ton than the gasoline version.

    4. Gasoline engine has significantly more torque (325 vs 275) and develops its power lower than the hybrid. Gas engine would make a better car irrespective of the dynamics.

    5. At $55,000 price point, gas mileage is the last thing one considers when purchasing a car.

  • avatar
    doctorv8

    Great article.

    I’ll never understand why automakers persist on putting rubber band like tires on these supposed luxo-sport sedans. There’s no reason that a 255/55-18 tire shouldn’t be used on cars like this. The ride penalty FAR outweighs any slight advantage in turn in sharpness, and any driver that is really going to notice this is probably driving a 911 or Corvette anyway….or an E39 M5, which I still consider the pinnacle of modern performance sedans.

  • avatar
    aa2

    I think hybrids real strength in the near future is performance. A big luxury sedan getting 0-60 in 5.2 seconds is insanely fast.

    The technology for the regenerative breaks, understeer, oversteer and so on Lexus will surely work on over time, as it experiments with the electric power and its good the review noted those issues now. For the most bang for the buck a buyer might wait a few years until they’ve refined those. Which I expect in time the electric power aspect to deliver superior performance in those situations, then a mechanical system.

  • avatar
    Lesley Wimbush

    Great review Sajeev, beautifully written.

    Love the anthropomorphism:)

  • avatar
    ZCD2.7T

    To me, the biggest failing of this vehicle isn’t the mileage (or lack thereof), the styling, or the dynamics – it’s that it has 1/2 a trunk!! 7.5 cubic feet is pathetic, and exactly 1/2 of the trunk size of my ’04 A6.

    Seems to me that a $55K+ luxury sedan should be able to take 4 people AND THEIR LUGGAGE anywhere quickly and in comfort. This one only covers half of that equation.

    Unforgiveable, regardless of the mileage, because it makes the car a “statement” rather than a well-designed transportation tool.

  • avatar
    2006300c

    Unforgivable, regardless of the mileage, because it makes the car a “statement” rather than a well-designed transportation tool.

    A truly good automobile is both.

  • avatar
    Sajeev Mehta

    a_d_y_a: I spec’d a GS 430 with the same options and it was about $2500 less than the as tested Hybrid at $59,400. You can get Levinson, Moonroof, Nav, backup camera, rear sunshade, ventilated seats on the V8 model.

    At $55,000 price point, gas mileage is the last thing one considers when purchasing a car.

    As soon as you mention you’re driving a Lexus Hybrid, fuel economy is the first thing people want to know. Nobody asked me how nice it felt or how it performed. Toyota’s Hybrid hype is working, but its to the GS’ disadvantage.

    Lead acid batteries have a higher environmental impact than emissions.

    Last I heard the Hybrid’s Ni-MH batteries are several times worse for the environment, safely recycling them takes large amounts of energy…more so than the energy saved by getting 23mpg in a GS Hybrid.

    Or in other words, Hybrid battery packs aren’t so hot for the environment

    The NiCd battery is one of the more hazardous batteries in terms of disposal. If used in landfills, the cadmium will eventually dissolve itself and the toxic substance will seep into the water supply, causing serious health problems.

  • avatar
    Sajeev Mehta

    ZCD2.7T: I almost considered taking my daily driver to work one day because I was afraid the GS’ trunk wouldn’t carry all the boxes I needed. It did, but just barely.

    Compared to the Porsche 911 it’s about 4 cu ft. bigger, and a little more than three times smaller than a Corvette. Most disappointing indeed.

  • avatar
    bmilner

    Qfrog: Acceleration is maybe 1/3rd of what makes a vehicle sporty…. stopping and turning are the two really important areas.

    Are buyers of a big sports sedan like this typically pushing things to the limit, mashing brakes at the last second on curves etc.? To me, what makes a car feel sporty is how it handles everyday real-world performance situations i.e.

    1. accelerating from a stoplight to about 40mph
    2. Accelerating 30-50, or 50-70 to pass or merge on highway
    3. Handling – driving fast on onramps, country backroads, taking corners without body roll, squealing.
    4. Braking should of course be solid without egregeous nose-dive, but I’d think most users aren’t doing “performance braking” in everyday driving.

    In other news, yeah, this car is ugly. All the new Lexus models are in my opinion

  • avatar
    Sajeev Mehta

    Are buyers of a big sports sedan like this typically pushing things to the limit, mashing brakes at the last second on curves etc.? To me, what makes a car feel sporty is how it handles everyday real-world performance situations.

    True. But I feel just about anyone who purchases a sporty sedan can tell the difference between a poseur and the real thing. One of my friends used to own Lexus sedans but recently jumped ship to the 7-series.

    He’s by no means an autocrossing freak, but took one fast sweeper in the 7-er and instanteously “got it.”

  • avatar

    I cannot count how many times I’ve seen people claim that hybrids are bad for the environment because of the batteries. This is totally untrue. NiMH batteries are far less toxic than lead-acid or NiCD batteries, as they do not contain heavy metals like lead or cadmium. This is one of the reasons they were developed in the first place. Nickel is still somewhat toxic, so it is better if they are recycled. This is true of just about anything, though.

    I am surprised to read that the steering is firm. When I drove the 300 and 430, I found the former more fun to drive because it lacked the latter’s totally numb variable ratio steering system. I believe that the 450h has the same steering system as the 430.

    On the pricing side, my site currently shows the 450h with about $1,100 more in standard equipment that the 430 (cooled seats, obstacle detection, power sunshade, rain-sensing wipers). Add these options to the 430, and the 450h is $1,390 more. However, this difference is cut in half by the hybrid tax credit.

    That said, the 350 is about $7,000 less than the others even after adding the above options and the 18-inch alloys, and should be both about as quick and more fun to drive than the 430 owing to the more communicative steering system. As someone else suggested above, that’s the GS to get if you’re getting one.

    TrueDelta’s page for the GS:

    http://www.truedelta.com/models/GS.php

  • avatar
    Sajeev Mehta

    Michael: my arguement is that recycling NiMH batteries takes more energy than lead-acid; making the Hybrid’s overall environmental impact no better (some say worse) than a similar gas automobile.

    I know junkyards recycle L-A batteries through established channels; I’d love to hear more discussion on this debate because I am not an authority by any means.

    On steering: yes it was numb and uncommunicative compared to others in this class (BMW for sure) but it was pretty firm for a Lexus sedan. I didn’t expand on my thoughts since the steering wasn’t the source of the car’s dynamic problems. The overly harsh tires, uber-understeering chassis, and demented powerband take the lion’s share of the blame.

  • avatar
    wsn

    It’s always easy to criticize, I suppose. Just look at the GM/Ford Death Watches. Detrioit’s lack of vision has been bashed again and again. Yet, you are doing the same thing.

    An optimized package the GS450h may not be. But Toyota has great vision. They see much further than GM and TTAC. Car powerplants is now evolving from ICE to fuel cell, capacitors, superconductors, or even nuclear power. The common ground they share is electric motor to move the car and regenerative braking.

    By offering GS450h and Camry Hybrid, Toyota is ahead of everyone in electric drive train, and is the most accepted brand for people who is willing to give new technology a try. As a 1st try, GS450h is not bad. With the 2nd or 3rd try, it will eat the competitors alive. Just look back at that 1st gen Camry.

  • avatar
    ZCD2.7T

    WSN:

    “As a 1st try, GS450h is not bad. With the 2nd or 3rd try, it will eat the competitors alive. Just look back at that 1st gen Camry.”

    An excellent point, and very probably true.

    I’m driving an ’07 Camry XLE V-6 loaner while my wife’s car is in the body shop, and though it’s not my cup of Darjeeling, it’s a very nice car for $31K. A FAR cry from the original Camrys.

  • avatar
    Sajeev Mehta

    Toyota is ahead of everyone in electric drive train, and is the most accepted brand for people who is willing to give new technology a try.

    Very true: they got the technology to market, and its working for them. Provided they can still sell some of the least fuel efficient, least advanced (solid axles anyone?) SUVs in the same dealerships, make a tidy sum on the margins, and not suffer the PR backlash.

    If they really had a goal to be a progressive, high tech and even earth-friendly corporation, they’d dump the truck business and take a page from Honda. I’ll never be a big fan of the Ridgeline, but it takes balls to stick to those principles.

    Man, I’m really going off-topic.

    As a 1st try, GS450h is not bad. With the 2nd or 3rd try, it will eat the competitors alive.

    Make no mistake, it is bad. It handles poorly, gets unexpectedly lousy mileage for a Hybrid, rides like an ox cart, and has a near-useless trunk. Assuming the market for luxury-performance Hybrids exists there is more than a lot of room for improvement for the next generation.

    wsn: I can’t disagree to most of your points with conviction because if anyone can fix a host of problems, Toyota can. We shall see how it unfolds.

  • avatar

    Is the recycling cost from that study a few months back that concluded that total energy used to make, run, and dispose of a Prius would be higher than for a Suburban (or something to this effect)? I didn’t look into the details, but my gut reaction was that some crazy assumptions were part of the mix.

    The only information I could find was this:

    http://www.buchmann.ca/Article16-Page1.asp

    Key paragraphs:

    “Current battery recycling methods requires a high amount of energy. It takes six to ten times the amount of energy to reclaim metals from recycled batteries than it would through other means. A new process is being explored, which may be more energy and cost effective. One method is dissolving the batteries with a reagent solution. The spent reagent is recycled without forming any atmospheric, liquid or solid wastes.”

    “The highest recycling fees apply to NiCd and Li‑ion batteries because the demand for cadmium is low and Li‑ion batteries contain little retrievable metal. The recycling cost of alkaline is 33 percent lower than that of NiCd and Li‑ion because the alkaline cell contains iron. The NiMH battery yields the best return. Recycling NiMH produces enough nickel to pay for the process.”

    Doesn’t sound like it could require too much energy if the value of the nickel pays for this energy plus all other associated costs. Nickel can be sold for about $16/lb. today, but was less that $4/lb. back in 2001. (Should have invested in nickel futures in 2003 and again this year, apparently.)

    http://www.thecopperlink.com/services/metal-prices/prices/se_me-pr_pr_index.php.en?grafik=Nickel&suche_datum=02.01.2001&suche=vor

    I’m surprised we haven’t heard about this, as it must have affected the economics of hybrids.

    How much nickel is in the GS’ battery pack? I found an estimate for NiMH in general of 24% here:

    http://www.ce.cmu.edu/GreenDesign/gd/education/Battery.pdf

    This is for AA cells. If anything, I’d expect a lower percentage in a hybrid battery pack, because the casing on these packs is more substantial than the thin metal casing on an AA cell.

    The pack in the Lexus weights 132 pounds. So it likely contains about 32 pounds of nickel, currently worth about $500, but only worth about $100 when the recycling article was written. So the cost of recycling the GS’ battery pack is around $100 by this method. The first article also says that in 2001 it cost about $1/pound to recycle batteries, which gives an estimate of $132. Even then much less expensive methods were being developed.

    Even if 2/3 of the cost of recycling is for energy, we’re talking about roughly $80 of energy, tops. Or forty gallons of gas at current prices. Does a hybrid save more than forty gallons of gas during its lifetime?

  • avatar

    Back in 2001, it cost about $100 to recycle a battery pack the size of that in the Lexus GS (132 pounds). Costs then were about a dollar per pound. With NiMH this cost was entirely offset by the value of the nickel recovered, which at the time worked out to about $100. (Nickel is about 24% of the weight of an NiMH cell, $3/pound back in 2001.)

    (I did learn that nickel now costs $16/pound–about $400 extra for this battery pack vs. 2001–haven’t heard about this.)

    Even going with the high number and assuming two-thirds of the cost is energy (it’s probably less), we have about $70, or roughly 35 gallons of gas.

    How long does it take the GS 450h to save 35 gallons of gas? If it gets 22 mpg, and the non-hybrid gets 19, then it saves about 0.7 gallons per 100 miles. So about 5,000 miles.

  • avatar
    Sajeev Mehta

    Excellent analysis. Granted it doesn’t make the GS 450h a better car, but it does disprove the big-picture hybrid energy cost issue. That is, as long as Nickel recycling prices stay like this.


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