By on March 3, 2014

2014 Lexus GS 450h Hybrid Exterior-004

Last time TTAC looked at the Lexus GS Hybrid, Jack and I descended upon Vegas, drank too much, shared too much and one of us got purse-slapped (it wasn’t Jack). In other news, Jack found the GS a willing partner on the track, I kept drawing comparisons to the Volvo S80 T6 and Hyundai Genesis, and both of us agreed the GS 450h would be the car we’d buy. Despite telling you all that we would have a full review in “a few months,” it has in fact been “a few years.” Since that pair of articles hit, the luxury hybrid landscape has changed dramatically.

2014 Lexus GS 450h Hybrid Exterior-001

The GS used to be the only hybrid game in town, but times have changed and nearly everyone has joined the party. BMW has their turbocharged ActiveHybrid 5, Mercedes just launched the E400 Hybrid, Infiniti has re-badged their M Hybrid the Q70 Hybrid, Acura is finally selling the all-wheel-drive RLX Hybrid and Audi has announced the A6 hybrid will come to America “soon” . This means that the S80 T6 and Genesis are no longer on my list, because we have head-to-head competition now.

Exterior

Lexus used to be known for restrained styling but the current generation GS marked a change for the Japanese luxury brand. In addition to taking on more aggressive front end styling, the GS was the first Lexus to wear the new “spindle” grille. The schnozz that seemed so controversial three years ago seems downright demure today, especially since this form has been adapted to the enormous (and some say questionable) LX 470. Perhaps because the GS was the first to wear the corporate grille, the styling seems slightly awkward from the front 3/4 shot (seen at the top) but looks better in person. Unlike the IS, which gets some sheetmetal swooshes on the side, the GS’s profile and rump are luxury car restrained. Overall I think the Infiniti Q70 hybrid, despite being a little long in the tooth, still wins the beauty contest. The Lexus and BMW are a bit too sedate for my tastes, and the RLX and A6 suffer from decidedly front-wheel-drive proportions when compared to the rest and the Mercedes lands smack in the middle.

2014 Lexus GS 450h Hybrid Interior

Interior

The GS’ interior is dominated by a large and tall dashboard with a strong horizontal theme highlighting a large 12.3-inch LCD. The interior arrangement is certainly dramatic, but causes the cabin to have a slightly oppressive feel in the black shades our tester was cast in. While other car makers are moving to stitched leather dashed, Lexus seems content to blend stitched pleather and injection molded parts together. The combination of textures and  “un-lacquered” bamboo (exclusive to the hybrid) make the interior look Scandinavian. The light wood is more attractive in person than pictures might indicate, and while I question the “renewable resource” marketing on a large luxury sedan, like the hybrid drivetrain, I’m sure it will make shoppers feel special.

Base hybrid models get very comfortable 10-way power front seats, but most of the GS 450h sedans I saw on the lot were equipped with 18-way seats. The high-end throne sports the same types of articulation as BMW’s excellent “sport seats” with an articulating back, inflating bolsters, adjustable thigh support, four-way lumbar and  “butterfly” headrests. Needless to say, if you have trouble finding a comfortable seating position, you’re not human. This puts the GS hybrid at a distinct advantage in front comfort over the Mercedes, Audi and Infiniti models. Out back the GS’s rear seats are spacious, comfortable and optionally heated. While the Lexus and Infiniti fail to offer a folding rear seat, the Mercedes E400 hybrid has a generous cargo pass-through behind its optional 60/40 rear thrones.

Infotainment

Wide-screen infotainment systems are all the rage, so Lexus dropped a 12.3-inch LCD in the dash. The system ditches the intuitive touchscreen interface Lexus used for the better part of a decade for the Lexus joystick (it’s officially called Lexus Remote Touch) but importantly doesn’t alter the software to adapt to the input method. I hate it. It occupies a great deal of room on the center console, and it takes far more hand-eye-brain coördination than a touchscreen. Every time I am in a Lexus I find myself glancing at the screen and fiddling with the little control pad far more than when I’m in a competitor’s luxury sedan. This increased distraction hasn’t gone unnoticed by my better half who constantly nags me about keeping my eyes on the road. Want to enter an address using the on-screen QWERTY keyboard? It’s obvious why Lexus won’t let you do that in motion.

To soften the blow Lexus throws in the same media device voice command interface as the other Lexus and premium Toyota products receive. The system is snappy, managed to figure out every command I threw at and has a more natural sounding voice than MyLincoln Touch. Helping counter the nagging LRT caused (see how that’s not my fault now), the available Mark Levinson sound system can drown out even the most shrill mother-in-laws.

Perhaps reinforcing that Lexus focuses on the “meat” of the luxury segment and not the one-percent, you won’t find the same level of gee-wizardry in the GS as some of the Euro competitors, even in this top-end hybrid model. You won’t find night vision, a full-leather dashboard, expensive ceramic knobs, massaging front seats, or LCD instrument clusters. Instead, Lexus doubles down on perfect seams, quiet cabins, a high level of standard equipment and quantities of bamboo that would Lumber Liquidators make blush.

2014 Lexus GS 450h Hybrid Engine-001

Drivetrain

While the GS 350 recently got an update in the form of a new Aisin 8-speed automatic, the GS 450h continues with just a minor software update. This means under the hood you will find the same direct-injection 3.5L Atkinson-cycle V6 engine and RWD hybrid transmission that launched in 2011. Combined with a 1.9 kWh NiMH battery pack in the trunk the system is good for 338 combined horsepower, 286 of which come from the gasoline engine. This is essentially the same engine found in the Highlander and RX hybrids, but the transmission is more similar to what Lexus uses in the LS 600hL. The unit combines the two motor/generator units with a 2-speed planetary gearset to improve efficiency at high speeds (as in on the Autobahn) but without the AWD system standard in the LS 600hL. The 2014 software update improves “sportiness” in sport mode and now imitates an 8-speed automatic instead of a 6-speed. While 338 horsepower compares well with the 6-cylinder competition, the GS 450h has the unenviable task of trying to be both the most efficient GS and the performance version as well. For reasons nobody knows, the more efficient GS 300h which uses a 2.5L four-cylinder engine is not sold in America.

By design, the Lexus hybrid system is very different from the competition. The two motor/generator units and the electrical circuitry combine with a single planetary gearsest to “act” as a continuously variable transmission. This setup allows the drivetrain to act as a serial hybrid (kind of), parallel hybrid, electric generator, or a pure EV at low speeds. In contrast Mercedes, BMW and Infiniti combine a traditional transmission with a single electric motor that replaces the torque converter. Transitions between electric and gasoline drive modes in these systems aren’t as smooth as the Lexus system because of the clutch packs involved in reconnecting the engine. Meanwhile Acura combines a dual-clutch robotic manual transmission with a twin-motor pack in the rear for the only AWD hybrid luxury sedan in this category.

2014 Lexus GS 450h Hybrid Interior-002

Pricing

GS 450h pricing starts at  $60,430 which is a considerable jump from the $47,700 GS 350, but in true luxury car fashion, you may be disappointed with what $60,000 buys you. Unlike BMW and Mercedes which offer plenty of ala carte options, the GS hybrid comes in three feature levels.  Base models don’t get navigation or snazzy LED headlamps. If you want those toys plus the 18-way front seats, semi-aniline leather, steering headlamps, heated steering wheel, 3-zone climate control, black and white heads up display, blind spot monitoring and a trunk mat, be prepared to lay down $72,062. A fully loaded $76,726 example gets the buyer heated rear seats, headlamp washers, a “high intensity heater” (an electric heater that will heat the cabin faster in cold weather), a windshield de-icer, water-repellent glass, radar cruise control with pre-collision warning, lane keeping assistant, remote engine starter, glass breakage sensor and a rear spoiler.

76 large may sound like an expensive buy, but the ActiveHybrid 5 takes the cake with a starting price of $61,400 and a fully loaded price of $87,185. Acura has been cagey about RLX hybrid pricing but their presentation at the launch indicated they plan on following Lexus’s pricing structure quite closely. Meanwhile, the Mercedes E400 hybrid delivered an unexpected value proposition with a low $56,700 starting price and when fully equipped with features not available on the GS it manages to still be slightly cheaper at $76,095. The Infiniti hybrid hasn’t changed its value proposition despite the name change and the Q70’s $55,550-$67,605 is the lowest in the group. Audi hasn’t announced A6 hybrid pricing but I expect it to slot in around the E400.

2014 Lexus GS 450h Hybrid Exterior-003

Drive

To put things in the right perspective, I have to go back to the GS hybrid’s conflicted mission. Since Lexus decided to kill off the V8 GS sedan in this generation, Lexus doesn’t have a direct answer to the BMW 550i, Mercedes E550, Audi S6, or even the Infiniti Q70 5.6 (formerly known as the M56). This means the GS 450h has a secondary mission as the top-end GS trim while the other hybrids (except for the RLX) are middle-tier options and this puts the GS in an odd bind. Lexus tells us that the reason the GS lacks a V8 is that only 5% of the Germans are shipped with one. While that may be true in Europe, it certainly doesn’t seem to be the case in California.

The split mission is most obvious when it comes to the performance numbers. Despite having more power than the GS 350, the GS 450h is slower to 60 than its gasoline-only stable mate and considerably slower than the BMW, Infiniti, and even the Acura with the only the Mercedes being slower to highway speed. Still, 0-60 in 6-seconds is hardly slow and the GS performs the task with the silence and serenity you expect from a luxury sedan. Although Lexus describes the transmission as an eCVT, this isn’t a belt/pulley CVT like you find in economy cars. As a result, it feels more civilized and less “rubber-bandy.” I found the CVT manners throughly appropriate for a luxury car and the smooth acceleration befits a brand built on smooth drivetrains. Unlike a “real CVT,” engaging the eight imitation speeds is quick and easy with fast shifts from one “gear” to another. Unfortunately this does little for the GS hybrid’s sport credentials and in no way helps it compete with the V8s from the German competition.

2014 Lexus GS 450h Hybrid Exterior-009

Although the GS gives up plenty in the thrust-department, it really shines in the bends. The GS’s chassis is well sorted and nearly perfectly balanced. All GS hybrid models get a standard adaptive suspension system with several levels of damping, but unlike the air suspension in the Lexus LS, the GS’s adaptive suspension is based on electronically controlled struts much like the BMW system. This eliminates the “disconnected” and “floaty” feeling you get with air suspensions found on full-size luxo-barges. When pushed in the corners the GS quite simply feels better than the BMW. Yep. I said it. Today’s 5-series has a more luxurious mission in mind, so the little it gives up to the GS shouldn’t surprise anyone. The Mercedes and Infiniti feel very accurate, although heavy, and the Audi and RLX are a mixed bag. Unless Audi works some unexpected magic, the A6 hybrid will remain decidedly nose-heavy. The Acura RLX, although it has a similar weight distribution problem as the Audi, has a slick torque vectoring AWD system in the back. Not only can the RLX torque vector in power-on situations like a electronically controlled conventional rear axle, but it can torque vector in “neutral” and “power off” situations as well. Although the RLX feels by far the most “artificial” in the group on winding mountain roads, it is one of the better handling sedans and at the moment the only AWD hybrid in this category.

Of course the primary reason for buying a hybrid is to save on gas. Right? Maybe. With a 29 MPG City, 34 MPG Highway and 31 MPG combined rating there’s no doubt that the GS 450h is a fuel sipping 338 horsepower luxury sedan. However at more than $10,000 more expensive than a similarly equipped GS 350 it would take you more than 20 years to “save money.” We did average an excellent 31.5 MPG over 800 miles with the GS hybrid, a notable improvement over the Infiniti hybrid and the short time I spent in the RLX hybrid. Although we haven’t extensively tested the BMW and Mercedes hybrids yet, brief spins in both indicate they will slot in under the GS. There’s one more problem for the GS: Mercedes’ new E250 diesel. No, it’s not a speed daemon, but at 34 mpg combined it not only makes up for the higher cost of diesel with the higher fuel economy, it starts around $9,000 less than a GS 450h as well.

The GS 450h is without a doubt the best Lexus GS sedan available. It gives up little in terms of performance while delivering excellent fuel economy, a quiet and comfortable cabin and most of the gadgets and gizmos a luxury shopper could buy. Trouble is, unless the Lexus dealer is the only game in town, nearly every other alternative in this segment has a list of reasons to buy it over the GS. The RLX has a trendy AWD system despite the discount brand association, the Q70’s brand image isn’t quite as premium but it’s thousands less, the Mercedes takes the sweet spot in the middle known as “value” (how’s that for a surprise?) and the BMW offers the best performance and the biggest list of options if you can afford it. As the top end trim for the GS line the 450h also has troubles coming in just about as expensive as the competition’s V8 offerings but offering no better performance than the GS 350. The biggest problem for the GS however is the price. If the GS 450h was $5,000-$7,000 less expensive,  this would be an easy win. As it is, the GS manages to be the car I liked the most in this segment, but the one I’d be least likely to buy.

 

Lexus provided the vehicle, insurance and one tank of gas for this review

Specifications as tested

0-30: 2.88 Seconds

0-60: 6.01 Seconds

1/4 Mile: 14.49 Seconds @ 104 MPH

Average observed fuel economy: 31.5 MPH over 800 miles

Cabin noise at 50 MPH: 68 dB

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36 Comments on “Review: 2014 Lexus GS 450h...”


  • avatar

    Kind of funny this rather thorough review had 0 comments as the “Shopping For A Family Hauler” fluff question had well over 200.

    There’s always certain irony to expensive hybrid cars given the people most concerned about gas money certainly aren’t the well off.

  • avatar
    SELECTIVE_KNOWLEDGE_MAN

    THis review was much more informative and intereting to read than the previous GS450h vs another hybrid comparison on this site. Where the previous article went on about how hybrids don’t work well with sporty ambitions and how the reviewer was tortured reviewing the cars, this one really goes into the details which are of interest for buyers who are interested in the damn car.

    One question. Was the CT not the first to have this grille? Lexus simply decided not to call it “spindle”, right?

    • 0 avatar
      Alex L. Dykes

      The CT sort of hinted at the spindle grill but the thought wasn’t fully formed yet. It has the upper grille but the bottom didn’t have the “flare” outwards that it got in the refresh.

  • avatar
    NormSV650

    While at Cleveland Autoshow, I couldn’t get my GF’s Toyota loving parents excited about the Lexus lineup jumping in and out of them. They are spacious and have a fluffy padded feel inside that I found similar to Infiniti, but every car was white on the display and diffifult to tell the models apart unless looing at the rear end badges.

    Is this on the ES/Avalon platform?

    • 0 avatar
      Speedygreg7

      So you didn’t read the review at all, huh?

    • 0 avatar
      Alex L. Dykes

      While there are without a doubt some parts somewhere that are shared, no the ES and Avalon are entirely different cars. The ES and GS share no suspension, transmission, body, seat frame or other major design components. The 3.5L V6 is essentially the same with some modifications for the RWD layout in the GS and the FWD layout in the ES. Even the infamous Lexus joystick controller is different with the ES getting a slightly cheaper feeling model and the GS sharing a larger one with the LS.

      • 0 avatar
        84Cressida

        “The 3.5L V6 is essentially the same with some modifications for the RWD layout in the GS and the FWD layout in the ES.”

        You forgot the big one being the Direct Injection on the GS.

        • 0 avatar
          gkcmilner

          Correct, the 2GR engine block is essentially the same, but the cylinder head has some differences to accommodate the D4S fuel injection. The GS 450h takes it a step further by changing from Otto to Atkinson cycle.

  • avatar
    Aquineas

    Those are some pretty nice mileage numbers.

  • avatar

    The current touch-screen interface that Toyota & Lexus are using (it’s very similar) sucks.

  • avatar
    bd2

    Toyota tried to put on a brave face that the GS 450h would be a viable replacement for the V8 powered GS, but even they have to be disappointed in GS 450h sales – around 30-40 a month (probably mostly in California).

    • 0 avatar
      CoreyDL

      Yeah those HP numbers aren’t going to run with the V8 crowd. That engine in the M56 is ridiculous.

    • 0 avatar
      Carfan94

      I don’t remember seeing very many V8s in the first place and i can’t remember the last time i saw the hybrid version. All the ones i seem to see are the V6 models. But yeah you cant replace the V8 with the hybrid version.

  • avatar
    dal20402

    I love the idea of the GS450h, but the price is just too spendy for me, so I haven’t actually driven one to find out if I like the reality as much as the idea.

    For a luxury sedan, the 2-motor/planetary gearset hybrid drivetrain seems perfect. It’s capable of being smoother than any other gas-powered alternative, while achieving great fuel economy in the city slog and still having big power when you want it.

    I also like the new GS interior (although my wife feels differently, saying it looks like an old person’s car).

    And Lexus has the best reliability and durability in the business.

    Maybe if sales continue to be poor prices will come down a bit.

    • 0 avatar
      CoreyDL

      Since the 06 redesign, she’s right. The GS lost quite a bit of the sporty image along with the death of the JDM Chaser.

      • 0 avatar
        Carfan94

        The 3rd Generation GS was my favorite. It looked so stately and elegant and had the most gorgeous gauges I’ve ever seen. I tried to like the new GS but it looks too bland and derivative like they copied Audi and BMW especially those boring gauges.

  • avatar
    CoreyDL

    “quantities of bamboo that would Lumber Liquidators make blush.”

    Tired wood reference meme is tired, Alex!

    The price on this thing just seems ludicrous. A fully loaded GSh is into LS money, and then we’re talking V8 standard and a boatload of luxury. The mileage/cost figures prove these hybrids are about nothing but looking better in the parking lot of the golf club. I liked the 1/2/3rd generations of GS, but this 4th one has lost it for me. It doesn’t even have the quad-headlamp design feature like the old ones have, and it looks too close to the ES from the middle on back. The inside does indeed look solid and like it’s built to last – but I think it would be much better in a tan/parchment color, it’d appear much more rich.

    It also strikes me as odd that Jag is not fielding any hybrid competitor on ANY of it’s models. Guess TATA isn’t giving enough funding for those sorts of advancements. Well and the XF is getting mighty old. And I guess the XK is too sporty to need it. And the XJ crowd is too conservative to care about hybrids.

    So maybe I’m not surprised then.

    • 0 avatar
      dal20402

      “The mileage/cost figures prove these hybrids are about nothing but looking better in the parking lot of the golf club.”

      I don’t understand why people are so focused on evaluating hybrid systems only on fuel cost, particularly in the luxury segment. They have qualitative advantages too.

      The advantage of this drivetrain, at least if it’s executed right, is that it’s smoother and quieter than the V6/8-speed combo. At low speed it can run without engine noise. At higher speed fewer revs are required for the same acceleration. At all speeds it can avoid shifts, which are never perfectly smooth with conventional automatics.

    • 0 avatar
      Carfan94

      “I think it would be much better in a tan/parchment color, it’d appear much more rich.”

      Exactly! I was APPALLED when i found out you couldn’t get this car with a Tan interior. Every luxury car should have that option i can’t believe they had the audacity to replace the Tan color with “Flaxen”. That color would look fine on a Maxima but not a GS, and they might lose customers because of that. I’m glad I’m not the only one that’s disappointed by the new GS.

      • 0 avatar
        84Cressida

        Flaxen is tan.

        • 0 avatar
          Carfan94

          No, Flaxen is more of caramel/saddle color, and i dont like it in the GS. When i said “Tan” i meant more of a beige/parchment type color.

          This is Flaxen (YUCK!)

          http://www.tflcar.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/12/lexus-gs-450-hybrid-interior-2013-gallery-hgs-389_1024x576.jpg

          This is Parchment (Much nicer!)

          http://static.cargurus.com/images/site/2009/05/29/19/40/2009-lexus-gs-450h-base-pic-50831.jpeg

  • avatar
    84Cressida

    Lexus sells a GS300h in the Middle East, Europe, Asian countries as a lower cost alternative and better MPG to the GS450H. I think they should bring that and/or the IS300H to America.

    As for not having a V8, there will be a GS-F and it’s been caught being tested.

  • avatar
    05lgt

    Alex,
    Have you driven the F-Sport version? I’m curious how different they are. The “remote” operated menus are a nightmare on the whole line. Is there some special reason they’re avoiding touch screens? It seems … like a BSD decision that can’t adjust to the reality of how it’s not working.

  • avatar
    Remi

    I almost bought a leftover ’13 last december, but even though the car wasn’t heavily optioned, it was in LS territory (which in my opinion is a much nicer car) – the GS 450h was beautiful and drove very well though.

    I think it will be a great CPO car in 2 years, as all Lexus are. (I got a CPO LS460 instead)

  • avatar
    ravenchris

    That dinner plate with the L on the front, to me Toyota seems to be exuding cheapness.
    I missed the video.

  • avatar
    Kyree S. Williams

    I don’t know about the Acura RLX and the Infiniti Q70 Hybrid/M35h, but I absolutely do not trust “ze Germans” to make dependable hybrid power-trains. I do like the GS in general, especially the fact that Lexus was brave enough to put amber rear indicators on a luxury car (and they look great, too). But geez, Toyota/Lexus and GM seem to have a hard time making their engine covers look interesting. Even the C6 Corvette ZR1 has a rather drab-looking engine cover…

  • avatar
    jayzwhiterabbit

    The GS has always been the red-headed stepchild of Lexus, but with that new grille it is now plainly and utterly UGLY.

    I don’t see how they sell enough to justify the car….I never, ever see them, hybrid or not.

    Also, the dashboard is reminiscent of late 1980’s general motors design (think Oldsmobile or Cadillac), pleather/fake stitching and horizontal design included.

  • avatar
    z9

    I’ve seen huge discounts for the ActiveHybrid 5 advertised.

    Have sales of these luxury hybrids been disappointing? I always suspected manufacturers were offering them primarily to get a head start on fuel economy regulations. They don’t really expect to sell many of them.

    At a $60,000 base price the GS is about the same money as a low-end Model S after you figure in the tax credit. And electricity is a lot cheaper than gas @ 30 MPG.

  • avatar
    XMEN709394

    Cool!!!!

  • avatar

    Very elaborate description has been done here, any car enthusiasist will definitely get benefited from this blog. This 2014 Lexus GS 450h has holding a good rank in Luxury Large Cars.

  • avatar
    DrGastro997

    Great review! I’ve been a fan of the GS since I first saw it in Japan. It was a twin turbo named Toyota Aristo. The new GS is gorgeous inside and out. There’s something about the design that draws you in. Some say it’s a very bland and boring design. I must disagree.


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