The Truth About Cars » Lexus GS 450h http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Sat, 02 Aug 2014 03:20:50 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.9.1 The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars no The Truth About Cars editors@ttac.com editors@ttac.com (The Truth About Cars) 2006-2009 The Truth About Cars The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars » Lexus GS 450h http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/wp-content/themes/ttac-theme/images/logo.gif http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com Review: 2014 Lexus GS 450h http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/03/review-2014-lexus-gs-450h-with-video/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/03/review-2014-lexus-gs-450h-with-video/#comments Mon, 03 Mar 2014 14:00:25 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=750313 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, […]

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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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Review: 2012 Infiniti M35h Take Two http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/02/2012-infiniti-m35h/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/02/2012-infiniti-m35h/#comments Sun, 05 Feb 2012 18:36:14 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=429420 Most luxury sedans try to do everything fairly well, while taking no risks that might turn off a potential buyer. The typical end result: a car with few memorable characteristics, good or bad. Despite a “have your cake and eat it too” powertrain, the Infiniti M35h is not such a car. You might not like […]

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Most luxury sedans try to do everything fairly well, while taking no risks that might turn off a potential buyer. The typical end result: a car with few memorable characteristics, good or bad. Despite a “have your cake and eat it too” powertrain, the Infiniti M35h is not such a car. You might not like everything about it. But you will remember it.

To begin with, the Infiniti doesn’t look like any of the others. Though the current automotive fashion favors sheer surfaces, straight lines and sharp creases, the M’s big body contains the fullest curves this side of a plus-sized lingerie catalog. Think Jaguar with more brawn and less grace, as if to prove that organic forms don’t have to be feminine. The tall fenders require 20s to properly fill them; unfortunately the factory dubs are only available on conventionally-powered rear-wheel-drive variants. The h gets 18s.

The equally curvaceous interior recaptures the traditional charm that Jaguar abandoned with the XF in a bid to reinvent itself for the new century. Audi might offer stylish interiors, but they’re never this warm and intimate. The $3,900 Deluxe Touring Package’s silver-rubbed white ash trim tastefully dazzles. The brightwork flowing along the door panels and center console is a joy to gaze upon and trace with a fingertip. Another artful touch: the DTP’s diagonally-quilted semi-aniline leather upholstery. Materials are about as good as they get at this price level. And, despite the clear attention to form, function hasn’t been neglected. The center stack’s controls are very close at hand and logically arranged. The large, cushy seats feel as good as they look. Even compared to those in other luxury sedans, the M35h’s cabin is a very pleasant place to spend time. (Of my 50+ press cars, this one has been my wife’s clear favorite.)

The Infiniti M’s driving position is much different than you’ll find elsewhere. As in the related FX crossover, from the driver’s seat you clearly sense that you’re piloting a massive vehicle, yet not an expansive one. Those curvy interior panels detract from roominess up front. Also, the M’s body is considerably narrower above the beltline than below it. The relatively upright A-pillars touch down far inboard. As in the Jaguar XJ, but to an even greater degree, the view forward has overtones of vintage GT. The rear seat is less of an acquired taste, with plenty of room, a comfortably positioned cushion, and an open view forward. The trunk—well, the lithium-ion battery pack reduces its cubes from a competitive 14.9 to a compact 11.3.

The M35h’s hybrid powertrain combines a 3.5-liter V6 with a strong electric motor for a total of 360 peak horsepower, roughly splitting the difference between the M37’s V6 and the M56’s V8. But this isn’t the whole story: at lower rpm the hybrid’s performance is much closer to that of the 417 pound-feet V8, thanks to the electric motor’s 199 pound-feet of torque (on top of the gas engine’s 258). Despite the 280 pounds added by the hybrid bits, the M35h’s 4,129-pound curb weight is barely over that of a BMW 535i. Reasonable curb weight + scads of torque = strong acceleration. Rotate the console-mounted dial to “power” and the throttle can be overly aggressive, easily overpowering the rear tires. (Avoid this setting when the road is wet. For snow there’s “Snow.”) Even in “Eco” the M35h is a far cry from a Prius, you just have to push the throttle closer to the floor to blur the scenery. “Normal” strikes a good balance.

Helpful readouts include throttle efficiency and battery charge level. But, as in most hybrids, there’s no indication the division of braking between the motor/generator and the conventional brakes, so it’s unclear how to modulate the left pedal for optimal efficiency. An odd (if common) omission as the key benefit of a hybrid is its ability to recoup energy otherwise burned off by the brake rotors.

Based on the seat of the pants, the gas engine, seven-speed automatic transmission, and the electric motor (that takes the place of a torque converter between them) usually work together seamlessly. A notable exception: a hesitation in Eco and (to a lesser extent) Normal modes when you initially put in an order for a decidedly un-eco rate of acceleration, as if the powertrain computer can’t decide what to do. Want to get across the road before those approaching cars arrive? Sit tight, the desired thrust is on its way. The wait can only seem interminable. A second transmission issue: slow reactions to manual inputs. In manual mode anywhere near WOT you’d best request a shift 1,000 rpm short of the redline. Otherwise, “hello rev limiter!”

The ears have a different take the powertrain’s seams. The VQ-Series V6 is more polished than in other applications, but still far from hushed. At half-throttle and up it roars in a very un-hybrid-like manner. This would be okay, perhaps even welcome, except the noise comes and goes. The electric motor is capable of solely powering the vehicle up to 60 miles-per-hour, and frequently does so. The gas engine was off for the entire length of a two-mile 30-mph road. Very peaceful, this ability to glide along in near silence. But at near-highway speeds the engine often cycles several times a minute. So you’ll have a muted VQ rumble, then silence, then the rumble again, over and over. If the engine is going to cycle so frequently, it needs to be much quieter. Other noise levels are low. Aside from some occasional jiggles the ride is that of a luxury sedan, with a sense of solidity and level of encapsulation you won’t find in a mere Nissan.

And fuel economy? For one nine-mile trip where the gas engine was off much of the way the trip computer reported an astounding 39.7 miles-per-gallon. Then 24 on the return trip, despite an equally light right foot. The difference: whether the battery pack was giving or taking. Over longer trips that evened out this variable the car came close to the EPA numbers: 27 in the burbs, 32 on the highway, a significant bump over the M37’s 18/26 and impressive for a performance-oriented luxury sedan. Even a heavy foot sinks the numbers only into the low 20s. Apparently the VQ isn’t incorrigibly thirsty. Infiniti is about to lose its bragging rights, though: the 338-horsepower 2013 Lexus GS 450h ekes out 29/34.

Then there’s the chassis. The M’s moves are as old school as its aesthetics. Charming in some ways, much less so in others, and impairing confidence when it’s most needed. The steering is quick but light and distant. The car’s handling feels sporty, but not tied down or precise. One plus: the battery pack shifts the weight-distribution from 54/46 to 51/49, reducing understeer. But copious body roll in hard turns and a general sense of heft (above and beyond the car’s actual mass) suggest a closer relationship to the FX crossover than the G compact sedan. Worse, body motions aren’t well-controlled, especially out back where the rear end often lags a half-step behind the front. And all this is before adding the throttle to the equation. Like other rear-wheel-drive offshoots of the corporate FM platform, the M35h is prone to snap oversteer. Crack open the throttle with the steering wheel turned even a few degrees and the rear end will step out, even way out, nothing progressive about it. Combine dramatic oversteer with quick steering and subpar body control and you’ve got your hands full. Keep a cool head, don’t overcorrect (very easy to do here), and the rear wheels will again fall in step behind the front ones. The process is just far less intuitive and controllable than it could and should be. Leaving the stability control fully engaged helps, but in a heavy-handed way. Like those in its sibs, the M35h’s system cuts in early and hard. Better systems employ far more finesse, letting you believe you’re a better driver than you actually are. Yet, despite these dynamic faults, perhaps even due to some of them, the M35h is fun to drive. It might lack for talent, but it’s oh so willing.

The M35h starts $6,000 north of the M37, at $54,595. The must-have fancy wood and upgraded leather (plus the nav and 5.1 Bose audio that attend them) bump the tally to $61,945. Fuel savings might earn back the hybrid premium over the course of a decade, sooner if you drive many stop-and-go miles or gas prices shoot up. But also recall that the hybrid accelerates more like the M56, and the V8-powered car costs about $2,000 more. Some people are concerned about the potential long-term costs of hybrids. There’s more stuff that might potentially require replacement, including that lithium-ion battery back. Though it’s far too soon to tell in this specific case, the lower tech NiMH battery pack in the Toyota Prius rarely requires replacement even well north of 100,000 miles, based on TrueDelta’s Car Reliability Survey. If Nissan’s system is nearly as solid (far too soon to tell) its longevity won’t be an issue. The rest of the car? about average so far.

The Infiniti M35h has its shortcomings, especially when called upon to hustle through some tight curves. But the car’s unique combination of strong acceleration, 27/32 fuel economy, distinctive exterior, and beautiful cosseting interior has a certain charm. Want technical perfection? Then get something German. But if you’d prefer a luxury sedan that ignores conventions, that combines myriad noteworthy strengths and weaknesses into a whole that shouldn’t work—a luxurious retro-flavored hybrid where oversteer is a concern—yet somehow does, then take the M35h for a spin. Unlike with the typical hybrid or even far too many performance luxury sedans, there’s never a dull moment where the car seems to be doing all the work and you’re just along for the ride.

Infiniti provided the car with insurance and a tank of gas.

Michael Karesh operates TrueDelta.com, an online provider of car reliability and real-world fuel economy information.

M35h engine, picture courtesy Michael Karesh M35h fancy wood, picture courtesy Michael Karesh M35h front quarter high, picture courtesy Michael Karesh M35h front quarter, picture courtesy Michael Karesh M35h front, picture courtesy Michael Karesh M35h instrument panel, picture courtesy Michael Karesh M35h instruments, picture courtesy Michael Karesh M35h interior, picture courtesy Michael Karesh M35h rear quarter 2, picture courtesy Michael Karesh M35h rear quarter high, picture courtesy Michael Karesh M35h rear quarter, picture courtesy Michael Karesh M35h rear seat, picture courtesy Michael Karesh M35h side, picture courtesy Michael Karesh M35h trunk, picture courtesy Michael Karesh M35h view forward, picture courtesy Michael Karesh

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