Effingham Daily News, Effingham, IL

September 4, 2012

Lexus GS 450h shows hybrid cars can be thrilling, too GS450hExt.jpg

By Derek Price
CNHI News Service

— Lexus has always been a luxury brand for logical people.

Where you might buy a Maserati for its passion, a Jaguar for its sexy styling or a Mercedes for its prestige, you buy a Lexus for its quality and longevity. It's the right-brained brand.

You would think, then, by taking a right-brained car like the Lexus GS and turning it into a goody-two-shoes, save-the-world hybrid, it might not be the most exciting thing to drive.

Lexus took a different approach with the GS 450h hybrid, though. Not only does it get better gas mileage than the ordinary GS — 34 mpg on the highway compared to 28 in the GS 350 — but it's also faster, too.

The hybrid GS makes 338 total horsepower between its electric motors and gasoline engine, which means it can accelerate to 60 mph slightly quicker than the GS 350 with its worse gas mileage.

It's a thrilling car from the driver's seat, too. A knob on the center console lets you select the driving mode ranging from Eco and Normal — which both give you the smooth, quiet and dull ride Lexus vehicles are famous for — in addition to Sport and Sport+, which make it respond more like a BMW than a Lexus.

The Sport+ mode, in particular, firms up the suspension, delivers full voltage to the electric motors, increases the steering response and makes the GS generally drive more like the sportier Lexus IS sedan. It's like having an aggressive sports sedan when you want it and a smooth, silent luxury car when you don't.

The hybrid version also tops the GS lineup with a price just shy of $59,000.

For that price, you would expect the GS 450h to come with plenty of high-end finishes and features, and it does. Its interior is crafted as finely as anything in the industry, most notably with an optional hand-finished bamboo steering wheel.

The matte wood finish in my test car made it one of the classiest interiors I've seen in several years, more like a piece of fine furniture than a typical plastic-filled automobile cabin.

And if technology is your thing, the GS delivers, too.

It has the biggest multimedia display screen of any car on the market today — more than a foot diagonally — that gives you access to apps similar to what you would expect in a smartphone.

In fact, some of the apps are very familiar to iPhone and Android users. Bing, iHeartRadio, OpenTable, Pandora, Yelp and other apps let you do everything from stream music to make dinner reservations and buy movie tickets from the on-screen menus.

Other available features include a heads-up display that projects your speed and navigation information onto the windshield, a Mark Levinson audio system, a backup camera, and sensors that make it easier to park.

As a whole, the GS hybrid has a strong "wow" factor, something the mid-size Lexus lineup has lacked for a while. It's a car luxury buyers can consider not only from the logical, practical side, but also from the emotional side.

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Derek Price is an automotive columnist for CNHI News Service. Contact him at carcolumn@yahoo.com.