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2007 Lexus GS450h Hybrid Review

2007 Lexus GS450h (select to view enlarged photo)
2007 Lexus GS450h

2007 Lexus GS450h(select to view enlarged photo)
2007 Lexus GS450h

2007 Lexus GS450h (select to view enlarged photo)
2007 Lexus GS450h

2007 Lexus GS450h (select to view enlarged photo)
2007 Lexus GS450h
SEE ALSO Lexus Buyers Guide

LEXUS GS450h Hybrid Luxury
By Steve Purdy
Detroit Bureau

You won’t want to buy this $60,000 luxury hybrid sport sedan for the fuel mileage, though it is marginally better than its conventional siblings. You might instead want to buy one for the performance since in this case the two power systems are faster than one - zero-to-sixty in 5.2 seconds . . . with a V6 . . . in a 4,100-pound car. Or you might want this GS450h for its luxury, technology or good looks.

I’m still struggling to understand the value of hybrids. When I evaluated the Ford Escape hybrid last year I ran some numbers to see what the pay-off period might be based on the extra cost of the dual power system compared to the savings in fuel. That one turned out to be about ten years. Not a bargain, I’m sure you’ll agree. This Lexus is a bit harder to assess since there are two other versions with which to compare. If we compare our test car to the V8 version there is only a few grand difference in price, the fuel savings is about 30% and performance is a tad better. The payoff period is between seven and eight years. If we compare it to the basic V6, a great-looking, beautiful car itself though a bit slower, the premium is nearly eleven grand, fuel savings is negligible and the pay-off period would be about 158 years. For some buyers the reason to purchase the hybrid may have more to do with making a statement on one’s environmental consciousness. For those folks I say ‘right on.’

On another front we can confidently say that the GS450h is one of the finest cars we’ve driven. The luxury quotient is the match of anything in its class and sportiness is admirable as well. With the amazing zero-to-sixty time referenced above seconds is close to class-leading. BMW M5 may be quicker and a smidge better in the twisties but the GS is not an all-out high-performance sedan either. It’s just a classy, comfortable, competent sport sedan loaded with technology.

Lexus’ tag line, “The Relentless Pursuit of Perfection,” is well stated. It’s really tough to find any fault with the GS. I thought I had identified a niggle when I looked and looked for the power mirror controller. I was just about to find fault when I took another look at the line of symbols below-left of the steering wheel. Right in the middle is a button with the word “Push” emblazoned in white. A gentle push opens the little panel with mirror controls, gas filler door release and a couple other functions. Slick. Now the only fault I’ve found so far is that the seat belt receptacle is rather deeply sunk in beside the seat making it difficult to engage.

Power and thrust are amazing. Full-throttle acceleration mashes us back into the firm leather seat with aplomb. Lexus says the 3.5-liter V6, 24-valve, quad-cam gasoline engine makes 292 horsepower but the electric motors enhance it to about 339 horsepower. Two electric motors take up about as much space behind the engine as a typical 6-speed transmission would. One motor is the starter and generator and the other is for auxiliary power and regeneration. Like all the gas-electric hybrids regenerative braking takes advantage of energy normally lost in deceleration and braking to recharge the batteries. Another advantage to the hybrid system is that this car is an Ultra-low Emissions Vehicle or ULEV, meaning the only thing cleaner is a full electric.

The sleek, low-slung new body design is distinctively different from the previous version. The roof line seems to extend from mid-hood nearly to rear bumper. Ingress and egress are a bit limited by the low-slung nature of the top. I have to duck more than I like to ease into the cabin. The rear door is even more limited. Only the largest of folks, though, will have a problem getting in or out. Once in those wonderful seats there is plenty of room. Because of that stub-tail shape the trunk is rather shallow and holds 7.5 cu-ft of cargo.

Once inside the feeling of luxury is pervasive. Three choices of wood and three of leather color allows for some personalization. You can have birds-eye maple in black or gold or your might prefer red walnut for trim. The materials, fit, finish and overall design, as we expected from Lexus, are impeccable. Everything we touch has a feel that confidently states ‘quality.’ My pretty blonde is a tough sell. She’s often unimpressed with even the best cars I bring home. But after driving the GS450h into the city she slid out of the driver’s seat with a big grin and announced, “I want one of these!” Too bad she can’t afford one.

Transmission is a CVT with 2-speed reduction, ‘snow mode,’ and a manual mode. I haven’t seen a CVT with manual mode before. A CVT (continuously variable transmission), of course, has no specific gears, so what’s up with a manual mode. We slip it into manual mode at speed and the shift indicator on the instrument panel shows a ‘5.’ We can bump it down and up triggering a slow shift-like feel, though it must be just selecting particular spots on the CVT continuum.

Suspension is independent double-wishbone with coil springs, gas-pressurized shocks and stabilizer bars front and rear – very sophisticated and on task. Push the GS as hard as you like through the cloverleaf on-ramp for a feeling of pure confidence and competence. The GS also has an admirable turning radius, much tighter than you’d expect from a car this size.

For the serious audiophiles among us Lexus has done a deal with the Mark Levinson folks to put ultra-premium sound systems in the GS and LS sedans; 7.1-channel architecture, 330 watts of power at 0.1%THD, driving 14 speakers. I hope that means something to some of you. It just means mighty good sound to me.

In terms of safety Lexus has left no stone unturned – and nearly no seating position without air bags - ten air bags to be precise. Additionally, the Vehicle Dynamic Integrated Management (VDIM) includes ABS with brake assist and electronic brake force distribution, traction control, automatic seat belt tensioners will make us feel safe as well. An available pre-collision warning system using front-mounted radar is paired with adaptive cruise control. ABS and traction control, of course, are standard. Brakes are vented discs, 13.1 inches in front and 12.2 inches in the rear.

Fuel mileage is supposed to be between 25 and 28-mpg. We’re getting a consistent 24.7 according to the on-board computer. I’ve never been entirely convinced of the accuracy of these on-board measurements but I’m assured by some engineers I know that they are very close. Perhaps we can shake this beauty loose from the press fleet for a long trip sometime to do a really good assessment of the mileage.

Our beautiful Smokey Granite test car starts out at $54,900 and with about 5-grand in options and $695 in destination fees we’re looking at a tad over $60,000. That Mark Levinson Audio system we spoke of earlier adds about $1,780, the 5th-generation navigation system with Bluetooth is $1,900. Run flat tires – five of them – run $480 extra.

Warranty is 48-month/50,000-miles plus 72-month/70,000-miles on the powertrain.

My pretty blonde and I loved the GS450h. For car buyers in that price range it’s an excellent choice – as are the other, non-hybrid, GS models. I’m not sure I’d necessarily go for the hybrid power system’s extra cost, though. But, if you really like technology or spend weekends hugging trees, the hybrid is the one for you.

Steve Purdy, Shunpiker Productions, All Rights Reserved