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Lexus GS review (2012 onwards)
Summary: all-new fourth-generation Lexus GS impresses with its refinement, comfort and luxurious interior - while the hybrid version offers the best power to CO2 ratio of any car on sale.
We like: interior, comfort, refinement, hybrid performance, standard equipment, optional Mark Levinson stereo
We don't like: F Sport hybrid's steering takes some getting used to, non-hybrid GS250 gutless, no diesel option
The new Lexus GS450h hybrid has the best horsepower-to-CO2 ratio of any car currently on sale. Its 3.5-litre petrol V6 and electric motor combination has a peak power output of 345hp, yet the new hybrid emits just 141g/km CO2.
This gives it the performance of a traditional V8 - 0-62mph takes a scant 5.9 seconds - at taxation levels more commonly associated with four-cylinder engines. All wrapped up in a premium executive 'E segment' package that offers enormous amounts of standard kit.
Add in a stylish, beautifully finished interior that also includes impressive comfort and refinement at heavy motorway speeds, and this new GS begins to make a compelling case for itself. Even the exterior now exudes a certain presence, a certain amount of raffish charm.
The GS450h starts at £44,995 - which will buy you a hell of a lot of alternative German metal, offering the option of a diesel engine, too. At launch the lesser GS250 2.5-litre V6 petrol is the only other Lexus choice. And this, frankly, feels very slow.
Apparently the GS250 will do 0-62mph in 8.6 seconds. But although the engine includes the same exciting technical stuff as the GS450h, such as D-4S direct injection and dual variable valve timing, it only musters 209hp at a peaky 6,400rpm.
When the car weighs 1,640kg at best, this is not a recipe for instant response. Overtaking can, in fact, be rather sketchy. But Lexus gets top marks for making it sound fast - the V6 has a wonderfully cultured growl, and the conventional six-speed automatic gearbox is keen to help you out as best it can.
But really, you're going to want the hybrid version. As well as allowing the GS450h to breeze around town for short distances on electric power alone, the motor drops a huge wodge of additional torque into the drivetrain, which together with the bigger engine gives this car considerably more get up and go.
On derestricted German autobahn the GS450h will insouciantly squeeze every last increment out of its electronically limited 155mph top speed. There's wind noise and a little tyre roar but normal conversation is perfectly possible - even if the CVT gearbox does turn the engine's muted snarl into more of a drone.
If you're after comfort, the Lexus GS could well be the car for you
The Constantly Variable Transmission is a hybrid favourite, since it allows the combustion engine to work at maximum efficiency more of the time. Yet the way it keeps the V6 revving high under hard acceleration slightly upsets the GS450h's otherwise restful ambience.
It makes the power delivery unpredictable on twistier roads, too. Gladly there is a manual mode with six artificially applied ratios, and this delivers far more faithful control. Paddleshifters on the steering wheel make this easy to use, giving you a greater sense of command over the driven rear wheels.
Ride and handling
If you're after comfort, the Lexus GS could well be the car for you. For the most part it delivers a floaty, wafty driving experience that successfully filters out road surface imperfections at the expense of some steering precision and the addition of a little lean through the direction changes.
It's not going to satisfy keen drivers like a 5 Series can. But crank the new Adaptive Variable Suspension (AVS) over to Sport Plus and you'll notice a distinct reduction in wallow, managed without significantly terrorising the ride quality. You can now chuck it around as much as the chirruping rear tyres will allow.
The GS450h F Sport takes this even further. In addition to the specific F Sport suspension tuning - which you also get on the GS250, alongside a number of visual tweaks - it also features a variable steering ratio and active rear-wheel steering. This has a curious impact on the way the GS drives.
Although the idea is to increase agility through tighter turns while also improving stability at high speed, the extra variation this introduces into the reaction you get when you turn the wheel actually makes the car less predictable. We prefer steering that's certain, so we'd avoid the F Sport hybrid on this basis alone.
Go for the Premier version instead - which costs the same but is focused more firmly on luxury and comfort. AVS is standard on top spec F Sport and Premier models; Lexus didn't offer us the opportunity to drive any non-AVS variants.
The interior of the new Lexus GS is a triumph. It's almost worth a visit to your local showroom for the clock alone, which is artfully milled from a solid billet of aluminium. But the entire cabin glories in carefully wrought details that are handsomely put together.
It's the luxury features that really sell this car
The seats are 18-way electrically adjustable in the front, so if you can't get comfortable you'd better see a health-care professional; increased head and knee room in the back make it suitable for most adults. Clever repackaging boosts hybrid boot space to 465 litres, a massive 55% enlargement.
It's the luxury features that really sell this car. The optional Mark Levinson 7.1 surround-sound stereo system is genuinely fantastic - all 17 speakers and 835 watts of it - and while it costs £1,000 it also brings solid aluminium controls and a huge 12.3-inch widescreen display.
This is the biggest screen in the market right now, and although navigating around it with Lexus' quirky, computer mouse-like Remote Touch Interface won't be to all tastes, this second-generation version is a vast improvement over before. Generally we found the controls throughout exceptionally intuitive.
Other key elements of the new GS interior include the Head Up Display - basic, but still welcome - the supple, contrast-stitched leatherwork and a very clever deodorising climate control system featuring "nanoe" technology. The last is only fitted on the range-topping GS450h Premier model.
A large rotary Drive Mode Select knob gives you a choice of Eco, Normal and Sport settings, extended with Sport Plus on AVS-equipped cars. This alters the steering, throttle and gearshift parameters, but also makes changes to the climate control and the instrument panel.
Economy and safety
That impressive 141g/km CO2 figure for the GS450h doesn't quite carry over to diesel-rivalling economy. At best the Lexus claims 46.3mpg (and if you pick the F Sport with its standard 19-inch alloy wheels this decreases to 45.6mpg); a BMW 535d manages 142g/km with a claimed 52.3mpg.
The 535d also hits 62mph in 5.7 seconds. However, diesel doesn't burn as cleanly as petrol overall, so if you're really concerned about being green the Lexus remains the stronger choice - although BMW and Infiniti also offer hybrids in this segment now.
10 airbags as standard
These will shortly be joined by hybrid versions of the Audi A6 and the Mercedes E-Class. None of these quite match the Lexus' combination of power and efficiency. The coming Volvo V60 plug-in hybrid will prove more of a challenge: it has a much greater electric-only range, 285hp and emits just 49g/km CO2.
First drive: Volvo V60
The GS is available with a comprehensive suite of electronic driver aids. It'll watch your blind spots, keep you in lane, make sure you aren't falling asleep and optimise itself for a crash should the worst become an inevitability even the Vehicle Dynamics Integrated Management stability control system can't avoid.
It also has no less than 10 airbags as standard. Including one in the glovebox lid for the passenger's knees.
The MSN Cars Verdict ****
Wisely, Lexus is plotting its own course here. Don't go looking at a GS expecting it to be just like an Audi, BMW or Mercedes; the Jaguar XF is perhaps closest in character, but the GS is oriented much more towards comfort, has a more spacious back seat and a more convincing quality of finish in most of the cabin.
It won't be for everybody, and the GS250 seems marginal to say the least. Yet with a long-standing reputation for customer service, impressive environmental credentials and some indulgent luxury touches, the new GS450h could well make it time you paid the nearest dealership a visit again. Don't forget the clock.
Need to know
Engines petrol: 2.5 V6, 3.5 V6 hybrid
Engines diesel: n/a
Power hp: 209 - 345
0-62mph secs: 5.9 - 8.6
Top speed mph: 144 - 155 (electronically limited)
Mpg combined: 40.9 - 51.4
CO2g/km / Tax %: 141 - 207 / 19 - 32
Rating (specific model): Lexus GS 450h Premier
Ride and handling: ****
Fuel economy: ****
MSN Cars verdict: ****
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