And we love them for it.
Really, we do – it’s a love-hate, heart-head kind of thing. It’s easy to admire this car, with its smooth powerband and efficient powertrain, and even easier to want to drive it, for all the things it is: the next stage of performance luxury cars, a technological marvel that will one day get parked inside a museum as one of the first clean-running, fuel-efficient power sedans ever built. Most of all, we love it because it’s fast and gorgeous, a speeding bullet on the road with endless power. Sure, the car has issues. It feels cramped inside, and all the attached safety technology takes away some of the pleasure of handling this type of vehicle. But that can be fixed; the powertrain, meanwhile, is beyond what most competitors are doing. And it’s just the beginning. Up next is the Lexus LS 600h, and who knows after that – maybe a Lexus supercar that runs on tofu and bean sprouts. For all that, yes, we love it, but we hate it, too, because Lexus has taken the anger out of the engine, the feeling out of the shifter, the romance away from driver, car and road.
They took the tach out and replaced it with a kilowatt meter. Some things you just can’t forget, or even forgive – no matter how much you want to drive the thing.
As there’s only one of these hybrids available, selecting your own Lexus GS 450h is really about how you like your leather, what kind of wood grain moves ya, and whether you want to pony up for one of the ultimate sound systems available in a car.
Well – there’s a little more to it than that, but not much. Priced at $55,595 (including the $695 shipping charge), the GS 450h comes with a wide array of standard equipment. Consider it the top trim of the GS chain, as you get additional standard goodies compared to the GS 300 or GS 430, such as a moonroof, rain-sensing wipers, headlamp washers, intuitive parking assist system, ventilated front seats, rear sunshade, back-up camera, and Adaptive Front lighting System (AFS). Of course, the main difference between a regular GS and this new hybrid model is that advanced hybrid powertrain that generates 339 horsepower, sending it to the rear wheels through a continuously variable transmission (CVT). While $55,595 may seem like a hefty premium for the hybrid, it’s quite reasonable: a like-equipped Lexus GS 430 runs up to a sticker price of $53,705 – including shipping – which works out to a $1,850 hybrid “tax.” When you consider the fuel economy difference, plus the $1,550 tax credit through September 2006 ($775 after Sept.) AND the performance boost, the GS 450h just may be a better deal.
As with the rest of the GS family, the 450h gets a long list of standard safety features, such as side-impact and side-curtain airbags, knee airbags and Toyota’s Vehicle Dynamics Integrated Management system (VDIM). VDIM integrates key stability, steering and braking systems including Electronic Brake-force Distribution (EBD); Brake Assist (BA); Traction Control (TRC) Vehicle Stability Control (VSC); Electronic Throttle Control with intelligence (ETC-i), Electric Power Steering (EPS), Variable Gear Ratio Steering (VGRS), and Electronically Controlled Brakes (ECB).
Inside, the Lexus GS 450h comes with your choice of bird’s eye maple or walnut wood, located on the steering wheel, transmission knob and center console. Leather color choices include black, cashmere or ash. Also standard is the Lexus Smart Access and Engine Start System (the start button), ten-way power front seats that offer lumbar, a tilt and telescopic steering column, and a stereo system with ten speakers and a six-disc CD changer.
Options include an active stabilizer bar and run-flat all-season tires combo ($3,400), a Pre-Collision System (PCS) with radar cruise control ($2,850), and G-Spider alloy wheels ($1,375). You can also opt for run-flats without the stabilizer bar, which will set you back $480 for summer tires and $400 for all-seasons. Add a rear spoiler ($200), and then get to work on the inside, with a navigation system ($1,900) and a 14-speaker Mark Levinson Sound System ($1,780). Also, note that beginning with GS 450h models built in August, Lexus will make its “Lexus Link” GPS and monitoring service available as an option.
Nuts and Bolts
As the first-ever rear-drive hybrid, the Lexus GS 450h is full of technological advancements that drive this sedan and its V6 powerplant into the 300-plus horsepower category. The engine is a 3.5-liter unit with variable valve timing that makes 292 horsepower at 6,400 rpm and generates 267 lb.-ft. of torque at 4,800 rpm. This is mated to a hybrid system that incorporates two motors. One, which outputs 180 maximum horsepower and 650V (volts), is for engine starting and speed. The other (650V, 197 hp) is for driving the rear wheels and for battery regeneration. The battery is a 288V nickel-metal hydride unit that outputs 35kW (kilowatts). When mated to the 3.5-liter V6 engine and the continuously-variable transmission (CVT), the combined power output reaches 339 horsepower.
That transmission is really the unsung hero when it comes to the GS 450h, as it marshals the power of this complicated system into a smooth stream. Lexus claims that this new CVT uses an advanced two-stage motor torque multiplication device to manage the power output. Interestingly, in a traditional sense, this transmission is more a part of the hybrid powertrain than it is a CVT. Unlike most, which are pulley-based units, the Toyota transmission consists of an electric motor, generator and three-way planetary gear connected to the drive shaft, engine and primary electric motor. The unit controls power output via two main ratios – high and low – which enables better low-gear torque and high-end performance, all with improved fuel economy. The transmission also has three settings – Normal, for the best balance between power and traction; Power, for acceleration; and Snow, for traction control.
Underneath, Lexus has installed an independent suspension setup that includes double wishbones up front and a multi-link arrangement in back, with Adaptive Variable Suspension (AVS) technology and driver-selectable shock absorber damping front and rear. The braking system is also new to the GS line, integrating four-channel, four-sensor ABS brakes with large, vented discs on all four wheels. The system is enhanced by Electronic Brake-force Distribution (EBD); Brake Assist (BA); Traction Control (TRC); and Vehicle Stability Control (VSC). Steering is a speed-sensing rack-and-pinion setup that’s integrated with Toyota’s Vehicle Dynamics Integrated Management system (VDIM). This system factors in data such as steering angle, yaw rate, deceleration, brake pressure and wheel speed, which triggers a number of actions to stabilize handling. The Lexus VDIM system anticipates dangerous situations and makes corrections by using all of the various active safety programs to slow down the car, stabilize it or control the steering. Systems integrated with VDIM include VSC, TRC, BA, ABS, Electronic Throttle Control with intelligence (ETC-i), Electric Power Steering (EPS), Variable Gear Ratio Steering (VGRS), and Electronically Controlled Brakes (ECB).
It’s all about keeping those 18-inch 245/40 tires on the ground and moving forward – or coming to a complete and safe stop. After all, from the electric motors to the engine and all the safety equipment, this baby’s expensive to build – how dare you crash it into a retaining wall!
Well, you can’t call Lexus plain anymore. And while you may or may not like the look, it’s certainly emotive, sleek and worthy of comment. That wasn’t always the case with a Lexus vehicle, but no longer, as the GS 450h continues in a new era for the company, ushered in by the 2006 GS 300 and GS 430. This new design features supple lines, taut expression and a feeling of motion – even at a red light. Notable differences from the previous GS include a longer hood and wheelbase, a wider rear track, a lower stance, and more overhang. The grille’s design seems shorter and sharper. In back, the dual exhaust looks great, and the wheel wells fit the design of the vehicle. Perhaps most notable, however, is the profile, an arcing roofline that connotes forward motion and which seems to have come from the Toyota Prius. Combined with the short deck in back, the Lexus GS – from the 300 to the 430 and the 450h – is luxury in motion, a smooth, fast-moving sedan that evokes the desires of today’s luxury buyer.
Once inside, you are greeted with what you expect – lots of leather with wood trim, and a cockpit designed for drivers. Leather inside the GS 450h comes in three colors: black, ash and cashmere, while interior wood trim is offered in either maple or walnut. As you’d expect in a Lexus, using the navigation and audio controls is easy and intuitive. Entertainment enjoyment – another Lexus standard – is also in full force inside the GS. The standard ten-speaker, 134-watt stereo includes a DVD player and hook-up for XM satellite radio, in addition to the usual fare. In case you want to upgrade your sound experience, you can get your GS fitted with the Mark Levinson Premium Surround Sound system, which includes 14 speakers and a 330-watt amp. Navigation controls, as well as Bluetooth technology, can be handled by pressing a button on the navigation screen. Ten-way, heated and cooled power seats provide adequate and comfortable support, and most people will find that the GS 450h offers enough leg and headroom. We generally found the sedan to be comfortable inside, though more hip room, head room and especially room in the back would make for a more enjoyable jaunt.
None of this should be a surprise – even the somewhat cramped quarters. Lexus has built its name on interior comfort, and while its new design (low sloping roof, short overhangs, long snout) compromises room somewhat, the GS 450h nonetheless admirably holds up the comfort tradition.
Safety and Technology
Airbags may be the most basic safety device inside the Lexus GS 450h. There are seatbelts, too, of course, but the point is that the GS 450h is one of the safest cars on the road – if you’re counting safety by the acronym. That includes airbags, as Lexus adds side-impact, side-curtain, and knee airbags to the GS 450h. In addition, there are several systems designed to keep you from crashing in spite of your bad driving habits, the distracted driver in the next lane over, or even crummy weather. The 2007 Lexus GS 450h gets just about all of ‘em, starting with a braking system that integrates large, vented four-wheel-disc antilock brakes (ABS) with Electronic Brake-force Distribution (EBD); Brake Assist (BA); Traction Control (TRC); and Vehicle Stability Control (VSC). As with other available GS models, the 450h has the Lexus Electronically Controlled Brake (ECB) brake-by-wire system, which figures out the right amount of brake force for each wheel in a given situation. Handling is managed by VDIM, which uses the above braking systems along with Electronic Throttle Control (ETC), Electric Power Steering (EPS) and Variable Gear Ratio Steering (VGRS) to keep the GS going in the direction you’ve got it pointed.
Run-flat tires and the Lexus Pre-Collision System (PCS) are optional on the GS 450h. The PCS measures vehicle speed, steering angle, and direction of travel, figures out the chance for a collision, and makes critical changes to keep you safe. For example, if a collision is unavoidable, the PCS will switch the car to Sport mode to reduce nose dive and improve emergency handling; it will retract the seatbelts to snug you tight against the seat; and it preps Brake Assist so that maximum stopping power arrives upon mashing the pedal. Also available on the GS 450h, beginning with models built in August 2006, is Lexus Link telematics. That’s the Toyota equivalent of OnStar, with GPS, airbag deployment notification, roadside assistance, 24/7 support and more.
It never ends. It never blips or thrusts, never even gives out much of a roar when you squeeze the throttle. It just goes, man, like a kid hopped up on a case of Red Bull, faster and faster until you shake your head and laugh out loud. It’s official: Lexus engineers need to spend more time at home, or take up a hobby like needlecraft that gets them away from thinking about how they can tweak hybrid powertrains into ever weirder science. In this case, they combined a beefed-up hybrid powertrain with a new continuously-variable transmission, routed power to the rear wheels, and whammo – a luxury sport sedan that goes and goes and goes. Dissatisfied with the speed you’re at? Just tip that pedal, bucko, and bam – you’re up to the next level. The powertrain is so seamless that you scarcely notice it. That’s true even when you switch from all-electric to engine power, which happens at around 15 mph.
Stop. Wait just one second. This is a hybrid, for goodness sakes, not a monster V8. Hybrids are supposed to make you grind your teeth as they struggle to accelerate, not behave like an uncorked amusement park ride. They’re here to give fuel economy, save the world, and luxury buyers are supposed to want one because, well, they really do care about the price they pay at the pump and the air the rest of us poor lower class suckers breathe. Apparently, that’s all wrong, bubba – wrong-o. This hybrid is about power, about bragging rights, about having the latest and greatest parked in front of the McMansion, about taking the notion of delivering V8 power in an entirely new way.
To that end, Lexus has simply configured its hybrid powertrain for another purpose – power – but with more efficiency than one should expect and better emissions than one could dream possible. Consider, for example, that the 2007 Lexus GS 450h gets to 60 mph in 5.2 seconds and goes from 30 to 50 mph in just 2.7 seconds, according to Lexus. Also according the Lexus, the GS 430 – you remember V8s, right? – gets to 60 mph in 5.7 seconds. The V8 does have a higher top speed, however, 149 to 131 – as if anyone outside of Europe is going to ever get a car up to those speeds.
Interesting point, however: if power is what you want, be sure to check out the Cadillac CTS-V. For $2,600 less, you get a luxury sport sedan that beats the Lexus to 60, 4.6 to 5.2 seconds, but returns around 15 miles per gallon. And here’s another anti-technology point to ponder: while driving the GS 450h, we missed it. We missed the roar, the thrust, and the play between driver, transmission and engine, the visceral feel of riding down the road atop a big, brutish engine. It felt weird, the thought of this type of power replacing a good ol’ naturally aspirated V8. Like watching Field of Dreams, the idea of it is, well, really darn sad.
Sniff. Sometimes it’s good to hate technology.
But it’s also foolish, and the fact is, you can find a few luxury V8s in the price range of the GS 450h that return as-good or better power numbers, but few that do it with the combination of fuel economy and low emissions. Call it the good guy’s power play, then, or the next new toy for the tech geek in your neighborhood. To drive the GS 450h is to hang onto the fin of a Great White Shark: the car is silently powerful and as smooth as glass. It’s a marvel of engineering, even if there are cars out there that go faster and cost less.
There are a few weak spots on this otherwise nicely built vehicle, however. At high speed, the brakes failed to inspire the same sort of happy prose, delivering a sudden, imprecise feel when we stepped on the pedal – as if someone interrupted the conversation – though stopping was prompt and efficient. As with most things Lexus, the suspension has a special technical acronym – AVS, otherwise known as Adaptive Variable Suspension. Though we were driving on mostly lazy curves and straight-aways (great for power), there seemed to be little body roll, and the sport setting was a noticeably stiffer setup than normal.
Steering also came across as hit and miss. More tension and feel for the road would have been nice, but the rack-and-pinion setup did impress as balanced and responsive to command. Case in point: when pulling out and passing on a two-lane road, the car responded promptly to commands, staying tight, on-course, and smoothly sliding back in place after the pass was complete.
Inside the cabin, it’s comfortable – like most Lexi – but this one is a bit cramped. Consider it a sacrifice for style. Yep, the specs say it seats five, but unless you’re like us and always seem to be surrounded by short supermodels, the back is much too small for three. If you insist, however, just remember two words: Deodorant, everyone! While the seats up front are comfortable enough and there’s adequate legroom, hip room felt somewhat constrained. The GS’s low roofline cuts room in back and ranks visibility on the poor side thanks to a pretty thick C-pillar. In typical Lexus fashion, however, the controls are well-placed, though we do think that the controls-in-the-compartment idea that tucks several features into a deployable pod on the lower left portion of the dashboard has run its course. What’s next, guys?
Bottom line: The tach has been replaced by a kilowatt meter. While that represents the fun and cutting-edge nature of this car, it also symbolizes what we miss the most, and what the GS 450h can never erase: that spot in the heart for V8 power and a stick shift.
What kind of fuel economy does the 2007 Lexus 450h deliver?
The EPA estimated fuel rating is 25 city and 28 highway, but you’ll probably get closer to the low 20s in combined driving. That’s really not the point of this car, however – it’s all about power, baby, with more fuel efficiency and better emissions than one expects to get with this kind of performance.
How easy is it to buy the 2007 Lexus 450h?
You’re probably not going to be able to jog down to the Lexus dealership and pick one up tonight, as production volumes are low and interest is high within this vehicle’s segment.
What are the best and worst things about the 2007 Lexus GS 450h?
First, the good: streams of power and a never-ending torque band thanks to an upgraded hybrid powertrain and a new continuously variable transmission, with what Lexus claims is 33 percent more fuel efficiency and a Super-Ultra Low Emission Vehicle (SULEV) rating. The bad includes cramped quarters and virtually no trunk space.
Test Vehicle: 2007 Lexus GS 450h
Base Price: $55,595 (including the $695 destination charge)
Engine Size and Type: 3.5-liter V6
Engine Horsepower: 292 hp at 6,400 rpm
Engine Torque: 267 lb.-ft. at 4,800 rpm
Primary Electric Motor: 650V; 180 max hp; engine starting and engine speed
Secondary Electric Motor : 650V; 197 max hp; drives rear wheels; regenerative braking
Battery Pack: 288V; 35 kW output; sealed nickel-metal hydride (Ni-MH)
Total Estimated Horsepower: 339
Transmission: Continuously Variable Transmission
Curb Weight, lbs.: 4,134 lbs.
EPA Fuel Economy (city/highway): 25/28 mpg
Length: 190 inches
Width: 71.7 inches
Wheelbase: 112.2 inches
Height: 56.1 inches
Legroom (front/rear): 43.5/36.4 inches
Headroom (front/rear): 37.8/37.0 inches
Max. Seating Capacity: Five
Max. Cargo Volume: 7.5 cu.-ft.
Competitors: Acura RL, Audi A6, Audi S4, BMW 5-Series, Cadillac STS, Infiniti M45, Jaguar S-Type, Lexus GS 430, Mercedes-Benz E500, Volvo S80
Photos courtesy of Lexus