And, well, rich people just love owning the hottest thing on the block.
Right now, that's the 2007 Lexus GS 450h, with its emotive new design and kick-tail electric cattle prod acceleration.
Lexus officials claim that the GS 450h will deliver power that is similar to that of a 4.5-liter V8. As the first-ever rear-wheel drive hybrid, that promises to be quite a ride up the torque curve.
What it is
Built to add to the GS's growing reputation for power and technology, the 2007 Lexus GS 450h is a hybrid luxury sports sedan, the first rear-drive hybrid and the first such vehicle to use a hybrid powertrain. Mated to three electric motors is the same V6 engine in the RX 400h - but in this rendition, the powertrain delivers maximum acceleration for superb performance. According to Lexus, the GS 450h beats even the new eight-cylinder Lexus GS 430. Aside from the powertrain differences, larger wheels and a few minor appearance changes, the 2007 GS 450h is identical to the GS 430 in terms of technology, interior and styling.
Why it matters
Imagine the possibilities if Lexus can provide better performance and better fuel economy from a hybrid luxury sedan. Seems that the combination would be lethal for the competition in the luxury segment, including its own GS 430, and would give Lexus a clear edge with the kind of powertrain technology people are clamoring to own. Among the only questions that remain are of performance: yes, it goes fast, but with the extra weight and different setup of the hybrid system, ride and handling may not live up to what luxury sport sedan buyers crave - time, and a test drive, will tell.
When you can buy it
Reports indicate that the 2007 Lexus GS 450h will be available sometime next spring. The time table depends on the development of the Hybrid Synergy Drive powertrain and the required battery packs. Plus, with the Toyota Prius reaching for 100,000 annual sales and long waiting lists at Lexus dealers for the RX 400h, don't be surprised if there is a slight delay in getting the GS 450h to market. Go ahead and put your name on the list anyway, because if the RX hybrid is any indication, this too will be a smash hit.
How much it costs
Mark Tremblin, vice president of marketing at Lexus, speaks before journalists at the 2005 New York International Auto Show. Pricing was not announced, but the 2007 GS 450h will be priced much like its SUV brother, the RX 400h, in terms of strategy: count on a premium vehicle at the very top of the trim ladder, one that packs many optional features in as standard which should place it on par with the Lexus LS. Hybrid technology is not for base luxury shoppers; to get it one must be interested in buying the best of what Lexus offers in terms of the GS sedan.
How quick it is
Zero to 60 in less than six seconds. Maximum torque available immediately. So sayeth Mark Tremblin, vice president of marketing for Lexus. He also claims that the 2007 GS 450h will conserve fuel like a V6, meaning that more than 20 mpg is expected. But this car is not really about fuel economy. It's all about going fast as efficiently as possible. To do that, Lexus has mated its 3.5-liter V6 with three electric motors, generating a combined horsepower rating that should be above 300 hp. All this power is funneled through the rear wheels, so hang on to your hats when you push down on that accelerator. Lexus asserts that the GS 450h will really shine between 30-50 mph, where most real-world performance is required.
What it looks like
Except for badging and a specific airflow vent design, the GS 450h looks identical to the regular 2006 GS models. Other differences include 18-inch alloy wheels and a power meter that replaces the tachomter. This design, which is new for Lexus, comes from the LF-A supercar concept and will be carried over throughout the lineup. With its attention to high, dramatic beltlines swooping curves and taut points of reference, the Lexus GS carries a refined, emotive design sure to please luxury buyers.
What we think
Based on the available technology and powertrain improvements, the 2007 GS 450h is all about high performance delivered as efficiently as possible. With a proven stylistic winner, a proven hybrid system and technology that sets the standard in the sport sedan class, the GS 450h is likely to be a hit. Until we drive it, questions remain about its on-road feel, including handling, braking and acceleration. That's a big wave of torque washing to the rear wheels; it will be interesting to see how the GS handles such a powerful blast.
Wheelbase: 112.2 inches, same as the 2006 GS 430
Length: 190 inches, same as the 2006 GS 430
Width: 71.7 inches, same as the 2006 GS 430
Height: 56.1 inches, same as the 2006 GS 430
Engine: 3.5-liter V6 engine, with permanent magnet electric motors
Horsepower: Equivalent to 4.5-liter V8
Drive wheels: Rear
Emissions ratings: SULEV (manufacturer's estimate)
Photos by Erik Hanson