Ryan Bubear drives the Lexus GS 450h F-Sport...
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"Performance hybrid". It's not an expression that makes a whole lot of sense. It's sort of like saying "honest politician" or "pleasant prostate exam". There really is no such thing.
Or is there?
Lexus uses these two seemingly incompatible words to describe the second incarnation of its hybrid-powered luxury sedan, the GS 450h F-Sport. And you know what? They're right. Well, mostly.
The GS 450h is, of course, a full hybrid — that is, it's capable of operating in petrol-only or electric-only modes, or a combination of the two. And a mighty 3.5-litre V6 collaborates with the electric motor and nickel-metal hydride battery pack to take care of the "performance" part of the equation. This engine is essentially the same as the one doing duty in the GS 350, just tweaked for fuel efficiency (at the expense of 20kW and 33Nm).
Total system output (petrol plus electric) is an impressive 252kW, while the electric motor adds 275Nm to the V6's already substantial 345Nm. This is enough to see the limo-like GS 450h catapult from zero to 100km/h in just 6.1 seconds (0.2 seconds quicker than the GS 350). It makes use of an electronic continuously variable transmission (E-CVT) rather than a traditional automatic gearbox, with surprisingly pleasing results — efficiency and linear power delivery, with very little of that dreaded CVT drone. Good.
But, strangely enough, the 450h seems to be lacking in drama somewhat when compared to the less powerful 350. Where the 350 roars through the gears, the 450h is more muted and civil, preferring to glide along — albeit slightly more quickly. Don't get me wrong; it's a quick vehicle and the power is relentless, but it doesn't beg to be grabbed by the scruff of the neck and thrashed. It's just not as visceral an experience, even though it's faster. It is a performance vehicle, just with the volume turned down a notch or two.
But it certainly is far more economical than the 350. Lexus says the GS 450h is good for 6.2 litres per 100km — the same as something along the lines of the VW Golf 1.4 TSI. And we reckon with a bit of effort and a light right foot, we'd be able to consistently return high sixes in the real world. But the early morning commute on the open road proved too much of a temptation, and we ended up on a still-respectable 8.8 (as opposed to our effort of 14.4 in the 350).
Select a mode, any mode
The 450h seems to be more frugal in slow-moving traffic — where its hybrid traits (think stop-start technology and electric-only mode) can come to the fore — than when devouring uninhabited highways. The Lexus drive mode selector also has a marked effect on fuel economy, with Eco, Normal, Sport, Sport+ (only on F-Sport), and EV each available at the twist of a knob.
EV mode — in which the vehicle operates almost silently and with zero emissions — is useful in traffic as well as in built-up suburbs (at speeds of 40km/h or lower), but is dependent on the battery being sufficiently charged. Try to engage EV mode soon after thrashing the 450h and you'll be greeted by a disheartening beep and an error message.
The F-Sport model is set apart from its siblings by an angry front bumper design, an understated boot spoiler, a head-up display, aluminium interior trim, 16-way adjustable sports seats, an electronically controlled rear window blind, dark metallic 19-inch alloy wheels, and larger front discs. All of this comes in addition to HID auto headlights, daytime running lights, rain-sensing wipers, leather interior, heated and ventilated front seats, smart entry and start system, tilt/telescopic multifunction leather steering wheel, 12-speaker Lexus Premium Sound System, massive 12.3-inch electro multi vision display (with HDD navigation and Remote Touch Interface), reversing camera, park distance control, dual-zone automatic air conditioning, Bluetooth, cruise control, and an electro-chromatic rear-view mirror.
The F-Sport also gets retuned front and rear suspension, with Adaptive Variable Suspension to maximise body control and steering response. Twist the drive mode selector to Sport+, and the suspension and steering both firm up rather nicely. In addition, the F-Sport makes use of rear-wheel steering to improve turn-in and rear grip. In Normal mode, however, the ride is remarkably compliant and suits the luxury side of the GS 450h's character.
Inside, the 450h is all about class and comfort. Space up front is generous, while leg-room on the rear bench is a little more cramped than expected. This is emphasised by the fact that the driver's seat automatically returns to its rearmost position once the ignition is turned off — not fun for tall folks seated in the back. Despite the battery impeding on luggage space, the boot is still reasonably substantial, and is capable of swallowing 465 litres (65 litres less than the 350).
The 450h is somewhat more visually striking than the 350, but it's also slightly less enthralling to drive. The payoff, of course, is that you spend far less time down at your local petrol station with the former. This — even if you have R750k to blow on a car — must count for something. Sure, you could buy a big German diesel instead, although the standard specification list would be dwarfed by that of the Lexus. And then there's the exclusivity factor too...
So, the Lexus GS 450h F-Sport brings together the apparently conflicting worlds of "performance" and "hybrid" in an altogether un-conflicted way.
It's almost the best of both worlds.
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See page 2 for specs and pricing.