The 2011 Lexus GS 350, 460, and 450h sedans take aim at the likes of the BMW 5-Series—and to some degree, the Cadillac CTS—but they're a little more muted in driving feel. Primarily rear-wheel drive, the GS models aren't as roomy inside as the comfort-oriented, front-wheel-drive Lexus ES 350. Instead, the GS models' strengths their sporty driving feel, along with convenience- and safety-oriented tech features.
The look of the 2011 Lexus GS sedans—inside and out—hasn't changed much in many years, though a couple of years ago it did get a slight refresh with restyled front, integrated side-mirror turn signals, and new wheel designs. And actually, the design still looks quite good—a gentle evolution of the Giugiaro-designed exterior of the standout 1990s-era GS models. With its arched roofline, cleanly styled front end and hunkered-back stance—along with very smooth sheetmetal—the GS looks purposeful yet graceful.
Inside, the GS has a curvier, more cockpit-like theme than the comfort-oriented ES and LS models, with an overall feel that's a little more European inspired. But the materials aren't totally on board with the GS's tech-laden sport-sedan mission; they keep with Lexus tradition and are somewhat conservative in appearance, with a new brushed-aluminum shift plate and dark gray bird's-eye maple wood.
The 2011 Lexus GS sedans move authoritatively, no matter whether you get the 303-horsepower, 3.5-liter V-6 in the Lexus GS 350 or the 342-hp, 4.6-liter V-8 engine in the GS 460. With either automatic transmission—the 350 and 450h get 6 speeds, the 460 picks up eight—the powertrain has a silky, unobtrusive demeanor in normal driving, but paddle-shifters allow you to manually access all those ratios.
For those who want top technology, along with some green bragging rights, the GS 450h gets a full-hybrid powertrain pairing a 292-horsepower, 3.5-liter V-6 with an electric motor system, propelling the rear wheels and charging its battery pack when coasting and braking. Altogether, the hybrid powertrain makes 339 horsepower and it's tuned for performance much more than fuel economy; it can push the 450h to 60 mph in just 5.2 seconds—faster than the V-8-powered GS 460.
The 2011 Lexus GS has inspiring performance, a plush but well-controlled ride, and a tight, quiet interior. The otherwise inspiring performance in the 2011 Lexus GS sedans, however, is marred by limited headroom inside the cabin—even in the front seats—and a surprisingly tight backseat. Front-seat comfort is also limited by seats that feel a little short and flat for some tastes—especially when compared to those used in BMWs, for instance.
GS models ride quite firmly, and while it can be a little too firm for some surfaces, most will find the ride just right with some underlying softness but no wallowing. Refinement is top-notch as well; there's not nearly as much road noise in the GS compared to other sport sedans, and the engines are just as refined and smooth as they are powerful and responsive.
In looking through the feature sets for the GS 350, GS 460, and GS 450h, there's plenty of standard luxury and comfort with a little more tech than is typical. Intuitive park-assist system and an active stabilizer system—which provides the advantage of a heavier stabilizer bar almost instantaneously without sacrificing ride quality—are among the options. Other options include an Adaptive Variable Suspension (AVS) system, which gets four different firmness settings, plus laser cruise control, adaptive front lighting, ventilated cooled front seats, a power rear sunshade, and a DVD audio/video-compatible, 14-speaker Mark Levinson sound system.
8 out of 10 The 2011 Lexus GS models are smooth and handsome, if not daring, and their interiors don't always match its sport-sedan mission. See details and best of the Web Performance
8 out of 10 The 2011 Lexus GS has excellent straight-line acceleration and impressive poise, though its steering isn't as satisfying. See details and best of the Web Quality
7 out of 10 Tight interior and trunk space limit the GS models' appeal next to rival models, even if their refinement, build quality, and interior materials are all top-notch. See details and best of the Web Safety
7 out of 10 Available active-safety features in the GS sedans go above and beyond, though its crash-test ratings aren't entirely impressive. See details and best of the Web Features
9 out of 10 There's a vast set of standard and optional features in the GS models—and the emphasis is tech. See details and best of the Web Green
6 out of 10 The 2011 Lexus GS 450h is a standout if you plan to do a lot of city driving; otherwise the GS lineup is unremarkable. See details and best of the Web
* Strong acceleration, no matter which engine
* Sleek, classy design
* Stability and poise
* Tech options
* Steering feel
* Tight backseat
* Limited headroom
* Real-world mileage for 450h doesn't match ratings
The 2011 Lexus GS sedans are fast, refined, and well-appointed; but low points include a cramped backseat and, for the 450h Hybrid, lackluster fuel economy.
EXECUTIVE EDITOR ROGER HART: For the most part, I liked this 2011 Lexus GS 450h a lot, save for 1 major annoyance: The brakes on this car--and to be fair, not just this car but nearly all hybrids with regenerative braking--are just not fitting with the rest of the vehicle. I come short of saying the brakes are awful, because they do, in fact, stop the car, which is what they need to do. But the horrible pedal feel, working without any sort of progression to the final stop, is something that I don't think I could get used to. Plus, once you do finally stop, say after a panic stop on the freeway, there is that horrible, final, tiny lunge forward after you think you've stopped.
I know these brakes are doing a lot more than just stopping the car. I can appreciate the science, technology and engineering. But when I need to stop the car now, I want to feel the confidence, through my foot, that the job is getting done in as hastily a manner as possible. These brakes don't deliver that kind of confidence.
The powertrain here is fairly substantial, and acceleration from, say, 40 mph to 80 mph is really impressive. Certainly, this isn't a real sports car, but the hybrid powertrain does pack some punch and makes the car relatively entertaining to drive.
The Lexus comforts abound with great leather seats and the wood-trimmed steering wheel. Overall, this is a good combination of sportiness and luxury, with the addition of the hybrid powertrain.
EXECUTIVE EDITOR--AUTOWEEK.COM BOB GRITZINGER: Clearly, this is not a hybrid aimed at the hypermiler set, or even the moderately fuel-conscious. I applaud Lexus for that--for taking what has become a fairly boring powertrain in its Toyota models (and even in the CT 250h) and putting it on steroids. Punch the pedal, and this car is truly a rocket ship, launching smartly with a combination of a ripping V6 and an electric-motor whir that would put a Waring blender on frappe to shame. The acceleration is truly stunning, especially from a car that looks relatively mild from a styling standpoint.
Handling is also good for a battery-laden mobile. It doesn't feel sluggish at all when you push it hard into corners. The steering is light but spot-on and precise.
My complaints are the usual: I hate the rocking feeling I get when driving at a steady speed--many hybrids seem to exhibit this trait which stems from on-off-on application of electric assist while motoring along at steady pace. It feels as if I need to get my sea legs, or something. There's also some noticeably abrupt throttle tip in and touchy regen brakes. I could probably get used to most of that to get 23 mpg combined and this kind of insane thrust.
ASSOCIATE EDITOR JONATHAN WONG: This 2011 Lexus GS 450h isn't a hybrid in the mold of the HS 250h and the CT 250h, which is good. Those cars are on a mission for fuel economy (meaning boring), while this GS 450h actually adds a bit of spice to the equation with a net horsepower output of 340.
How's fuel economy? I managed 24.6 mpg on my tank, which isn't bad considering the power here. And there's the ability for owners to be able to proudly state that they own a hybrid and are trying to save the environment and reduce our dependence on foreign oil.
Getting back to that total powertrain output of 340 hp. That's just 2 hp less than the GS 460, which has 342 hp from its 4.6-liter V8. As Bob mentioned, this thing gets up and goes quick. Expressway merging and passing are nonissues. I also didn't mind the continuously variable transmission in this application, either, which probably is a result of having plenty of power on tap.
As with all hybrids, the brakes are a touchy but offer an acceptable amount of modulation through the brake pedal, in my opinion, which is truly nice to see. I think about the Chevrolet Tahoe hybrid and remember how terrible those brakes are with the all-or-nothing brake performance. The GS 450h's brakes are far from that.
Ride quality is smooth, cabin isolation is Lexus quiet and the interior materials are high-quality with soft leathers and nice-looking wood trims throughout. Through corners, you do notice the car's extra heft (it is 189 pounds heavier than a rear-wheel-drive GS 460), but it's not terrible. Steering is light but responsive.
If you're dead set on a luxury hybrid vehicle, this GS 450h should definitely be on your shopping list. However, if you want real-world fuel economy, I have to suggest stopping by a Mercedes-Benz dealership and checking out the E350 Bluetec sedan with an EPA rating of 24/34 mpg city/highway and 400 lb-ft of torque available from 1,600 rpm. When equipped with some optional goodies, it would cost in the neighborhood of this Lexus's near-$61,000 as-tested price.