If Edmunds can get 5.5 sec., others usually can do much better
Lexus GS450h -- Proof Toyota Will Eventually Rule the World
I just spent the morning in the GS450h, and as expected it came off as a spectacular car. The primary point this car makes is that you can drive a hybrid vehicle with absolutely no penalty (except, of course, cost). Toyota's earlier hybrid efforts (Prius and RX400h) are fine vehicles, but the hybrid element is very apparent while driving them. For instance, when the engine fires up to assist with accleration on the Prius, you know about it. And when you apply the brakes in either car there is an inconsistant feel as the drivetrain switches from motor to generator. These issues are minor by earlier hybrid standards. For instance, in the Honda Insight you REALLY know when the drivetrain is doing its "hybrid" thing, while in the Prius you just sort of know and in the RX400h you only kinda know.
In the GS450h you have to purposely "feel" for these drivetrain shifts, or you will not be aware of them. Instead, the car just seems extremely quick and responsive when applying the throttle, and the brake pedal has a slight mushiness to it (about as mushy and many other, non-hybrid vehicles). I like how you can put it in "sport" mode to stiffen up the suspension, and I like how you can put it in "power" mode to tell the drivetrain, "Hey, forget that whole mileage thing right now and just make the car go fast." It seems to work, too, as the GS hybrid pulled a 5.5 second zero-to-60 time in instrumented testing. I've also noticed with each new Toyota hybrid vehicle that their ability to recharge the battery keeps getting better. Keeping the Prius battery full takes some effort on the driver's part, but the battery in the RX400h seems to rarely go out of "green" mode, and the GS's battery was green during most of my test drive -- even though I was hammering the throttle most of the time. Our company owner also drove the car and was thoroughly impresed. In his words, "Toyota is way out in front on this." That's a hard point to argue, considering Toyota is rapidly improving their hybrid drivetrains while most other manufacturers haven't even built their first version.
2007 Lexus GS450h
Can hybrid technology make a great sedan even better?
by Paul A. Eisenstein (2006-02-24)
The Big Island of Hawaii is a land of surprises. Along the warm, dry Kona Coast it's sunshine, swimming, and golf. But just ten miles away, along the cross-island Saddle Road , a torrential rain is pummeling down, while a blizzard scours the island's twin volcanic peaks.
So it was an unexpectedly appropriate place to go for our first drive of the 2007 Lexus GS450h, a sedan that delivers a variety of its own surprises. The new model could very well redefine both the Lexus brand and the concept of hybrid-electric vehicles.
"Hybrid" is, of course, what the little "h" stands for, making this the second gasoline-electric offering in the Lexus lineup. The first, the RX400h, debuted barely a year ago. A version of the automaker's crossover wagon, it's proved both immensely popular and quite controversial. Like the little Prius sedan sold by parent company, Toyota , Lexus bills the RX400h as an environmentally friendly vehicle whose high-mileage technology reduces both emissions and reliance on imported oil.
In real-world use, the RX is more about feeling good than helping Mother Earth. Some reviewers, including those at TheCarConnection.com and The New York Times, have gotten just 21 mpg. Polling owners, the enthusiast site, GreenHybrids.com, got the average closer to 25 mpg, still a significant shortfall from the 33 City/28 Highway sticker. But if you don't save much fuel, there's the feel-good factor - and the access to the diamond commuter lanes with one person onboard, offsetting the steep hybrid price penalty.
Well aware of the controversy, Lexus is nonetheless still singing a green tune as it prepares to launch the GS450h. But it is fine-tuning that message. The emphasis here is on environmentally sensitive performance.
Cleaner than the average car
The sedan, boasted chief engineer Shigetoshi Miyoshi, is "80 percent cleaner than the average car." But during a background briefing, he put the real emphasis on the fact that the new hybrid is not only the fastest-ever Lexus, but with a 0-60 time of 5.2 seconds, quicker than a Porsche 911 with the Tiptronic transmission. Top speed is a limited 131 mph for the U.S. version.
Will you also get better mileage? Well, it depends. Almost certainly better than a 4.5-liter V-8, which officials claim is what you'd need to get comparable performance - and why the 3.5-liter sedan is designated the GS450h, rather than GS350h. According to Lexus, the '07 hybrid should match the fuel consumption of a stingy, 2.5-liter in-line four, rated 27 mpg City and 28 Highway.
Well, that's what the window sticker is likely to show. But we wouldn't expect that in everyday use. Sure, in heavy L.A. traffic, you'll spend time in electric-only mode. But stomp on the drive-by-wire throttle and you're going to drain a lot of that imported petrol. During several admittedly brief runs around the Big Island , our test GS delivered results ranging from 19.3 to 24.4 mpg. Steep hills and hard acceleration, as you'd expect, quickly slashed away at the numbers.
Now, as we tore through the Hawaiian countryside, we have to admit, we weren't all that worried about fuel economy. This hybrid-electric proved an absolute, er, gas to drive.
Flat-out performance is exhilarating. The throttle nailed, you quickly sank back into the sedan's well-bolstered seats. Thanks to the "electric supercharging" system, the GS kept pulling as long as there was power in the batteries. And we found no noticeable loss in performance as we climbed to higher altitudes on this well-terraced island.
With last year's introduction of the GS sedan, Lexus took a great leap forward. As the division's general manager, Bob Carter, readily admits, this is not a brand known for its high emotional quotient. Parent Toyota is trying to change that. It has set up a separate Lexus board of directors, engineering arm and design center. And the '06 GS made great use of the division's stylish new design theme, known internally as L-finesse.
Lexus chose not to plaster the word, "hybrid," all over the vehicle, preferring discreet badging and otherwise subtle visual differences from the standard GS sedan.
Synergy at work
What matters most is largely found under the skin. Lift the hood and you'll discover an engine cover emblazoned, " Hybrid Synergy Drive ." It's an extraordinarily complicated package of technology - and not easy to boil down to a paragraph, but let's try.
The 292-hp V-6 delivers power through a new hybrid transmission specifically developed for the GS450h (and likely other high-performance models to follow). The transmission can also be driven by the most powerful hybrid twin-electric motor system Toyota has ever built, which is capable of punching out 197 hp and lots of on-demand torque.
(Don't try to add the horsepower ratings of the gas engine and electric motors. It doesn't work that way. All told, the GS450h makes a maximum 339 hp.)
When slowing or coasting, the synergy drive system can recapture waste energy, as can the vehicle's so-called regenerative brakes, which create current, rather than waste heat. This power can be re-directed to the electric motor, or recycled into 40 nickel-metal-hydride batteries.
The hybrid package is smaller and lighter than that used in other Toyota hybrids, notably the RX400h. That reflects the emphasis on performance over mileage, as well as the need to provide reasonable cargo space. There's room for two full-size golf bags in the trunk. Still, the motor, power electronics, batteries, and other hybrid accoutrements add about 386 pounds to the standard, V-6 GS sedan, which now weighs in at a hefty 4134 lb.
On the road, you'd likely not notice. Nor are you aware of all the complicated machinations ordered up by the hybrid's computer controllers. "It's a challenge, when you're (switching from electric drive to gas-power) to tell when the engine starts," asserts executive engineer Dave Hermance. After trying, we have to agree.
This is easily the most transparent of any hybrid we've driven. There's very little of that rubber-banding effect you feel in a Prius or RX as the engine revs, seemingly independent of actual road speed. It's even better when you put the shift in manual mode, where it does a reasonable job of emulating a six-speed manual.
The '06 GS introduced an alphabet soup of technology designed to improve handling, performance, comfort, and safety. There's a full review on-site, so to keep this piece from stretching on indefinitely, we'll touch on only a few key features, like VGRS, which provides variable gear ratio steering. The steering is electrically assisted.
The Vehicle Dynamics Integrated Management System, or VDIM, takes input from sources like steering angle, yaw rate, brake pressure, and acceleration sensors. That regulates various traction systems, including anti-lock brakes, or ABS, Vehicle Stability Control, or VSC, Traction Control, or TCS, Brake Assist, or BA, and Electronic Throttle Control with intelligence, or ETC-i.
Our test vehicle also included the optional Active Stabilizer Suspension system. (Perhaps you can understand why Lexus uses no acronym here.) It's similar to the BMW system used to variably torque stabilizer bars, but Lexus has gone electric instead of hydraulic.
Toss in the standard rain-sensing wipers, Park Assist, and rearview camera and you've got a car with more silicon and copper circuitry than you'd find at a small Radio Shack. But what happens when it's all running?
While we may be skeptical of the mileage claims, it's hard to fault the performance and pure fun of driving the GS450h. It's smooth and quick and nimble. As with the '06 GS, the steering is precise and quick and the suspension keeps you firmly planted on the road. Better yet, with the electric portion of the drivetrain directly linked to VDIM, the traction systems seem to work just that much more smoothly.
Our complaints, then, are relatively minor. We'd like to replace the mouse-fur headliner, and some of the buttons for the video display are cheap looking. But the display itself is incredible. It's the highest resolution display Lexus has ever offered and that permits a much more detailed, eye-pleasing image, whether you're watching the Hybrid Synergy Drive display or using GPS navigation.
Incidentally, the next-generation nav software now allows you to program street addresses by voice, so you don't have to stop and type - or so we're told. There are no maps for Hawaii , so we couldn't test the claim out.
Expect the powers-that-be at Toyota to be watching quite closely to gauge the reaction to the new GS450h. If things play out well, it's likely to be the first in a series of high-performance hybrids from the Lexus brand. But it could very well kick off a bit of a backlash among those who believe gas-electric technology should be used exclusively to boost mileage.
While we're skeptical of the save-the-earth claims, we're duly impressed with the GS450h's overall performance and handling. It's lavishly equipped and incredibly quiet, as you'd expect from a Lexus, but has a much more sporty feel than the brand has traditionally been known for. We expect a lot of folks to pay attention when the sedan reaches showrooms.
2007 Lexus GS450h
Base price: $58,000 (est.; GS430, $51,375)
Engine: Hybrid Synergy Drive consisting of 3.5-liter all-aluminum V-6, 292 hp/267 lb-ft, and two electric motors generating a peak 197 hp. Combined rating is 339 hp
Major standard features: Power windows, locks and mirrors; ventilated and heated leather power seats; AM/FM/six-disc, in-dash CD; rain-sensing wipers; moonroof; Park Assist; rear sunshade; headlight washers; remote keyfob and keyless start; adaptive suspension.
Safety features: Dual front, side, and front and rear side-curtain airbags; rear backup camera; daytime running lights; anti-lock brakes; traction and stability control
Warranty: Four years/50,000 miles; six years/70,000 miles drivetrain; eight years/100,000 miles hybrid components
Toyota plans to build only 6000 Lexus GS 450h sedans for sale worldwide with just 2000 slated for the United States, so the car won’t significantly add to the company’s global bottom line. But the newest hybrid in the Toyota family is far more significant to the company in other, more important ways.
The GS 450h is the first rear-drive hybrid sedan, and while you can’t call it a test bed, it is full of technology that will play significant roles as Toyota and Lexus expand their hybrid model lineup. Until now the gas-electric hybrids from Toyota (and Honda and Ford) have been either fwd or awd. GM’s “mild hybrid” Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra pickups are either rwd or 4wd.
The GS hybrid has the same exterior dimensions as the gasoline-only GS 300/430—only subtle badges on the rocker panels and on the rear fascia give away its identity. All of the hybrid stuff (the electric motors, batteries and controllers) adds 386 pounds to the car, which now weighs a hefty 4134 pounds. For enthusiasts, the power bonus from the hybrid driveline overcomes the weight penalty.
The car has three power sources: a 3.5-liter V6 with dual injection that makes 292 hp at 6400 rpm and 267 lb-ft at 4800 rpm; motor generator one, which is the primary generator, engine starter and controller of engine speed that makes 180 hp; and motor generator two, which drives the rear wheels, makes 197 hp, and is the main piece in the regenerative braking system. As we have learned with previous hybrids, you can’t tally the total horsepower of all three to get a final number. Lexus says the total output of the system is 339 hp, which helps make the GS 450h one of the quickest cars Lexus has produced.
With the instant torque delivered from the electric motors, the GS 450h accelerates from 0 to 60 mph in 5.2 seconds. For comparison, the GS 430 needs 5.7 seconds to get to 60 mph.
Also impressive is the thrust from 30 to 50 mph, which takes just 2.7 seconds. Equally impressive is 40-to-80-mph acceleration and the 60-to-100-mph run where the acceleration pushes you in your seat. Top speed is 131 mph.
Hybrid systems in the Toyota Prius and the Lexus RX 400h feel seamless, but those seem almost crude compared to the GS version. If you consciously attempt to notice when the system switches from solely electric power to firing up the gas engine, most times it is nearly undetectable.
“This is the most powerful hybrid system to date from Toyota, and hands down this is the smoothest system we have developed,” said Dave Hermance, Toyota’s hybrid guru.
Hermance says the car’s transmission is the first longitudinal hybrid transmission. While it’s not a continuously variable transmission—no belts, pulleys or chains—it acts like one: Stomp the throttle, the engine revs to a peak power point and stays there as the speed climbs. There is a sequential downshift option for variable engine braking, but it does nothing for upshifts.
“It’s illusionary,” Hermance says. “You can’t hold low gear because there is no low gear. In grade descents it is extremely effective.” Here is yet another point in automotive brains that must be recalibrated.
Behind the rear seat are 40 nickel-metal hydride battery modules that store electric juice. The trunk space is slightly less voluminous than on the gasoline-powered GS models, but still holds two golf bags.
The overall driving experience of the GS 450h is the best yet in a hybrid. The powertrain performance is impressive, and the extremely quiet, comfortable Lexus sedan is a great place in which to experience it. While some Lexus cars have been criticized for being a numbing experience, this GS has character. Step on the throttle and you hear noise—not a sports car or muscle car thrum—but a report loud enough to elicit a smile: This is a car you want to push into the next corner.
The GS 450h is an electronic marvel, with virtually all propulsion systems monitored by the Vehicle Dynamics Integrated Control. This electronic brain checks the electronic braking control, including the regenerative braking, ABS, electronic brake force distribution, brake assist, traction control, vehicle stability control and the car’s electric steering. Subtle badging and a different gauge cluster are the only signs revealing the powertrain of the Lexus GS 450h. Everything else is the same as on the GS 300/430.
The car is equipped with electric power steering with a variable gear ratio from 12.4:1 to 17.2 :1, depending upon speed. While you can get mixed feelings with similar systems on other cars because of a lack of road feel, this one works okay. Turn-in is crisp with progressive steering. Hermance describes it as the first step toward a drive-by-wire system. This might be Toyota hyperbole, but we’ll wait and see.
The GS 450h comes well equipped with just a few major options available, like a navigation system and an active stabilizer suspension package. While prices haven’t been confirmed, expect the hybrid to sticker near $55,000, about $2,000 more than the GS 430. Fully loaded, the hybrid should cost around $61,000.
When talking about fuel mileage—a big selling point for hybrids—Hermance is quick to say “your mileage may vary.” He said that repeatedly. In other words, the EPA cycle for getting the fuel mileage numbers—27 city/28 highway, a combined 28 mpg—does not necessarily reflect what you can get in the real world. Toyota has taken some lumps from Prius owners who didn’t achieve EPA numbers from their cars, so the company is trying to be out front about it. For comparison, the gasoline-only GS 430 is rated at 18 city/25 highway, the GS 300 at 22 city/30 highway.
Looking at similar-sized cars from Audi, BMW, Infiniti and Mercedes-Benz, which have a combined EPA rating of 20.4 mpg, the hybrid Lexus does better at the gas pump. Driving a GS 450h would save 200 gallons of fuel annually, or roughly $500, compared to the above-mentioned, similar-sized gasoline-only powered cars. Few Lexus customers will choose the hybrid for that reason alone. Toyota says the GS 450h emits 67 percent fewer exhaust emissions, so being environmentally friendly is a plus.
There will be a good number of buyers who will choose the GS 450h for its performance—it delivers the goods. And over the course of a year you will have to stop for fuel less often than in any of the other above-mentioned cars. The GS 450h can save you time a couple of different ways.
I find it funny how GS went from having too little character, to have loads of it :-). And last paragraph tells it all.
I find it funny how GS went from having too little character, to have loads of it :-). And last paragraph tells it all.
Well a couple things
1. Its faster from a start and fastest or tied for fastest in class now.
2. Its at speed acceleration is fastest or tired for fastest in class now.
3. The new active roll bar must help. I am waiting for more of a review on it.
The reviews keep coming like this, I think I'll wait a little for this baby
0 - 30 (sec): 2.4
0 - 45 (sec): 3.8
0 - 60 (sec): 5.6
0 - 75 (sec): 7.9
1/4 Mile (sec @ mph): 13.68 @ 104.23
30 - 0 (ft): 30.82
60 - 0 (ft): 123.21
Braking Rating (Excellent, Good, Average, Poor or Very Poor): Excellent
Slalom (mph): 63.5
Skid Pad (g-force): N/A
Handling Rating (Excellent, Good, Average, Poor or Very Poor): Excellent
Db @ Idle: 37.5
Db @ Full Throttle: 73.6
Db @ 70 mph Cruise: 67.0
Acceleration Comments: It was nearly impossible to detect any traction control -- rather it gave more power the further it was driven.
Braking Comments: N/A
Handling Comments: Non-defeat VSA (Vehicle Stability Assist) means playing within the prescribed limit which turns out to be rather generous considering Toyota's conservative history with such systems. As smooth as one can be with the steering wheel is the least disruptive and fastest way through. Exceptionally well-balanced grip fore and aft. Steering is a bit numb but I like the ratio at speed.
From the Edmunds review. Simply amazing car. They love it.
13.6 through the 1/4 Mile. WOW.
1995 ES300 (sold)
1997 Nissan Maxima SE 5-speed Black
Lexus Announces Certified EPA-Estimated Mileage Figures for GS 450h
Luxury Performance Gas/Electric Hybrid Sedan
03/17/2006 Torrance, CA
March 17, 2006 – Torrance, CA - Lexus today announced the certified EPA-estimated mileage figures for the GS 450h, the world's first luxury performance hybrid sedan. The GS 450h has an EPA-estimated combined fuel-economy rating of 26 miles-per-gallon (mpg), with EPA-estimated fuel economy of 25 mpg city/28 mpg highway.
With 80 percent fewer smog-forming emissions than the average new car, the GS 450h delivers an estimated 28 percent better fuel efficiency than its V8 competitors. A Super Ultra-Low Emission Vehicle (SULEV)/Tier 2-BIN 3 emissions rating is expected.
A completely new Lexus hybrid powertrain propels the new GS 450h. The system combines a 3.5-liter V6 engine with a new compact, high-output, permanent magnet electric motor that drives the rear wheels. The transmission utilizes an advanced two-stage motor torque multiplication device for the Electronic Continuously Variable Transmission (ECVT) motor, delivering responsive and seamless acceleration with no power loss.
With a combined system output of 339 horsepower, the new 3.5-liter V6 hybrid delivers the dynamic performance of a modern 4.5-liter V8 engine and is nearly as quick or quicker than every V8-powered competitor in its class. The GS 450h accelerates from zero-to-60 miles per hour in approximately 5.2 seconds.
Since the GS 450h is driven by its electric motors when starting, traveling slowly and during low-load driving, the Noise, Vibration and Harshness (NVH) level is about half that of a conventional gasoline-powered engine, providing an extremely quiet ride.
The GS 450h goes on sale in early May with a base Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price (MSRP) of $54,900.
A Hybrid With Attitude
By Tom Murphy
WardsAuto.com, Feb 28, 2006 9:22 AM
KOHALA COAST, HI â€“ Toyota Motor Corp. is getting pretty good at this hybrid thing.
When consumers complained that the first-generation Prius hybrid/electric vehicle suffered from power surges during steady highway driving, engineers set out to smooth the delivery of torque – and largely succeeded.
When critics grumbled that hybrids still lacked punch, Toyota opted for more displacement in the form of a V-6 for its Lexus RX 400h and Toyota Highlander hybrid cross/utility vehicles.
The RX 400h is good (and sold 20,674 units in 2005 since its April arrival), but its delivery of torque from a standstill remains lacking. Move your foot from the brake pedal to the accelerator at a stop light, and the gasoline engine sputters back to life with an air of hesitation that undermines its luxury roots.
In the Japanese spirit of continuous improvement, Toyota engineers have taken these concerns to heart and put them to rest with authority in the new Lexus GS 450h hybrid sport sedan.
The Honda Accord Hybrid distinguished itself as the first HEV that improved fuel economy while also boosting performance with an impressive 255 hp.
The GS 450h is a performance-oriented HEV, too, but it trumps the Accord Hybrid in grand style, catering to a well-heeled demographic that will have to cough up about twice the money for a car that Lexus says is as quick as a Porsche 911.
Let's look at that claim. The Porsche 911 comes in multiple configurations, and the coupe, with 6-speed manual transmission, darts to 60 mph (97 km/h) in 4.6 seconds. Other 911 models are nearly as fast.
The rear-wheel-drive 911 coupe with Tiptronic automatic transmission clocks in at 5.2 seconds, which is the same 0-60 time achieved by the GS 450h, according to Lexus.
The portly GS hybrid has a curb weight of 4,134 lbs. (1,875 kg), compared with 3,164 lbs. (1,435 kg) for the lithe 911 with Tiptronic. Clearly, pitting these diametrically opposed vehicles against one another is like suggesting Mike Tyson fight Sugar Ray Leonard.
Virtually no one will cross-shop a 911 with a GS 450h, so the comparison seems silly. But Lexus makes a valid point. Its sedan is practical, stylish and fuel-efficient, while being just as fast as a world-renowned high-performance European sport coupe.
No, the GS 450h does not sound like a 911 or leap with accelerative glee at the touch of the throttle.
But for a big sedan lugging 40 nickel-metal hydride battery modules, the GS hybrid is enormously gratifying to drive, remarkably well composed and impressively responsive in its own Lexus ultra-refined way.
During a media test drive here, Toyota Executive Engineer David Hermance declared the GS 450h "the best hybrid yet," and he challenged journalists to identify the point at which the engine kicks on during acceleration.
From a standstill, a permanent-magnet motor generator drives the rear wheels, and the 3.5L V-6 underhood springs to life at varying times, depending on the driver's level of motivation. The more forceful the pedal input, the more quickly the engine adds to the mix.
A second permanent-magnet motor acts as a primary generator, starts the engine and controls engine speed, but does not turn the wheels.
The electric portion of this latest iteration of Hybrid Synergy Drive should not, however, overshadow the vastly capable and all-new 3.5L DOHC V-6 (corporate designation 2GR-FSE), which debuted in the IS 350 sedan in 2005.
This advanced gasoline mill, which recently earned a Ward's 10 Best Engines award, has two injectors per cylinder (one port, one direct), as well as continuously variable valve timing with intelligence. (See related story: Toyota Motor Corp. 3.5L DOHC V-6)
Its only drawback is that it requires premium unleaded fuel.
Combined, the parallel hybrid system produces a whopping 339 hp, trumping the output of certain 911 models, by the way.
The GS 450h is enormously strong and, in accepting Hermance's challenge, journalists indeed struggle to detect when the V-6 was churning, or merely along for the ride.
Helping the cause is a continuously variable transmission, which Lexus says is the world's first longitudinal hybrid gearbox. It is so smooth it could make believers out of CVT critics. Likewise, the regenerative brakes afford stopping that is smooth and linear, unlike the grabby, ultra-sensitive stoppers onboard previous Toyota hybrids.
With the car's performance credentials cemented, it was time to study the GS 450h's fuel economy. Initially, it was awful, achieving a mere 18 mpg (13 L/100 km), according to the onboard computer, during moderately aggressive driving through winding, hilly roads.
With a tender foot, we achieved 24.4 mpg (9.6 L/100 km), which remains a far cry from the combined 28 mpg (8.3 L/100 km) Lexus says to expect in the GS 450h.
This is getting to be old hat – complaining that an HEV's fuel economy is not living up to its billing. If a car must be babied to come close to its rated 28 mpg, then what's the point of giving it 339 hp?
The thrill of a 911 is appreciating its accelerative means and applying them when prudent. Buyers of the GS 450h, filled with environmental guilt, will want fuel economy, not 911 titillation.
Lexus knows the market for this car will be small. The company plans to sell fewer than 2,000 in the U.S. and 6,000 worldwide annually.
Given its Toyota DNA, the GS 450h somehow will find an audience. In 2007, when Lexus will launch a V-8 hybrid version of its all-new LS flagship, Toyota expects to sell its 1 millionth HEV.
The GS 450h begins the era of hybrids with attitude – cars with expressive, sexy lines and even brute strength.
Pricing has not yet been set prior to its spring arrival in the U.S., but Lexus says the car likely will be more expensive than a V-8-powered GS 430, which has a base price of $51,375.
That sounds like a lot of money. But considering the RX 400h has a tag of $48,535, the GS 450h may be appropriately priced because its powertrain is superior and offers seamless acceleration and a vastly more satisfying driving experience.Â
GS450h Is Effort to Re-Educate the Public About Capabilities of 'Performance Hybrids'
March 20, 2006; Page D2 Wall Street Journal
BMW owns the M. Mercedes uses three letters: AMG. Audi claimed S. Now, Lexus has a new letter it wants luxury-car buyers to associate with high-tech, high-performance driving: "h."
That's "h" as in hybrid. Since last fall, Lexus has offered a hybrid version of its RX crossover wagon. In May, it will roll out a hybrid edition of its GS sedan -- a large-ish car that slots between the midsized ES and the top-of-the-line LS. The new hybrid GS450h represents the other face of hybrid technology -- the face that gets a big grin when the foot goes down on the accelerator.
The new GS combines a 3.5-liter V-6 gasoline engine with a sophisticated battery-driven electric-drive system -- the first ever brought to market on a rear-wheel-drive car. The result: a $54,900 car rated at 339 horsepower -- more than European luxury V-8s such as the Mercedes E500 and the Audi A-6 V-8 -- and with acceleration so quick that Lexus claims this 4,134-pound car can dash from a standstill to 60 miles per hour in just 5.2 seconds.
The government and Toyota expect the GS450h will average 25 miles per gallon in the city and 28 on the highway. But your mileage may vary -- in a big way. During a test-drive program on desert highways in Lake Mead National Park east of Las Vegas, the fuel-economy computer on a GS450h I drove registered an average 20.8 miles per gallon. But another GS450h I drove had racked up mileage just below 16 miles per gallon for the day -- presumably because some lead-footed auto writers didn't heed the warnings about vigilant park police.
That said, the GS450h is a very quick and very quiet car. Acceleration in a passing maneuver or running uphill happens immediately -- there's no waiting for the transmission to drop down a gear. In fact, there aren't any "gears" in the conventional sense. In the hotel parking lot, the GS maneuvers around in virtual silence, because it's running on battery power. If we'd encountered a traffic jam in the desert -- and Las Vegas traffic can be brutal -- we could have crept along in stealth mode for at least a little while with the air conditioning on. (The climate control runs on electricity, not the gasoline engine.)
The GS450h will have a base price of $54,900. How much gasoline will you save buying it instead of, say, a $57,400 BMW 550i (rated mileage of 16 city, 23 highway) or a $33,625 Chrysler 300C Hemi (340 horsepower with rated mileage of 16/25)? Good question. A conventional V-8 GS430, rated at 300 horsepower, has an EPA mileage rating of 18 miles per gallon city, 25 highway. The GS450h is $1,090 more expensive than a well-loaded GS430, Lexus says. But if you are shopping in this price range, the $500 or so you might save on gas if you drove a rival V-8 luxury sedan isn't really a big deal.
As with other hybrids, the real mileage advantage comes in the city at low speeds. On the highway, the hybrid's efficiency is offset by the weight of the battery pack and the extra hardware in the drivetrain. At highway speeds, much of the power is coming from the gasoline motor.
But ultimate fuel economy is not Lexus' goal with this car. This is about enhancing the brand's image.
Since 1990, Lexus has marched from oxymoron -- "Is there really such a thing as a Japanese luxury car?" -- to the No. 1 luxury brand in the U.S. primarily because the cars delivered near-flawless quality, bulletproof reliability, and first-class quiet and comfort. Those who wanted growling engines and taut steering stuck with BMWs.
In recent years, Lexus management has observed that the BMW thing -- the mystique of spirited driving at super-legal speeds -- was won over a lot of well-situated Americans, particularly younger consumers who don't want to be seen as sedate, quiet or comfortable just yet.
Bob Carter, group vice president and general manager of Lexus, says the luxury-car market has bifurcated – one side is about comfort, the other is about sportiness. Lexus has responded to this by developing two distinct lines of cars. In April, Lexus plans to launch the latest addition to its lineup of "comfort luxury" cars, the redesigned ES 350 sedan, which replaces the old ES 330 with a car that is, according to Lexus, quieter and roomier than the original LS400 sedan launched in 1990.
While the ES350 anchors the $30,000-to-$40,000 price segment for comfort luxury buyers, the recently launched IS sedans are going after performance-oriented buyers in the same price range who might otherwise buy an Infiniti G35 or a BMW 325i.
The next piece in the puzzle is better exploiting performance hybrid technology. With all the money Toyota has in the bank, Lexus could probably develop a conventional gasoline engine as awesomely complex and potent as the 500-horsepower, 10-cylinder motor in the BMW M5 sedan. BMW has spent years cultivating its "M" high-performance brand as the ultimate in ultimate driving machines, and is making broader use of the designation, launching a 330-horsepower M version of its Z4 roadster this spring.
But how distinctive would it be for Lexus to follow BMW step for step? Not very. Lexus has enough trouble with luxury-car connoisseurs and rivals who snipe that it's just knocking off the big German brands, in a higher-quality, less-soulful way. Instead, Lexus will offer a different kind of high tech under the "h" banner. The GS450h is a car with the gas mileage of a large V-6, that delivers the performance of a large V-8 with 80% less in the way of smog-forming exhaust emissions.
Green-conscious consumers who admire the high-mileage Toyota Prius don't like such uses of hybrid technology so well. But with the GS450h, Lexus plans to start in earnest the re-education of the buying public.
"If we had a sport sedan and put in a 5.6 liter V-8, that would be understood," Mr. Carter says. "Or if we had turbocharged it, that would have been understood." To explain why it makes better sense to juice performance by using a battery-electric system that uses two electric motors mated to a continuously variable transmission, Lexus plans to revive the kinds of text-heavy automobile print advertising that's been rare in the business of late. The basic message: Hybrid performance is "chocolate with no calories," Mr. Carter says.
Over time, Mr. Carter said, Lexus could offer a hybrid powertrain option on every one of its high-volume, mainline models.
The outlines of Lexus's formula are becoming plain to see. The GS450h turns a V-6 into a V-8, as far as performance is concerned. Next month, look for Lexus to use the New York Auto Show to unveil its next step: a Lexus LS460 V-8 that uses hybrid technology to approach the performance of German V-12-powered super sedans such as the BMW 760il, without a gas-guzzler tax.
So far, performance hybrids haven't proved as popular as the Toyota Prius, which remains in a class by itself in terms of how quickly they sell. Whether Lexus can succeed in defining hybrid technology as a 21st-century approach to luxury power --- and do so before the German brands launch their efforts to define 21st-century high performance as a high-tech, bio-fueled diesel – will be seen over the next two to three years.
Lexus isn't betting the ranch just yet. It plans to offer only about 2,000 GS450h hybrids a year.
Here's something I found that may be of interest. The link has a video of some guys in Japan that take the GS 450h for a spin. It's a right hand drive verson. For a home style video, it sure sounds quiet. I can't wait for mine to come in.