Lexus is a luxury brand that is in transition, and those changes are in response to two factors beyond its control: customer perceptions and geological forces. With the former, Lexus has responded by changing its design language from restrained to bold. With the latter, Lexus and parent Toyota are now well on the way to recovery from a series of earthquakes and a tsunami that undermined its ability to produce and ship cars. Evidence of these changes can be seen in the 2013 Lexus GS 450h sedan, the hybrid version of the GS and a car that may just convince you that Lexus is back and in a significant way.
New Design Language
The refinements Lexus has made to its design language will be evident beginning with each of its 2013 models. The Lexus LX570, a large sport utility vehicle, initiated the updates when it was introduced just ahead of the GS series in February 2012. These changes include an hourglass sport grille that is flanked by arrowhead-styled daytime running lights to provide a more aggressive face. Additional modifications over the first generation edition built from 2007 to 2011 include 9-spoke 17-inch chrome wheels, LED treatments on the tail lamps and updates to the wheel wells, bumper edges and windows.
Under the hood, the same 3.5-liter 24-valve gas engine that powered the first generation hybrid has returned. This engine is paired with a continuously variable transmission and produces 286 horsepower at 6,000 rpm. Torque is another of its strong suits too as this five-passenger sedan offers 254 foot-pounds at 4,600 rpm.
The GS 450h also derives power from its nickel-metal hydride (Ni-MH) battery system. The current iteration is lighter and more efficient, and allows this large sedan to get 29 mpg city, 34 mpg highway. Those numbers put the GS 450h at the top of the range among executive cars and places some serious distance between gas station stops. Indeed, when taking those long interstate trips, drivers will find that they’ll be able to go nearly 600 miles between fill ups. That is certainly welcome in these days of elevated gas prices. Performance is noteworthy too: this hybrid goes from 0 to 60 in just 5.6 seconds.
Inside, Lexus luxury is evident everywhere. A padded instrument panel, stitched leather seating, wood trim and chrome highlights provide the look and feel you’d expect in this sedan. A 10-way power driver’s seat is plush and bolstered, offering height adjustment and lumbar support as well as heating and ventilation. Other special treatments in evidence include a bamboo and leather heated steering wheel, aluminum alloy scuff plates and ambient lighting.
All GS 450h models come equipped with an 8-inch touchscreen driver’s information center. An electronically-enhanced instrument panel, an LCD climate control display and remote touch interface are among the technological features offered. Its standard 5.1 surround sound audio system features 12 speakers, an automatic sound levelizer, voice recognition and text to speech SMS. You can also upgrade to a 17-speaker Mark Levinson package that includes distortion adjustment and DVD/audio capability.
By choosing its luxury package, the GS 450h offers an optimally appointed sedan that retails for under $70,000. That package includes the Mark Levinson audio package; semi-aniline leather; a contoured 18-way power driver seat; passenger seat memory; wood embellishments; rear air-conditioning and audio controls; and rear manual side sun shades.
Safety features include driver and front passenger knee airbags; front and front seat-mounted side airbags; and a side curtain airbag unit with rollover notification. This sedan comes with four-wheel anti-lock brakes with electronic brake-force distribution, brake assist, traction control and stability control. Optional safety features include a blind spot monitor, a head up display, lane departure warning with lane keep assist, park assist, a night vision system and a pre-collision warning system.
The 2013 Lexus GS 450h dispenses with the notion that hybrid power and a weighty sedan are mutually exclusive. Weighing in at nearly 4,200 pounds, the GS 450h provides the security some drivers prefer when taking to the open road. It also delivers in fuel economy and luxury appointments, offering a level of all-around driving satisfaction that is still quite rare today.
Photos: Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A, Inc. (Lexus)