Our interest in the Japanese brand Lexus has grown over the past few years with new introductions, road tests and our experience in the Lexus LFA, the limited supercar. Now in its fourth generation, we got the chance to drive the 2013 Lexus GS450h F-Sport, a mid-size luxury sedan powered by a hybrid power train offering class-leading fuel economy, to and from Berlin. Part of the package inside the most powerful member of the sporty new GS family is an improved interior and exterior, and a series of technical upgrades.
The main highlight inside the GS450h is the petrol-electric combined power plant powered by petrol and a high performance NiMH battery pack. On the gasoline engine side, there is a 3.5 liter V6 coupled with a continuously-variable transmission. On the hybrid side, the GS uses two electric motors, one under the hood that primarily handles charging, and the other in the rear differential to help drive the wheels. The gas engine and electric motor drive the rear wheels independently or in tandem, depending on what’s needed.
The Atkinson combustion cycle offers a maximum power of 338hp in Sport mode and 327hp in Normal mode. An additional ECO mode is available for maximum efficiency and revises throttle mapping, seat heating, and climate control systems for better fuel economy. The mode allows the vehicle to be driven short distances, under certain circumstances, using only the electric motors up to a speed of 64km/h.
Switching to Sport mode means a choice between two settings; Sport and Sport Plus. In Sport mode, the throttle calibration becomes more sporty and the performance level increases. Sport Plus dials back steering boost and firms up the shocks, while raising the stability control’s intervention point. In both cases the ECO power meter changes to a ‘normal’ tachometer and the instrument panel’s illumination goes from a peaceful hybrid blue hue to a fiery red. The sporty modes allow the GS540h to sprint from 0-100km/h in 5.9 seconds.
The modes are also part of the Lexus Adaptive Variable Suspension (AVS) system, which comes standard on the hybrid model. The system lets the shocks constantly adapt to road and driving conditions and driver-adjustable via the Drive Mode selector. Especially in Sport Plus the system leaves its mark. The body roll, precision and confidence felt through the suspension increases drastically.
Improved braking is achieved by 14 inch mono-block front calipers only available on the F Sport models. The brake feel is rather poor mainly because the hybrid suffers from the double affliction of requiring regenerative braking capabilities, which are factored in as well. It is not a major point of critic, but a clear difference with non-hybrid models having a more direct brake feel through the pedal.
On the level of handling and ride quality, the hybrid GS proved to be a wonderful long distance traveler capable of transporting four occupants with ease. The Lexus Dynamic Handling (LDH) technology is the driving force behind the F-Sport’s brilliance. LDH is novel in that in addition to co-coordinating the car’s steering system and braking functions, it also uses a rear-steering feature to turn the rear wheels as much as two degrees in either direction. The system work silently in the background and strives for an increased maneuverability, high-speed stability and overall handling.
Entering the cabin let’s you experience a new dashboard with an improved layout and use of materials while being dominated by a large 12.3 inch wide-screen LCD and an old-school analogue clock. The center multimedia unit is controlled using an awkward joystick device, which has a certain type of learning curve to it but in the end you will get the hang of it. The driver’s seat has been lowered and lengthened offering an improved seating position for European drivers. The front seats in the F Sport are bucket seats with 16-way adjustment for the driver and 10-way for the co-driver. Heating and cooling are included as well. The rear seats are significantly roomier than the outgoing car, but the rear offers only space for two full grown adults. The major plus for travelers is the size of the trunk, a total of 482 liters!
Additional extras fitted to our test car included 19 inch F Sport rims, more aggressive grille, more pronounced bumpers, exterior and interior F Sport decals, a perforated F-Sport leather steering wheel and gearstick, full-LED headlamps, radar cruise control, night vision, and an 835-watt Mark Levinson sound system. The premium surround sound audio system provided a superior companion during our weekly drives sounding a 7.1 channel surround-sound through the 17 speakers.
While hybrid cars are not our main focus, we had to try the latest version of the GS to set an opinion on hybrid drive trains. Especially because they are also entering the sports- and supercar territory. With main competitors coming from Aud, BMW and Infiniti, the 2013 GS450h proved to be an excellent combination between Lexus’s hallmark ride quality and the compelling drive train. The system delivered an excellent blend of performance and economy on our trip to Berlin.
The Japanese are catching up quickly with their German counterparts, but still lack the on-limit driving dynamics of a BMW, the design quality of Audi’s interior or the innate sophistication of Mercedes-Benz. Those searching for any of these characteristics the Lexus GS450h F Sport is not the immediate choice. But in case you are searching for something else, interested in hybrid driving and looking for the ‘greenest’ vehicle in the large luxury car class, it is the best option available. Tip! Do not forget to select the Mark Levinson sound system from the option list.
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