"Lexus is back with a vengeance"5.0 starson by Scott Gardener
Pros: Sport performance living up to high expectations, ludicrously good fuel economy, leading edge cabin technology, drive mode selector puts hypermileage or mid-life crisis sports driving available with the turn of a dial, extensive attention to detail
Cons: With some effort, a few nits can be picked. Limited availability in the U.S. narrows choice of options and colors. Advanced features like the App Suite do not yet have Lexus-like ease of use
Summary: Lexus has put a lot of time and energy developing the GS, and it has paid off. Knowing I would have to spend close to $70,000 on this car, I wanted to make sure it would live up to its expectations, so I read plenty of reviews beforehand. They were right; the car is exceptional, living up to the massive ad campaign including the Superbowl commercial. (Note that the ads including that one have mostly focused on the GS350.)
Lexus as a luxury brand has historically favored comfort and ease of use over aggression and sport performance, even as so many others have migrated over, crowding the sport niche and overlooking the casual driver not interested in driving a race car to work. A few years back, however, Lexus launched the IS-F, showing that it intended to be a serious competitor in the sport luxury arena. Now the GS has been reinvigorated, emerging as the signature piece of a new look and feel. I worried that this could mean forgetting what makes Lexus so nice in the first place--reliability, longevity, comfort--all the features that 20-year-old guys might find boring, but which the rest of us really value over time.
Thankfully, my fears have been settled, as the GS has delivered both at the same time, and with the GS450h added reinvigorated commitment to hybrid technology to boot. This car is both every bit as luxurious and more than my last car, a Lexus GS350, and yet more fun to drive than the car before that, a Toyota Celica with ground effects and an oversized spoiler. Unlike either predecessor, this car leads in the sports luxury realm at its price range, and I am feeling for the first time the joys of 60+ mph turns. But, in a hybrid, I also get to enjoy 36 mpg bragging rights, all-electric short distances, regenerative braking, and an SULEV rating. Having a drive mode selector that modifies engine throttle as well as steering and suspension (Sport +, a package upgrade on the GS350, is standard on the GS450h) gives the car an almost lycanthropic flavor.
There's a few nits to pick if someone puts a gun to my head and asks me to name something. The technology is new enough that it took several additional steps to configure; the car as a special order did not have its VIN registered on Lexus' Enform site until several hours after delivery, and it took a few tries before my Pandora radio stations were playing. Lexus apparently realizes that most people aren't as tech-savvy as those of us who peruse CNet regularly. I received numerous courtesy calls offering additional help, and my car dealer brought with him a Lexus Technology Specialist to help set things up when they delivered the car. It did surprise me that Lexus had technology that had to be configured, update-installed, and otherwise fiddled with, though this was only for some features that most cars do not even have.
The attention to detail is remarkable, with luxury features and elements where they are not expected. Matte bamboo wood door and dashboard trim give a very distinct Japanese flavor, while soft black leather with vivid stitching throughout the car's interior raises the bar both visually and in feel well above even my last car, another Lexus. I even learned recently that the air conditioning system won an award for its design, purifying air with hydrated negative ions. Strangely enough, the trunk still has to be closed by hand with a thunk.
My car came with an upgraded Mark Levinson audio system and a driver alertness monitoring system. I was surprised how rare the later option is, especially given how much research and development went into it, as featured in the commercial with the Lexus logo bubble pod simulator sliding around a warehouse, while a distracted test driver at the wheel of a simulated LS460 reaches for coffee, the radio, and a cell phone at the same time. As a physician driving two to three hours from an ER where I work 24 hour shifts at a time, I appreciate a feature that will keep me out of ERs when I'm off work. I do wonder why I've got the only car I know of with one. Given how most of my music listening is done on the road, I also welcome the upgraded sound system. There are other options I also wanted, such as the heads up display and some luxury accents including a bamboo steering wheel and upgraded, all-LED headlamps. But, my choices were either only one car available or sitting and waiting, and loosing the one with the alertness monitor. Thankfully, the one available had an interesting color combination--black exterior and black interior. Thankfully, I'm a fan of the Goth movement. But, I really like the tan interior of a GS350 I test drove a few months earlier. Getting the hybrid power plant means reducing a lot of other options. Though that may change as more cars trickle in, Lexus does not seem to expect very many hybrid GS to sell compared to the GS350.
In short, it's both a high performance sports car and a hybrid sedan. It's in the price range of one of each, but you are spared having to choose which of the two to take that day. Its rarity and exclusivity also means you are also spared having to choose among very many on the lot, but its standard features are already ludicrously comprehensive. A tech savvy early adopter looking for the most advanced sports car on the road should consider this one.
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