With what feels like an endless stream of power, the 2007 Lexus GS 450h provides a whole new driving experience for enthusiasts.
It never ends. It never blips or thrusts, never even gives out much of a roar when you squeeze the throttle. It just goes, man, like a kid hopped up on a case of Red Bull, faster and faster until you shake your head and laugh out loud. It’s official: Lexus engineers need to spend more time at home, or take up a hobby like needlecraft that gets them away from thinking about how they can tweak hybrid powertrains into ever weirder science. In this case, they combined a beefed-up hybrid powertrain with a new continuously-variable transmission, routed power to the rear wheels, and whammo – a luxury sport sedan that goes and goes and goes. Dissatisfied with the speed you’re at? Just tip that pedal, bucko, and bam – you’re up to the next level. The powertrain is so seamless that you scarcely notice it. That’s true even when you switch from all-electric to engine power, which happens at around 15 mph.
Stop. Wait just one second. This is a hybrid, for goodness sakes, not a monster V8. Hybrids are supposed to make you grind your teeth as they struggle to accelerate, not behave like an uncorked amusement park ride. They’re here to give fuel economy, save the world, and luxury buyers are supposed to want one because, well, they really do care about the price they pay at the pump and the air the rest of us poor lower class suckers breathe. Apparently, that’s all wrong, bubba – wrong-o. This hybrid is about power, about bragging rights, about having the latest and greatest parked in front of the McMansion, about taking the notion of delivering V8 power in an entirely new way.
To that end, Lexus has simply configured its hybrid powertrain for another purpose – power – but with more efficiency than one should expect and better emissions than one could dream possible. Consider, for example, that the 2007 Lexus GS 450h gets to 60 mph in 5.2 seconds and goes from 30 to 50 mph in just 2.7 seconds, according to Lexus. Also according the Lexus, the GS 430 – you remember V8s, right? – gets to 60 mph in 5.7 seconds. The V8 does have a higher top speed, however, 149 to 131 – as if anyone outside of Europe is going to ever get a car up to those speeds.
Interesting point, however: if power is what you want, be sure to check out the Cadillac CTS-V. For $2,600 less, you get a luxury sport sedan that beats the Lexus to 60, 4.6 to 5.2 seconds, but returns around 15 miles per gallon. And here’s another anti-technology point to ponder: while driving the GS 450h, we missed it. We missed the roar, the thrust, and the play between driver, transmission and engine, the visceral feel of riding down the road atop a big, brutish engine. It felt weird, the thought of this type of power replacing a good ol’ naturally aspirated V8. Like watching Field of Dreams, the idea of it is, well, really darn sad.
Sniff. Sometimes it’s good to hate technology.
But it’s also foolish, and the fact is, you can find a few luxury V8s in the price range of the GS 450h that return as-good or better power numbers, but few that do it with the combination of fuel economy and low emissions. Call it the good guy’s power play, then, or the next new toy for the tech geek in your neighborhood. To drive the GS 450h is to hang onto the fin of a Great White Shark: the car is silently powerful and as smooth as glass. It’s a marvel of engineering, even if there are cars out there that go faster and cost less.
There are a few weak spots on this otherwise nicely built vehicle, however. At high speed, the brakes failed to inspire the same sort of happy prose, delivering a sudden, imprecise feel when we stepped on the pedal – as if someone interrupted the conversation – though stopping was prompt and efficient. As with most things Lexus, the suspension has a special technical acronym – AVS, otherwise known as Adaptive Variable Suspension. Though we were driving on mostly lazy curves and straight-aways (great for power), there seemed to be little body roll, and the sport setting was a noticeably stiffer setup than normal.
Steering also came across as hit and miss. More tension and feel for the road would have been nice, but the rack-and-pinion setup did impress as balanced and responsive to command. Case in point: when pulling out and passing on a two-lane road, the car responded promptly to commands, staying tight, on-course, and smoothly sliding back in place after the pass was complete.
Inside the cabin, it’s comfortable – like most Lexi – but this one is a bit cramped. Consider it a sacrifice for style. Yep, the specs say it seats five, but unless you’re like us and always seem to be surrounded by short supermodels, the back is much too small for three. If you insist, however, just remember two words: Deodorant, everyone! While the seats up front are comfortable enough and there’s adequate legroom, hip room felt somewhat constrained. The GS’s low roofline cuts room in back and ranks visibility on the poor side thanks to a pretty thick C-pillar. In typical Lexus fashion, however, the controls are well-placed, though we do think that the controls-in-the-compartment idea that tucks several features into a deployable pod on the lower left portion of the dashboard has run its course. What’s next, guys?
Bottom line: The tach has been replaced by a kilowatt meter. While that represents the fun and cutting-edge nature of this car, it also symbolizes what we miss the most, and what the GS 450h can never erase: that spot in the heart for V8 power and a stick shift.