The reality is that going green generally involves some form of hardship, from rooting through your rubbish to separate plastics, waiting in driving rain for that bus or driving a car that looks like you have been laid off.
A Convenient Truth
Caring for the environment generally means standing outside in the pouring rain waiting for the bus that may never come, donning cycle clips, or perhaps taking to the wheel of a Toyota Prius and having to explain Mother Earth’s plight every time you park at a client’s office. But now Lexus, at the forefront of hybrid technology, brings the machine that requires no explanation: the GS 450h.
Lexus is the luxury arm of Toyota, which brought the car industry kicking and screaming into the 21st Century with the noble Prius. Cameron Diaz, George Lucas and Leonardi Dicaprio all jumped on board, but they are so famously wealthy they are immune from the judgements of peers.
The rest of us need to make more effort to look the part and still show we care, and it doesn’t hurt to have a comfortable, luxurious car in the process. And Lexus is one of very few catering to this market with hybrid cars that don’t look like golf buggies.
Following hot on the heels of the R400h, the environmentally friendly SUV, comes the GS 450h – the world’s first high performance hybrid saloon.
Under the bonnet of this sleek, big car that will grab the right kind of attention when it turns up to a meeting is a conventional 3.5-litre, V6 petrol engine delivering 292bhp is supplemented by an electric motor powered by a battery pack in the boot, which adds another 197bhp. That’s a lot of power, so although it says environmentally friendly on the tin, there’s a bit of a twist in the tail.
The GS 450h can run for just 2km in electric only mode, but then the petrol engine kicks in giving the car a chance to recharge its batteries through regenerative braking. There are other neat touches, too, like the engine shutting off and then restarting when it’s time to pull away at traffic lights. This is a car full of ingenious tricks and many will crop up in rival machines in the coming months and years.
Working in combination the actual total output from the two powerplants is 335bhp, as you don’t get all of the electric engine’s power in combination wit the full Monty from the petrol, but it is enough to propel the GS 450h to 62mph in 5.9s and on to an electronically limited top end speed of 155mph.
It's deceptively quick, too: as the engine is so quiet and smooth, even under hard acceleration and with a seamless CVT automatic gearbox, acceleration is utterly effortless. There are no uncouth noises, no squirming torque-steer, no roars to the redline and very little to indicate quite how fast the car can be, bar the blurring of the scenery and the needle of the speedo.
Everything is finger light and while the Lexus is quick, it is all about the relaxed ride and has relatively few sporting pretensions.
The adaptive variable suspension does have a Sport setting, which also reduces the steering ratio, and the gearbox does have a sequential-shift mode, with six pre-set 'gears', but somehow, using these isn't quite in character and, given the beyond adequate response in the normal settings, hardly necessary.
If the environment was the only card Lexus had played it would be a flimsy hand indeed, but the GS 450h is a mighty impressive car when judged against the BMW 5-Series, Mercedes E-Class and Audi’s A6. That’s a tough room, but there’s no other place for the elegant Lexus and the pure petrol-powered 460 won the World Car of the Year Award so add a social conscience to proceedings and it leaves them well behind.
Styling wise the Japanese marque has combined the spacious interior of a big Mercedes with a sloping, near coupe-style roofline to create a shape that belies the car’s monumental five-metre length. While Lexus might not quite match the finest cars Europe has to offer when it comes to looks, the pay-off comes with their legendary build quality and reliability, as well as the ever so gentle sense of smugness you can impart to your peers when you invite them round to watch An Inconvenient Truth and suggest they think of the World our children will inherit.
It’s lavishly appointed in a traditional way, too, as borne out by the wood inserts and infinitely adjustable leather couches in the front, yet infused with the cutting edge technology we have come to expect from the Japanese brand.
Smart entry means no more rooting round for keys and the touch screen SatNav system is a match for any built-in system on the market right now, as is the 10-speaker stereo system that can turn this eerily quiet machine into a concert hall at the touch of a button.
Lexus is not known as the Japanese Mercedes for nothing, and with its parent company taking over as the second largest car manufacturer in the world and its own commitment to environmental cars, you can’t help thinking it’s a matter of when, not if, the prestige brand takes over its own smaller sector of the automotive world.
Anybody expecting to travel from London to Moscow on a thimbleful of fuel is liable to be disappointed, though, as the GS 450h returns 35.8mpg. But it will be kind to your pocket, as it’s competitively priced and the relatively low Carbon Dioxide emissions of 186g/km help the Lexus to a lower tax band.
The GS 450h will not save the world, there are plenty of cleaner cars on the market with small engines, but those cars just aren’t good enough for some. For the more elite sector of the market Lexus has provided the option to inflict less pain on the environment and create the right impression without losing a thing.
The reality is that going green generally involves some form of hardship, from rooting through your rubbish to separate plastics, waiting in driving rain for that bus or driving a car that looks like you have been laid off. With the GS 450h, you can save the world, or at least look like you are, without sacrifice, and without explanation.