CJ Hubbard | December 2013
The Lexus GS: it’s an also ran in the German larger executive saloon car segment, isn’t it – alongside the likes of the Volvo S60 or S80 (depending on your preference), and to a certain extent the Jaguar XF? I enjoyed the current, range-topping GS450h version on the original launch back in 2012 – but that car combines a thug of a 3.0-litre V6 with an electric motor to consistently bruising effect.
The electric drive in this new GS300h has to make do with a 2.5-litre four-pot – given the competition, can it possible achieve the same convincing impact?
Short answer: no. Slightly longer answer, still no, but it does have quite a number of other things going for it. For example, not only does it reduce the price of entry into GS hybrid land by some £13,500 – admittedly the introduction of a new, lower, SE trim helps it cheat a bit – it also provides a viable petrol alternative to the predictable 2.0-litre turbodiesel solution pedalled by every other carmaker selling cars in this market sector.
Whether that’s the right solution remains open to debate; does this Lexus deserve more than a cursory glance?
What is the 2014 Lexus GS300h like to drive?
If you like your executive cars with all of the stereotypically German precision the drive to the office can handle, then you may as well pack in reading this right here. A BMW the GS300h is not. Nor an Audi, nor a Mercedes-Benz – and the Jaguar will go smirking off into the distance down a twisting road as well.
It’s not that the Lexus doesn’t have pace. With 223hp courtesy of that 2.5 four-pot and the electric motor, it’s comfortably more powerful than the 2.0-litre turbodiesel opposition – something that’s supported by the quoted 9.2-second 0-62mph time. Point it at a straight and press the go pedal, and the GS300h will do this figure proud. It’s less convincing when called upon to overtake.
Lexus doesn’t have a combined torque output for its hybrids. I asked the GS300h’s deputy project engineer why, and he explained that power – hp – comes to a natural peak, but because you’ve got a petrol engine and an electric motor contributing a variable amount of performance under acceleration, the torque calculation is too complicated.
So whereas in a diesel you get that big meaty wodge of muscle from quite low in the rev-range, thrusting you past slower traffic as required, the Lexus doesn’t quite deliver such authority. Instead, the Constantly Variable Transmission sends the engine round to 5,000 or even 6,000rpm – the heart of its power band – and in place of meaningful pick-up you get a little more noise and not much urgency.
Takes a little getting used to. But even in the fancier F Sport and Premium models’ Sport+ chassis setting, the GS300h isn’t going to satisfy a keen driver. These cars get Adaptive Variable Suspension and you have to wonder why, because it doesn’t really stop the Lexus from feeling like barge when faced with a series of corners; the lesser SE and Luxury versions make do without.
What the GS300h does offer, however, is a relaxed, easy-going driving experience that’s completely different to all that German fastidiousness. Comfortably numb, in other words, and for some buyers this could very well be A Good Thing. Sound like you? Then avoid the pointless posturing of the body-kitted F-Sport; the big, 19-inch alloys fitted to this model turn the ride unnecessarily fidgety.
So why should you buy the Lexus GS300h instead of its rivals?
The key item in that previous paragraph is ‘different’. Not everybody wants the same executive express experience.
The comfort here is accompanied by strong motorway refinement and perhaps the best interior Lexus has ever offered. Every version bar the entry-level SE gets a 12.3-inch colour screen – the SE’s 8-incher still functions as a DVD player, and can be upgraded via the options list – the build quality and materials are excellent, and there are some tasty extras available, including clever S-Flow climate control and a glorious 17-speaker Mark Levinson hifi.
There are some alarming wood veneers to negotiate, and the quirky – to put it politely – Remote Touch controller for the infotainment system. But overall, the inside of the GS300h is a fine place to spend time. Leave it in Normal or hair shirt it in performance and air-con rationing Eco, rather than Sport or the AVS activating Sport+, and enjoy wafting along, as per your prerogative.
The GS300h’s environmental credentials aren’t to be sniffed at, either. The SE, with its 17-inch wheels, emits just 109g/km CO2 and returns 60.1mpg, according to the usual EU testing regime – which is a stonking result for any executive car, let alone one with a petrol engine. Combined with that attractive asking price, this is also a boon for company car tax Benefit-in-Kind.
You can still expect a diesel to be more economical over a longer journey – the hybrid system only adds complexity and weight on the motorway – but the electric motor takes over a satisfying amount of the time around town, and petrol engines produce much fewer NOx emissions. Which is what we’ll all be talking about when the forthcoming Euro 6 emissions regulations come into force in 2015. The GS300h is genuinely green.
MR VERDICT: 2014 LEXUS GS300H
Lexus’ decision to abandon diesel engines is now beginning to make more sense. The petrol-electric GS300h is competitive on price, equipment and – crucially – fuel economy and CO2 emissions. It is a viable alternative executive choice.
But no kidding about the alternative. Even if you can get your head around the idea of choosing something that isn’t a diesel, accepting the GS300h also means compromising on any enjoyment you derive from driving. And although it offers some compensation in other areas, only you can decide if that is enough.
- Audi A6 2.0 TDI SE – from £32,460
- Audi A6 2.0h TFSI hybrid – from £43,780
- BMW 520d SE – from £33,025
- BMW ActiveHybrid 5 hybrid – from £47,425
- Mercedes-Benz E220 CDI SE – £34,215
- Mercedes-Benz E300h BlueTec (diesel) hybrid – £39,825
- Jaguar XF 2.2d Luxury – £33,765
Engine 2.5-litre petrol and electric motor hybrid
Drivetrain CVT automatic, rear-wheel drive
Price £31,495 – £43,745
Torque 163lb ft petrol engine + 221lb ft electric motor
0-62mph 9.2 seconds
Top speed 119mph
MPG 60.1mpg (SE); 57.6 (Luxury, Premier); 56,5 (F Sport)
CO2 109g/km (SE); 113g/km (Luxury, Premier); 115g/km (F Sport)