Lexus GS 450h

It may be powerful, comfortable and full of clever trinkets, but this famous executive hybrid is far from being the simple environmental choice its maker claims, says Sean O'Grady

Price: from £38,015 to £47,135
Engine: Hybrid powertrain of 3,456cc V6 petrol coupled with 197 bhp electric motor
Transmission: Automatic/ six-speed sequential
Performance: 155mph; 0 to 60 in 5.9 secs; 35.8 mpg.
CO2: 186g/km

They're not modest, the folks at Lexus, Toyota's prestige brand. On the recent European launch of their new hybrid saloon, the GS 450h, they made remarkable claims about their car. "Lexus engineers achieved levels of NOx and HC emissions that, combined, are lower than any other combustion engine on the market." Well, can it really be lower in any meaningful way than those teeny-weeny diesels that Citroën makes, I wonder?

"The new Lexus is comprehensively equipped with the most technologically advanced pre-emptive, active and passive safety systems available today."

Not sure about that, either. The Mercedes-Benz S-Class seems to have the edge there, but once you're into double figures on air bags, who's counting?

"The world's most technologically advanced drivetrain." Well, maybe the one in the Lexus RX hybrid is an even greater accomplishment, having overcome the additional complexity of four-wheel drive. Then again, Ford has also done that in the States with its Escape hybrid SUV, but maybe that's not so clever.

If you're exposed to Lexus propaganda for too long you start to wonder what God might have found himself doing if the Lexus engineers had been around during the Creation. Getting the teas in, probably.

Despite the hyperbole, you may already know this Lexus not as the most fabby car on the planet, but the one that David Cameron decided to save the planet in. The Lexus 450h is the official car of the leader of the Opposition, or rather, the car that the Tory leader's chauffeur, paperwork and clothes travel in behind Mr Cameron when he's riding his bicycle and being all green for the media. You may remember when this particular bit of political stuntery was exposed. Whatever you made of it, the most welcome outcome of all the fuss is that the ideal of greener motoring and awareness of the alternative technologies already on the market have gained wider currency.

So now we've all heard of the hybrid Lexus 450h, what are we to make of it? Like all Lexus cars, it is a superbly built, comfortable, fast cruiser, full of fun technology (like the colour reversing-camera). To be sure, this is a very clever machine. As with all hybrids, it uses power otherwise wasted while braking and decelerating to charge batteries that can drive an electric motor. That motor can pull the Lexus along on its own for very short periods at very low speeds. More often, it helps the petrol engine out, cutting its efforts, improving performance and fuel consumption.

Perhaps the most impressive thing about it is the strength of that electric motor, which has a maximum power output of 197bhp - on its own about the same as that found in the V6 Jaguar X-type's petrol unit, say. Coupled, as it is in this hybrid, with the Lexus's smooth 3.5-litre petrol V6 and its 292bhp, you have a car that has very capable performance indeed - about the same as a 4.5-litre petrol V8, for the sake of argument, which is why Lexus has given it the model designation 450.

Electric motors also deliver their power smoothly, and Lexus has added a sort of mini-auto gearbox within the electric unit that helps it deliver even more low-down punch. You may not have thought of a hybrid as a performance machine - and it isn't perfect - but the electric motor and petrol engine makes for an intriguing combination.

The downside is the constantly variable transmission (CVT) gearbox, which has a whiney, thrashy quality, and the extra weight of the batteries, which will take the edge off performance. Having said that, this Lexus is equipped with an override that turns the CVT box into a six-speed sequential one. Maybe those Lexus engineers are almost as clever as they say they are. There are various buttons and gearbox settings you can select that push your Lexus along the spectrum from slightly wallowy vaguely green limo to full-on sports saloon. If you choose to exploit all of this machine's performance, you'll find it getting you to 60mph in under six seconds, from 50mph to 75mph in 4.7 seconds and onwards to a (governed) 155mph.

All that, and an official average of 35.8mpg. Emissions of CO2 and other noxious substances are very low for a car of this size and bulk. The official verdict is that this Lexus pumps out 186g of CO2 every kilometre. That's about the same as a Mondeo, but it's not that far astray of the equivalents for the Lexus's main opposition, the German diesels.

So the BMW 530d manages 179g/km and the Mercedes-Benz E320 a credible 194g/km. True, being a petrol rather than a diesel machine, the Lexus has the edge on particulate pollution, and it is way better than its petrol counterparts, but it's not that great either. A diesel hybrid might be a different matter, but given that Lexus is aiming at the US market, and the US doesn't love diesel, I doubt we'll see one soon.

Mr Cameron's stated reason for passing on the offer of the Lexus's smaller brother, the Toyota Prius, was that there wasn't enough room in it. Well, when he opens the boot of his Lexus he's going to get a nasty surprise. There's not much room in there for anything more than a change of boxers and all his party's policy documents, ie, not very much at all.

You can squeeze in a couple of suitcases, but the hatchback Prius is a more capable carrier. Its boot holds 408 litres, against the Lexus 450h's 286. The Prius is narrower than the Lexus, and there is less legroom but there isn't that much in it in the cabin either.

Whereas the Prius was always designed as a hybrid green machine (aerodynamic shape, thoughtful mechanical layout) the Lexus is basically a conversion of an existing conventional sports saloon. For all their cleverness, the Lexus engineers haven't been able to create space where there was none. So they're not that wonderful.

The rivals

Mercedes-Benz E320 CDI Sport £37,740

Europe's favourite exec saloon, but it has lost ground in the States to Lexus, presumably because Americans are less snobby about badges. There's a mildly facelifted and safer version out now.

BMW 535d SE £37,790

Interior ambience and mechanical competence highly impressive. Fine diesel combining excellent performance, economy and low CO2. Downsides are, arguably, styling and the iDrive system.

Citroën C6 2.7 HDI Exclusive £37,850

Imposing and luxurious, in truth it won't divert that many potential Lexus customers, who presumably rate reliability above all. However, it's an interesting alternative to the usual suspects.

Ben Little, right, is a Labour supporter while Jonathan Rogers supports the Green Party
general election 2015
The 91st Hakone Ekiden Qualifier at Showa Kinen Park, Tokyo, 2014
Life and Style
Former helicopter pilot Major Tim Peake will become the first UK astronaut in space for over 20 years
food + drinkNothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
Kim Wilde began gardening in the 1990s when she moved to the countryside
peopleThe singer is leading an appeal for the charity Thrive, which uses the therapy of horticulture
Alexis Sanchez celebrates scoring a second for Arsenal against Reading
Life and Style
An easy-peel potato; Dave Hax has come up with an ingenious method in food preparation
voicesDave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
Japan's population is projected to fall dramatically in the next 50 years (Wikimedia)
Life and Style
Buyers of secondhand cars are searching out shades last seen in cop show ‘The Sweeney’
motoringFlares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: Project Implementation Executive

    £18000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

    Recruitment Genius: Chiropractic Assistant

    £16500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Chiropractic Assistant is needed in a ...

    Recruitment Genius: Digital Account Executive - Midlands

    £18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

    Recruitment Genius: Web Developer

    £28000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides coaching ...

    Day In a Page

    NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

    Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

    A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
    Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

    Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

    The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
    How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

    How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

    Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
    From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

    The wars that come back to haunt us

    David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
    Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

    Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

    A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
    Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

    UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

    Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
    John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

    ‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

    Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
    Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

    Let the propaganda wars begin - again

    'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

    Japan's incredible long-distance runners

    Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
    Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

    Tom Drury: The quiet American

    His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
    You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

    You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

    Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
    Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

    Beige to the future

    Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

    Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

    More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
    Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

    Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

    The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
    Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own