Think Lexus GS hybrid and you'll probably recognise the GS 450h but now there's another, more economical option on the table in the form of the GS 300h. Jonathan Crouch reports.
Ten Second Review
The Lexus GS series hasn't exactly been a nailed-on cert in the executive saloon sector, with the likes of the Audi A6, the BMW 5 Series and the Mercedes E Class to contend with. The latest GS 300h hybrid poses some questions on running costs that have the German establishment looking very uncomfortable.
Don't mention the d-word at Lexus. Lexus doesn't do diesel. It flirted with diesel power rather unconvincingly in the IS compact executive models but the company is now firmly convinced that petrol/electric hybrids offer all the benefits and none of the downsides of a diesel motor. The problem was, in its GS range, the only hybrid you could buy was the vastly powerful and correspondingly expensive GS 450h model; not a car that would really appeal to the driver looking to trim costs a bit. So step forward the GS 300h, a car that makes a great deal of sense. It's a bit less powerful, but a good deal more economical and if you've got an eye on the amount of tax you pay on your company car, it's a winner all the way. Lexus looked to have shot itself in the foot by not developing a competitive diesel engine. Now it seems to be having the last laugh.
The Lexus GS 300h is interesting insofar as it doesn't share the same engine as the other 2.5-litre petrol model in the range, the GS 250. Here you get a slightly smaller powerplant that is shared with the Japanese market Toyota Crown and it makes a relatively modest 178bhp at 6000rpm. Peak torque is created at between 4,500 and 5,400rpm, so to get the full 221Nm, you need to put a few revs on the clock. A performance model this is not, especially when you consider that you're lugging a kerb weight of around 1,750kg. Still, it'll reach 62mph in 9.2 seconds which isn't disastrous and will get to a top speed of 119mph. The revised chassis is much more rigid compared to the old GS and this, coupled with a track that's wider by 40mm at the front and 50mm at the rear, allows the uprated suspension to offer better cornering performance. The front suspension features aluminium upper and lower control arms with larger bushings while the rear end gets an entirely redesigned subframe to house a lightweight multi-link setup. One benefit of the stiffer platform and lighter components is that the shock absorbers can use lighter viscosity oil, responding faster to subtle driver inputs.
Design and Build
The fourth generation GS is a more confident piece of design than any that have gone before it. While it's not quite swaggering, it's not hiding its light under a bushel. The front 'spindle' grille is a design touch that will feature on all new Lexus models and combines with deep-set headlights and L-shaped LED daytime running lights. The bulging wheel arches give the car a less slab-sided look than its predecessors and emphasis the muscularity of the design. A short front overhang also helps promote an impression of dynamism. Move round to the back and you'll find a bumper assembly that features a diffuser and aero fins to help control underbody airflow. Glass flake paintwork is also offered, with an almost high-definition look to its metallic finish. The cabin looks even more special and unlike previous generations of the GS, it looks as if a real effort has gone into the styling rather than a concentration on function to the detriment of aesthetics. The layout of the long, sculpted dash gives the driver and front passenger a sense of roominess through its clean centre stack and large high-resolution display screen. Most of the comfort and convenience controls such as audio and climate are relocated to provide a cleaner and more sophisticated dash layout. Redesigned seats and changes to the steering column give more space and better comfort as well as improved forward visibility to the driver. The door openings offer easier entry and exit and boot access is improved with a wider, deeper opening. Even with the hybrid batteries to house, the GS 300h still retains a very respectable boot capacity of 451-litres.
Market and Model
You'll need a £32,000 budget for the entry-level SE version and the range then steps up through Luxury and F Sport models, topping out with the Premier trim for which a £45,000 budget is needed. Essentially, you're looking at a £7,500 saving if you go for this 178bhp GS 300h rather than the 286bhp GS 450h model in the same spec. The GS 300h model's same 178bhp petrol/electric hybrid engine is used in the smaller BMW 3 Series-sized Lexus IS 300h but a comparably-specced version of one of those would save you just £2,000 over this GS. In terms of trim levels, the SE is the one to go for is you're really serious about shaving your tax bill, as its 17-inch wheels just do enough to squeak it into a lower tax bracket than its siblings. It's pretty well equipped even though it is the base model, customers getting 10 airbags, electric steering wheel adjustment, a 12-speaker sounds system with DAB radio and DVD player, cruise control, push button start, parking sensors HID (xenon) headlamps, and electrically adjustable, heated front seats. Leading options will be Lexus Premium Navigation, with a 12.3-inch display, and leather upholstery (including heating/ventilation front seat functions). That lot wouldn't look out of place on a German rival range-topper but if you want more, Lexus will certainly oblige. Extra items in the Luxury trim include leather upholstery, navigation, 18-inch alloys and a Blind Spot Monitor pack with Rear Cross Traffic Alert, while the F Sport adds features such as exterior and interior styling elements, perforated leather sports seats, 10-spoke 19-inch wheels and Adaptive Variable Sports Suspension. At the top of the range, the GS 300h Premier features a Mark Levinson 17-speaker stereo system, 18-way electric front seat adjustment with memory, a new colour head-up display, AVS and LED fog lamps.
Cost of Ownership
The GS 300h stands or falls on its running costs. Lexus looked confident at the car's launch and it's hard to argue with their optimism. This car really can put a lick on many of its diesel rivals on the balance sheet. The bald figures of 109g/km of carbon dioxide (for the SE model at least) and a combined fuel economy figure of 60.1mpg would be impressive for a family hatch. That they're the numbers generated by a full-sized and well-equipped executive car is nothing less than remarkable, as indeed is the GS 300h's strength versus its rivals. And Audi A6 Hybrid is £12,000 more expensive gets 145g/km and will saddle a 40% tax payer with a tax demand of more than £2,000 per year more than the Lexus. Even a basic Audi A6 SE 2.0 diesel will cost more than a grand a year more than the Lexus when your accountant does the sums for the Chancellor. Lexus really has got its sums right here.
The Lexus GS 300h instantly becomes the most compelling model in the whole GS range. It might be the slowest and it's certainly not the most exciting, but if you want a well featured car that keeps a lid on running costs, it's a real contender. In F Sport guise it's a bit of a sheep in wolf's clothing, but the entry-level SE model makes the best economy numbers and looks the best value proposition. Where Lexus has traditionally come a bit adrift is when put up against the very best Germany has to offer, but the GS 300h has little to worry about from the hybrid models developed by BMW, Audi and Mercedes. In terms of both price and efficiency, the GS 300h is extremely hard to beat. It's no great ball of fire, but do you really buy a Lexus GS for its sporting prowess? This car is a great antidote to the stresses of today's driving conditions. It's relaxing and encourages a laid-back attitude in its driver. The fact that it's so cost-effective only adds to its sense of satisfied contentment. And that's a quality that's hard to put a value on.