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You wouldn’t normally think a sedan with a 3.5-liter V6 as a candidate for a hybrid drivetrain. In the case of the Lexus GS450h, however, combining the big V6 with electric drive brings all the fun of a powerful luxury car with the silent hybrid takeoff. The car pulls away from the curb in complete silence if you have a minimum of electrically powered features working. The big gas engine kicks in at about 15 mph, but you’ll have to listen carefully to hear it come to life. One of the points in this car’s favor is its minimal road noise. That’s a factor that shouldn’t be taken lightly. Other hybrids we’ve tried have tended to use tires whose low rolling resistance also made them noisy, so noisy that driving in hybrid mode was anything but silent.

Also, hybrid mode doesn’t exactly make the sedan a fuel sipper. The car’s EPA rating for city driving, where hybrid mode comes into play, is 22 mpg. That’s not bad when you compare it to a conventional luxury car with a bigger V8. These tend to average around 15 to 17 mpg. But Lexus claims this is a fair comparison because the combo V6 and hybrid drive delivers 340 hp, the power of a 4.5-liter V8. (For another comparison, the ordinary 303-hp, V6-powered GS 350 gets about 19 mpg in the city.)

The hybrid drivetrain does, however, give the car plenty of zip. Its rear-wheel drive gets power from the drivetrain through a continuously variable transmission that makes the transition between electric and gas drive seamless. Put your foot on the throttle and the GS450h gives muscle-carlike acceleration in a way no Prius ever could. The 0-to-60 time is rated at 5.2 sec, not the kind of behavior you’d normally associate with the green movement. All in all, the car is a lot of fun to drive.

I long ago ran out of superlatives in trying to describe the typical Lexus ride and interior features, and I’ve got the same problem with this Lexus. The supple leather interior is marked by craftsmanship and classy wood and aluminum trim. The optional high-def nav system in the instrument panel was one of the easiest to use that I’ve seen. One interesting dash feature is a kilowatt meter in place of the usual tach. During regenerative breaking, it goes below zero. A laundry list of premium interior and safety features comes standard on the Lexus. Among my favorites were a rear camera that comes in handy backing up and a smog sensor as part of the climate controls. And there are far more air bags than passengers in the car.

The driving dynamics are equally first rate. Obviously the Lexus is not sprung like a sportscar but there is enough feedback from the steering and the road to feel connected with what’s going on. The electronically powered variable-gear-ratio steering pretty much lets you maneuver the car with just two fingers on the wheel when parking. I’ve seen reviews that claimed the regen was grabby when you hit the brakes, but I can’t say I noticed this.

Our only reservation about the GS450h is its trunk space. The battery takes up a portion of what would normally be reserved for storage, leaving about 7.5 ft3 available for grocery bags and whatnot. If Tiger Woods ever switches from a Buick to a GS450h, he’ll be able to fit his golf bag in the trunk. But if Phil Mickelson rides with him, Phil’s bag will have to go in the back seat.

Of course, the GS450h is priced like a Lexus. The base price is $57,950. Our review vehicle also carried a $1,665 nav system. So with a delivery charge, the grand total came to $60,690. In a nutshell, a great car for someone who can afford it.

— Leland Teschler

Lexus GS450h
 
Mercedes-Benz S-Class S400 Hybrid
3.5-liter 340-hp V6
Standard engine
3.5-liter 295-hp V6
340 @ 6400 rpm
Horsepower
295 @ 6000 rpm
N/A
Torque
284 @ 2400 rpm
4
Valves
4
3.7 × 3.3
Bore × stroke (in.)
3.7 × 3.4
11.8:1
Compression ratio
11.7:1
22
City (mpg)
19
25
Highway (mpg)
26
4,134
Curb weight – automatic (lb)
4,574.6
112.2
Wheelbase (in.)
124.6
190.7
Length (in.)
206.5
71.7
Width (in.)
83.5
56.1
Height (in.)
58
5
Standard seating
5
37.8
Front headroom (in.)
37.8
37
Rear headroom (in.)
38.5
43.5
Front legroom (in.)
41.9
36.4
Rear legroom (in.)
42.3

© 2011 Penton Media, Inc.