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First drive: Lexus GS 300h. Image by Lexus.

First drive: Lexus GS 300h
Powered by a IS 300h's hybrid powertrain, the new Lexus GS 300h makes an affordable alternative to the diesel norm.

 



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| First Drive | Madrid, Spain | Lexus GS 300h |

Overall rating: 3.5 3.5 3.5 3.5 3.5

The Lexus GS 450h petrol-electric hybrid didn't have a chance against the BIK-friendly diesel-engined Germans that dominate the executive saloon class in the UK. Although its performance justified it, the lofty purchase price put it way outside the mainstream, but this new entry-level version, the GS 300h, makes a much better case for itself - financially at least.

Key Facts

Model tested: Lexus GS 300h (both Premier and F Sport models driven)
Pricing: from £31,495
Engine: 2.5-litre four-cylinder petrol engine mated to electric motor
Transmission: E-CVT (Electronic Continuously Variable Transmission), rear-wheel drive
Body style: four-door saloon
Rivals: Audi A6 2.0 TDI, BMW 520d, Mercedes-Benz E 220 CDI
CO2 emissions: from 109g/km
Combined economy: from 58.9mpg
Top speed: 119mph
0-62mph: 9.2 seconds
Power: total system maximum is 223hp (engine can produce 181hp, electric motor 143hp)
Torque: no total maximum quoted, but engine can produce up to 211Nm, while the electric motor can put out 300Nm

In the Metal: 3.5 3.5 3.5 3.5 3.5

Other than the name on the boot, there's nothing to tell the new Lexus GS 300h apart from its more expensive 450h sibling, as both have blue L logos on the grille and 'HYBRID' badging throughout. There's a bigger difference between the various trim levels and to truly appreciate the GS's design it needs to be in the more aggressive F Sport specification. It's quite colour and wheel sensitive otherwise, though can look great.

In our view, the interior of the GS is its biggest asset, though we've not seen the leather-less cabin of the new entry-level SE model. The fit and finish are exemplary, the design more interesting than most in the segment and the sense of quality undeniable. There's loads of room too (though as with most cars in the class, a large transmission tunnel robs the middle rear passenger of legroom). We're not huge fans of the 'Remote Touch' controller, but the menu system is at least intuitive and the high resolution display lovely to look at. We'd recommend that buyers go for one of the high-end stereo systems on offer too, more of which below...

Driving it: 3.5 3.5 3.5 3.5 3.5

We discovered that we liked the GS 300h much more once we played some tunes from the on-board hard disc drive and turned up the (excellent) stereo. That was enough to disguise the distinctly annoying drone from the engine that accompanies any meaningful acceleration. The problem is (we've covered this before, but it bears repeating) the functioning of the E-CVT system. This type of transmission is, theoretically, very efficient, but it's just unsatisfying to drive. Put your foot down and the engine revs flare, but there's no obvious increase in acceleration - at least not immediately. Eventually the gearing catches up and the car isn't particularly slow against the clock, but the engine noise frustratingly makes it feel tardy.

No matter which of the driving modes you select, this is the case, though performance is more sprightly in the sportier settings and the F Sport model is very accomplished, happy to attack a twisty road - possibly because of its active rear steering system.

The thing is, the annoyance of the powertrain dominates proceedings if you're in any kind of a hurry, so much so that it distracts from what seems to be a very good basic chassis. The Premium car is distinctly more comfortable and refined than the F Sport model, but both have great body control and excellent manners. The steering isn't half bad either, and the brake feel has been improved too.

In an urban environment, at suitably slow speeds, the GS is serene, and the EV mode comes into its own so the car glides along noiselessly. That at least is something the 300h has over its diesel rivals.

What you get for your Money: 4 4 4 4 4

With the launch of the GS 300h, Lexus UK is introducing a new entry-level grade, the SE model, which starts at £31,495. That undercuts the cheapest automatic diesel BMW 5 Series (the much less powerful 518d SE), Audi A6 (2.0 TDI SE with 177hp) and Mercedes-Benz E-Class (E 220 CDI SE with 170hp) though Jaguar's XF is considerably less. Business users will be all too aware of the BIK penalty associated with diesel models too so Lexus should score highly with them.

In terms of specification, the big news is that leather is not standard on this entry-level variant, though buyers get the option of ivory or black cloth upholstery. However, the rest of the specification is quite generous, including 17-inch alloy wheels, cruise control, a 12-speaker sound system with DAB and DVD player, parking sensors front and rear, HID bi-Xenon headlights, electrically adjustable front seats and a wealth of safety technology.

Next up is the Luxury trim level, at £37,495, bringing with it the all-important leather upholstery, heating and ventilation for the front seats, satnav, 18-inch wheels and a Blind Spot Monitor pack with Rear Cross Traffic Alert.

The GS 300h F Sport variant looks distinctly different to the others inside and out with bespoke (and sporty) design touches that set it apart. Perforated leather seats are standard, as are 19-inch alloy wheels and Adaptive Variable Suspension (AVS). It's priced at £41,745.

Topping off the line-up, at £43,745, is the GS 300h Premier, with its 17-speaker Mark Levinson stereo system, upgraded seating and leather upholstery, a colour head-up display, AVS and LED fog lamps - and much more besides.

Only the SE model dips into VED Band B with its 109g/km emissions. The Luxury and Premier versions emit 113g/km and the F Sport puts out 115g/km, putting them all into VED Band C.

Lexus will no longer offer the GS 250 petrol-only model for sale in the UK.

Worth Noting

Japanese manufacturers hate to say too much about future product, and though the GS chief engineer was interrogated he let very little slip. Saying that, when asked if there would be a petrol-only GS F model the answer was "no comment", where as when questioned about the possibility of a GS estate of some description it was a clear "no way". Let the speculation begin... After all, we know that the new Lexus RC F Coupé will be powered by a 5.0-litre V8 petrol engine, which could slot in nicely, plus the GS is offered with all-wheel drive in some markets. Could make an interesting alternative to the Audi S6 for instance.

Summary

Unquestionably, the 300h powertrain brings the Lexus GS closer to its big-selling diesel rivals in terms of affordability and appeal - especially if you're a business user and you're eyeing up the SE model. It's still not as satisfying to drive, and, over high mileages, not as economical. However, it promises low running costs elsewhere and is the best car in the class for driving around town in. It remains an anomaly of the market, if one that will sell in greater numbers than before. Certainly worth a try.


Shane O' Donoghue - 4 Dec 2013









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2014 Lexus GS 300h F-Sport. Image by Lexus.2014 Lexus GS 300h F-Sport. Image by Lexus.2014 Lexus GS 300h F-Sport. Image by Lexus.2014 Lexus GS 300h F-Sport. Image by Lexus.2014 Lexus GS 300h F-Sport. Image by Lexus.

2014 Lexus GS 300h F-Sport. Image by Lexus.2014 Lexus GS 300h F-Sport. Image by Lexus.2014 Lexus GS 300h F-Sport. Image by Lexus.2014 Lexus GS 300h F-Sport. Image by Lexus.2014 Lexus GS 300h F-Sport. Image by Lexus.



2014 Lexus GS 300h F-Sport. Image by Lexus.
 

2014 Lexus GS 300h F-Sport. Image by Lexus.
 

2014 Lexus GS 300h F-Sport. Image by Lexus.
 

2014 Lexus GS 300h. Image by Lexus.
 

2014 Lexus GS 300h. Image by Lexus.
 

2014 Lexus GS 300h F-Sport. Image by Lexus.
 

2014 Lexus GS 300h F-Sport. Image by Lexus.
 

2014 Lexus GS 300h F-Sport. Image by Lexus.
 

2014 Lexus GS 300h F-Sport. Image by Lexus.
 






 

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