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2007 Lexus Hybrid Turning Drivers’ Dreams Into Reality

If you’re a red-blooded, all-American guy or gal who’d like to drive a fuel efficient hybrid but think the current crop is just too wussy and lacks all the creature comforts you deserve, the 2007 Lexus GS450h, which has just gone on sale, may be a dream come true.

A hybrid luxury automobile, you say, that’s impossible. Well, Lexus has delivered just that with the GS450h. The advantages are great acceleration, almost unparalleled smoothness, and exceptional fuel economy, given its lofty level of luxury components and power. The downside is a higher list price and a smaller trunk, which was reduced to house the battery pack and other hybrid components. But the GS450h offers some exclusive features such as additional sound insulation and an acoustic glass windshield.

The new Lexus luxury sedan rates 339 horsepower and will blast from zero to 60 mph in about five seconds. Of equal importance is the car’s midrange acceleration, which is not only strong, but also buttery smooth and instantly available. Flooring the accelerator at 40 mph is a new experience. The power thrust is absolutely immediate, without the harshness associated with a conventional drivetrain.

Some of the credit for the seamless acceleration must go to the continuously variable automatic transmission of a new design specifically adapted to hybrid technology. The transmission offers three power modes. The Normal Mode enhances overall smoothness and fuel economy. The Power Mode optimizes acceleration, while the Snow Mode modifies powertrain responsiveness for gentle power delivery on slippery road surfaces. Of course, this mode would work equally well on ice or even wet/oily conditions.

The hybrid system consists of a state-of-the-art V-6 engine and powerful electric motor. Lexus claims that the combo delivers power equal to a 4.5-liter V-8 engine, hence the name GS450h. Both motors drive the rear wheels in true sports-sedan fashion. In addition to the power delivery, the new GS450h also gets significantly better gas mileage (25 miles per gallon for city driving) than its competitors and meets California’s exceedingly stringent Super Ultra-Low Emission Vehicle, or SULEV, emission standard. But make no mistake, the engineering assignment for the GS Hybrid was biased toward performance and luxury, not fuel economy.

The GS450h is a full hybrid. This means that either, or both, of its gasoline and electric motors, can provide power. Full hybrid technology shuts the engine down during coasting and at stoplights to save fuel. It also converts the electric motor into a generator during brake application to help recharge the batteries, a process called regenerative braking. In actual operation, the hybrid system automatically switches between pure electric power, pure gasoline engine power or a combined operation to maximize efficiency and performance. Most importantly, the system is capable of running on electricity alone in slow-moving city traffic, the most inefficient mode of operation for a conventional hydrocarbon-burning engine.

All the new technology in the GS450h is not limited to the hybrid drive system. The available Active Stabilizer Suspension System monitors wheel speed and steering angle to calculate how much force is needed to help keep the vehicle flat in a turn, rather than leaning to the side in response to centrifugal force. This information is then sent to the front stabilizer bars to increase the vehicle’s sway resistance. Since this is an electric system, response time is instantaneous.

What about luxury? The fact that GS Hybrid is a Lexus pretty much tells the story. Key to the luxury quotient in the GS Hybrid is the $10,000 Active Stabilizer Suspension System package, which includes the excellent voice-activated navigation system and the Mark Levinson sound system.

The roomy midsize GS450h has 110 cubic feet of interior volume and comfortable seating for four adults, or five in a pinch. And unlike some of its German competitors, the GS Hybrid offers controls for its various component functions that are available in plain sight on the center console, without wading through a complex computer menu system.


Cordell Koland is an automotive journalist based in California’s central coast. He can be reached at cordellkoland@mac.com.


Lexus GS450h

Price as tested: $65,725.

Engine:

Type: 3.5-liter V-6.

Horsepower: 292 @ 6,400 rpm.

Torque: 267 foot-pounds @ 4,800 rpm.

Electric drive motor:

Type: Permanent magnet.

Output: 147 kilowatts.

Fuel economy, automatic transmission:

City: 25 mpg.

Highway: 28 mpg.

Curb weight: 4,134 pounds.

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