The Lexus GS 450h is a hybrid of a different color--no luxury or power was sacrificed in the name of the environment. Lexus (NYSE:TM) has set its sights on what you could call the nouveau greens, the type of folks who serve line-caught cod, black truffle risotto, and a 2004 Stony Hill Chardonnay at their home theater viewing party of An Inconvenient Truth. As an homage to this upscale demographic, I piloted the rear-wheel-drive GS 450h in and out of the densely forested pathways on Martha's Vineyard. The roads were silent as the engine idled at a stoplight, running on energy stored in the battery. Of course, that was before I tore off in an attempt to verify Lexus' claim that the vehicle goes 0 to 60 in 5.2 seconds.
The GS 450h is a powerful machine regulated by an electronically controlled transmission that alternates between gear ratios to ensure that the engine operates at maximum efficiency, regardless of speed. Colorful bar graphs track the gas consumption. (Sadly, I must point out that fuel economy falls precipitously when your speed tops 70 miles an hour.) At nearly $3 a gallon--again, Martha's Vineyard--I spent $70 to cover 690 miles, averaging 26 miles per gallon. No, that didn't make me the most righteous person on the road, but other cars in its luxury class get around 18 miles per gallon in the city, with significantly more emissions than the GS 450h.
The GS 450h offers everything Mother Nature could ask for: a DVD player, a wood and leather steering wheel (yes, trees were harmed), and a navigational system with a soothing voice that mercifully guided me from Oak Bluffs to the Gay Head lighthouse in the darkness of the witching hour. Saving the planet never felt so right.
Lexus GS 450h
$54,900 base price; $60,149 as tested
3.5-liter 339-hp V-6 hybrid engine; 18-inch five-spoke alloy wheels; 25/28 mpg
The combination of elegance, brawn, and sensible gas mileage is remarkable. As are the headlamp washers, heated seats, six-disc CD and DVD changer, rearview camera above the license plate, and optional 14-speaker, 330-watt Mark Levinson audio system.
The battery pack in the trunk shrinks the cargo space to a tight 7.5 cubic feet. And, although the gas mileage is much better than that of other sedans in its class, the GS 450h lacks the wow factor of the Honda (NYSE:HMC) Civic's 51 mpg.
"If it didn't have an environmentally correct power train, one would call it 'smokin' hot," says Gary Vasilash, editor in chief of Automotive Design & Production.