"If you could choose one car to have over Thanksgiving break, what model would you choose?" That question alone would get anyone excited. I was given the choice between three amazing models and ended up choosing the 2014 Lexus GS 450h, as it was not only sporty, but luxurious and a model that I hadn't yet driven. I've heard my mother gush over this car ever since one of her many friends purchased it not too long ago. I needed to see for myself just what all the hype was about.
I couldn't have picked a better model. I have driven the Lexus GS in the past, but never the hybrid model. I knew the GS lineup was known for its sporty performance and I wanted to see how that translated when outfitted with a hybrid powertrain. Would it still offer the same acceleration? Was the driving dynamic still sporty and fun? These were all important questions I was intent on finding answers to during my week with the GS.
What We Drove
Our test model comes with a starting price of just under $60,000, but the one delivered to our doorstep had a price tag of $70,010. Included in that price was the destination charge ($910) and the Luxury Package with additional options ($9,570), which included 18-way power front seats, bi-LED headlamps, super-soft semi-aniline leather interior trim, adaptive headlights, selectable drive modes, a heated steering wheel, rear climate and audio controls, navigation, 12.3-inch split-screen display, Bluetooth, NavTraffic and NavWeather, Lexus Enform, blind spot monitor, intuitive parking assist, and a Mark Levinson premium 17-speaker sound system.
Standard features included keyless entry and ignition, automatic climate control with interior air filter, smog sensor, and automatic recirculation, a power tilt and telescopic steering wheel, power tilt and slide sunroof and sliding sunshade, power windows, a leather-trimmed steering wheel and shift knob, along with a backup camera, steering wheel-mounted audio and display controls, and satellite radio. Standard safety features include vehicle stability control, traction control, four-wheel ventilated power-assisted disc brakes, antilock braking system, brake assist, daytime running lights, LED taillights, tire pressure monitoring system, Safety Connect, vehicle theft deterrent and engine immobilizer, electronic parking brake, smart stop technology, and whiplash injury lessening front seats.
As soon as we sat down in the 2014 Lexus GS 450h hybrid, there were a few features of the vehicle that immediately stood out. For starters, the 12.3-inch split-screen display drew our attention like a moth to a flame. The placement made it easy to view without taking our eyes completely away from the road, and with the split-screen capabilities, we could view the map and see what station we were listening to at the same time. I know that whenever I'm using the navigation and am constantly switching radio stations, I sometimes get distracted from the directions and take a wrong turn. Having to constantly switch between screens is also a hassle. Lexus has managed to solve this problem with the split-screen system.
Heading to Orange County for the week of Thanksgiving, I loaded the GS and was off. On the street, I switched the driving mode from Normal to Eco, hoping to get a little more out of the mileage. Though the car wasn't as powerful or as quick, it still managed to get up to speed quickly enough. When it was time to get on the freeway, I shifted the driving mode into Sport, and took off. I was surprised by the powerful acceleration the car had when merging onto the freeway, and I was up to speed before I knew it. Road noise was never an issue, even when I was pushing 80. Halfway through the drive, traffic set in. I had forgotten to set up my phone with the Bluetooth system before leaving and figured now was as good a time as any to test out the system as I was at a dead stop.
It was relatively easy to hook up my phone, and it didn't take longer than a minute or two. The one issue I had was with the mouse-like tool that Lexus has previously introduced on its newer models. It can be finicky to use if you press it to hard or too soft, and doesn't always want to go where you intend. If you just don't want to use it, the voice commands are pretty good, and made up for the struggles with the other control. For the majority of my time behind the wheel, I used the steering wheel controls or the voice commands, as I am not a fan of the mouse.
The Grocery Run
I have driven hybrid sedans in the past and was always disappointed with the lack of trunk space. Many automakers have placed the batteries somewhere in the trunk, causing cargo room to become rather limited. The Toyota Camry Hybrid offered a surprising amount of trunk room, however, and I was hopeful the GS would do the same. I was not disappointed. All my week necessities for both myself and my horse of a dog fit with room to spare. Not bad, Lexus.
If there isn't enough room in the trunk, folding down the rear seats was easy and added that extra room with ease. Added to that, LATCH points were easily accessible for those traveling with children in need of car seats. The majority of passengers will be able to fit in the 2014 Lexus GS 450h, although passengers over six feet tall may feel a little cramped in the rear seats.
Maneuvering in and out of parking lots was easy with the help of the backup camera and intuitive parking assist. The different drive modes added to the overall feel of the GS 450h, and it was easy to switch between each mode. While driving on surface streets, I stayed either in Eco or Normal and saved the Sport mode for when I knew I could really experience what the car had to offer. The paddle shifters added to the sporty feeling when driving on the highway, but didn't make much sense when not in Sport mode. The only real difference between the three drive modes, aside from the fuel economy savings, is the stiffness of the suspension and how that relates to road imperfections. When in Eco or Normal, the ride was very comfortable, but when in Sport mode, all bumps and dips became much more noticeable, but the overall ride wasn't harsh as I would have first thought.
The Weekend Fun
After the food coma from the Thanksgiving festivities finally wore off, it was time to take the GS out to see what it could do. The freeways were empty as everyone was still spending time with family and friends, making it the perfect time to throw the GS 450h into Sport S mode. This was also a good time for me to practice using paddle shifters as I haven't had many opportunities to use them.
For how big the GS 450h actually is, I found it surprisingly nimble when moving through traffic. The battery weight doesn’t seem to hinder the model in the slightest, letting the full 338 horsepower—and plenty more abundant electric motor torque—out of the gate for quick acceleration. Because the GS is known for being a sporty model to begin with, it was nice to see that the hybrid continued in that tradition. Using the paddle shifters, the GS seemed to launch forward when switching between gears, giving a very enjoyable driving dynamic.
As I was so focused on driving and the road in front of me, I didn't want to look down and fuss with the mouse tool to change the radio station or anything else that might be potentially distracting. I decided to really try out the voice commands and found them pretty easy to use. Most of the voice command features I've tried in other models have left me less than impressed as voice recognition isn't always the greatest, but in the Lexus, it was almost always spot on. It took a few seconds for it to figure out what we were saying, but when it did, everything ran smoothly, letting the driver keep full attention where it should be.
Looking back over my time behind the wheel of the 2014 Lexus GS 450h, there wasn't anything particularly bad about it aside from the controversial styling. Lexus has always been a leader in innovative technology and hybrids, and with a model like the GS 450h, the automaker is able to shine.
Compared to other luxury hybrid models, the GS offers more for the money, and the driving experience is one that isn't easily beat. Although it may not be one of the most fuel-efficient luxury hybrids when you really step on the gas, the sporty drive and feel of the model makes up for some of that. We feel this is the model that should be at the top of your list, whether you're looking for a luxurious performance sedan, or a stylish hybrid.
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