2014 Lexus GS 450h

Now in its fourth generation, the Lexus GS mid-size luxury sedan can be had in two distinct forms: the gas-powered GS 350 and the hybrid GS 450h. Both models are designed to be more stylish inside and out than their somewhat bland predecessors, and the GS 450h brings improved fuel economy numbers and higher performance than its petrol-fed sibling.

Recent Changes
For the latest model year - the GS 450h's second on the market - the sedan benefits from a color display for the optional Heads-Up Display, the addition of Rear Cross Traffic Alert and power-folding mirrors to the available Blind Spot Monitoring package and an optional power trunk opener. The previously optional Lexus Night View system has been discontinued, and Apple's Siri Eyes Free system is now available.

The highlight of the GS 450h is its efficient hybrid powertrain. A detuned version of the GS 350′s 3.5-liter V6 works with a pair of generators and a 240-cell nickel metal hydride battery to achieve a total of 338 horsepower, while a CVT sends power to the rear wheels. Even with the additional 400-pound mass of its hybrid system, the GS 450h is actually slightly quicker than the less powerful GS 350.

The GS 450h is rated at 29 mpg in the city and 34 mpg on the highway, numbers that are returned thanks to the gas engine's high compression ratio of 13:1, a new, mid-port intake tumble generator and the adoption of the latest evolution of Lexus' four-stroke, direct injection D-4S technology.

The GS 450h sports Lexus's new corporate "spindle" grille that juts inward to emphasize the stylized blue "L" Lexus hybrid badge at its center. Underscored by hood detailing and pointed headlights, the grille is distinctive and visually signals that the GS 450h is not just another staid Japanese luxury sedan. Elsewhere, some of the car's styling is derivative - the LED accent lights were pioneered by Audi, while the side windows terminate in yet another interpretation of BMW's famous Hofmeister kink - but overall the look is far more likely to incite double-takes than the outgoing model.

Hybrid-specific details include a unique three-lamp design that aligns the turn signal and Lexus-first high and low beam LED lamps in a single horizontal row, as well as a rear bumper that covers the exhaust pipe apertures.

Inside, the GS 450h takes cues from both LFA supercar and CT 200h five-door hybrid with an elegant five-passenger cabin highlighted by an enormous (optional) 12.3-inch split screen navigation display. A three-spoke steering wheel and meaty side-view mirrors signal the car's sporting intentions, while elsewhere items like an understated analog clock and tasteful contrasting stitching help to create an air of refined, high-quality luxury. The dashboard contains relatively few buttons thanks to a mouse-like knob that handles audio and navigation adjustments.

Luxury comes standard
The GS 450h comes standard with perforated-leather upholstery, bamboo trim, 10-way power-adjustable heated and ventilated front seats, a heated steering wheel a power sunroof, an eight-inch high-resolution multimedia display, a backup camera, a 12-speaker audio system, an adaptive variable suspension system with electronically controlled shock absorbers, headlamp washers and a windshield deicer, automatic dual zone climate control, cruise control, a USB audio device input, Bluetooth phone connectivity and audio streaming, HD radio with iTunes tagging, a backup camera and more.

Optional Features
For customers desirous of an extra dose of luxury, Lexus offers several GS option packages.

The Premium Package includes rain-sensing wipers, heated and ventilated front seats and power rear sunshade.

The Luxury Package includes Premium Package features plus Adaptive Variable Suspension, an Adaptive Front Lighting System, unique high gloss espresso wood ornamentation, semi-aniline leather, 18-way power front driver and passenger seats with articulated back, side bolster and thigh support controls, four-way lumbar, butterfly headrests, passenger seat memory, rear HVAC and audio controls, rear manual side sunshades, 18-inch alloy wheels and wood and leather-wrapped (or trimmed) steering wheel.

Besides the massive 12.3-inch screen, the optional navigation system allows access to Lexus's Enform Application Suite, which pairs with the owner's iPhone, Android or Blackberry to provide local searches through Bing and utilize voice-enabled apps to make restaurant reservations through OpenTable, get movie tickets via MovieTickets.com or tap into internet radio, including Pandora or iHeartRadio.

The system also provides ability to check-in on Facebook and search for various business reviews including restaurants on Yelp. SiriusXM data services offer information on stocks, traffic, weather, sports and fuel prices.

Audiophiles will appreciate the available 17-speaker Mark Levinson premium surround sound audio system. The system provides 7.1 channel surround-sound through 10 channels using a new class D Digital amplifier with a clean 835-watts from 20-20,000 hz at only 0.01 percent total harmonic distortion. Green Edge speakers, a Lexus first, are lighter, more energy-efficient and have less distortion than conventional units.

New for the latest model year is Apple's Siri Eyes Free system, which uses the ES 350's steering wheel-mounted controls to access the Siri function of any iPhone equipped with iOS 6. Once linked, drivers can use voice commands to perform actions like make phone calls, play songs from iTunes, listen to and compose text messages and add appointments to their calendars.

Occupant Safety
The GS 350 is equipped with 10 airbags, including a knee airbag for both driver and front passenger. Outboard rear seats have seat-mounted side airbags, and all four outboard occupant seating positions are equipped with side curtain airbags.

New Whiplash Injury Lessening front seats reduce the space between the occupant's head and headrest to help limit excessive head movement and help decrease the severity of whiplash-type injuries in certain types of rear end collisions.

Available options to help further enhance occupant safety include a Pre-Collision System (PCS), which uses the Dynamic Radar Cruise Control System to provide early warning of upcoming objects that might result in a collision. The system also uses an infrared camera with new scanning technology to monitor the driver's eyes - in the event that the driver does not appear to be looking forward when a collision appears imminent, the system will initiate the warning at an earlier threshold. If the driver still does not respond and make the appropriate maneuver, the system will initiate braking intervention up to 1.2 seconds prior to impact to help lessen the severity of the collision.

Other optional safety systems include a Heads Up Display; a Blind Spot Monitor (packaged with Rear Cross Traffic Alert and power-folding mirrors) that helps detect vehicles in rear/side blind spots; and Lane Keep Assist (LKA) with Lane Departure Warning (LDW). LKA provides a small amount of active steering torque to help maintain course, while the LDW feature alerts the driver if the system detects that the vehicle is beginning to drift out of the lane.

Key Competitors
Some of the Lexus GS 450h's main competitors include Infiniti M Hybrid and the BMW ActiveHybrid 5, which skew slightly more towards the performance edge of the spectrum. Those looking for decreased fuel costs but don't have to have a hybrid should consider the Mercedes-Benz E350 Bluetec, which features a torquey diesel engine that returns 33 mpg on the highway.