New Car Review: 2013 Lexus GS450h Hybrid

White 2013 Lexus GS450h front 3/4 view at ocean

A lot of people think “hybrid” and see a small car. Let’s face it, the Toyota Prius has had a lot to do with that over the past 15 years. But small cars generally get pretty good mileage to begin with. If you’re looking to make a difference in fuel consumption, bigger is the way to go…and Lexus has gone there with the new GS450h.

The GS is all new after a lengthy run (so long, in fact, that until three years ago, they were still equipped with cassette decks in the dashboard as standard equipment)…it’s lower, wider, much more aggressive looking…and now, it’s capable of startling mileage for its size and class. The gasoline-powered version, the GS350, has an EPA estimate of 19 city and 28 highway. Step up to the GS450h hybrid and the highway number goes up by 6 miles per gallon to 34…but there’s a whopping 10 MPG improvement in the city estimate.

Interior view of 2013 Lexus GS450h

That’s because the car shuts off at stop lights and benefits from a pure electric mode that covers a lot of city driving. Use a light throttle foot pulling away from a red light in traffic and you can get up to 40 miles per hour before the gasoline engine kicks in. That’s 10 to 15 miles per hour faster without burning a drop of gas than most hybrids.

But the step up in price…that’s worrisome. There’s only a $2,750 difference between the smaller Lexus ES350 and the ES Hybrid.  The gap between the gasoline and hybrid versions of the GS is a startling $12,050. That’s money you won’t get back from savings at the pump anytime soon (the Orlando Sentinel has a nifty hybrid cost calculator…http://www.orlandosentinel.com/orl-hybridcalculator-fl,0,2196084.flash…and it estimates the GS hybrid will take 21 years and 8 months to pay for itself).

Rear 3/4 view of white 2013 Lexus GS450h at beach

That shoots down one of the big rationales many hybrid buyers use for the added expense of the technology. So what else does the GS450h have that makes it worth consideration even at the added cost?

Well, it may seem contradictory, but the GS450h is actually more powerful than the gasoline-powered ES350…packing 32 more horses. And the list of standard features is much more extensive and features items that are extra-cost luxury options in the gasoline model. Of course, it has a menu of extra-cost options of its own, which is how the as-tested price ($69,827) ended up more than $10,000 higher than the base price ($58,950).

 Near as I can tell, the GS450h is for the driver who doesn’t want to compromise speed or luxury, and wants to do his or her part for the planet, both in terms of consumption and emissions, without worrying about whether the money comes back to them or not. The car may be about to prompt a new term…”Eco-philanthropist”. There are certainly worse things.