GS VS. GS HYBRID
Question: Does the 2013 Lexus GS, with its LFA-inspired design cues, drive like it looks?
Recently, I traveled to the Shibetsu Proving Ground in Japan with Lexus Drive Meister Yoshiaki Ito to find out, as well as do a little personal, unofficial comparison between the new GS 350 and its hybrid counterpart, the new GS 450h.
This Lexus testing track is going to give me a feel for the models’ new performance modes, SPORT S (enhanced powertrain) and optional SPORT S+ (enhanced powertrain plus enhanced adaptive variable suspension, steering system, and vehicle stability control), as well as the cars’ behavior in long, foot-to-floor straights, fast double-lane changes, and high-speed S-turns.
TAKE-OFF/ACCELERATION: Blasting off first in the GS 350, in SPORT S+ mode, the response from the GS 350’s engine is instant and smooth, accompanied by a deep roar and a throaty burble that, frankly, I’ve not heard in the previous model.
Ito explains: “The new GS 350’s exhaust note is a natural, dynamic response, but it’s also optimized. For the first time, we’ve enhanced engine and exhaust notes via the air intake and exhaust systems.”
The GS 450h take-off, though, with its V6 engine, is a revelation. The previous GS Hybrid had a pretty seamless pick-up from a standstill, but this is altogether more raw, more primal, as if the car had a much bigger engine under the hood.
As with the gas model, I’m in Sport S+, the instrument panel glows red, and as the hybrid builds speed, I can feel the G-forces pushing me deep into the driver’s seat. Ito points out that Lexus purposely spent much time working with the hybrid’s two-motor system “to create a far richer feel.”
RAPID DECELERATION, FAST CORNERING: The hybrid offers fine times with its manual-style paddle shifters and heightened responsiveness in SPORT S mode. But I confess to enjoying the gas version slightly—only slightly—more in this section.
On this part of the track, I begin by engaging the car in SPORT S+ mode along a 90-plus mph straight before dropping to 50 and then 40 in the apex of a corner. The vehicle holds firm right through the bend, no auto upshift or downshift to spoil the fun.
It gets better. In a second time through, I select the manual paddle-shift control, like a race driver. As I power into the corner, I give the right paddle a gentle pull, the car downshifts with a throaty growl, aka “blip,” and the car decelerates under engine-braking into the corner. It’s a thrill. Likewise with the super-quick upshifts.
“This is technology that shows what we’re trying to achieve with the new GS,” Ito tells me. “It’s a new kind of dynamism, heightened responsiveness, more enjoyment.”
HIGH-SPEED S-TURNS: In this section of the track, I keep both vehicles in SPORT S+ mode and approach the track’s S-turns at around 85 mph. In both cars, and in equal measure, my line holds true as I sweep through the bends. Crucially, I can “feel” the road through each car’s steering wheel. I’m connected, but it’s quiet. Very Lexus.
“The Electronic Power Steering helps to ensure this sense of directness and security,” Ito explains. “Greater body strength also plays a part. The new GS is 14 percent more rigid, and we used human senses, via test-driving, to determine the ideal rigidity for the best driver experience. We’ve also maximized the effectiveness of the Adaptive Variable Suspension while also making progress with the articulation index [the ability to hear speech in the car], thanks to a new A-pillar design and revised door seals.”
DOUBLE-LANE CHANGE: Here, the hybrid is the most memorable for me. Driving the GS 450h down the track, I switch to normal mode, drop my speed to 45 mph and then power up to 90. Acceleration is again impressive. Then it’s into a series of fast but well-controlled double-lane changes. The turn in is sharp but smooth, with well-poised body control. Another lap, this time in SPORT S+ mode, and the sense of precision is even better.
Again, Ito provides the back story: “‘Passing acceleration’ in the GS Hybrid wipes away any idea that eco means compromised performance. In the U.S., passing acceleration is measured between 30 to 50 mph, which the GS Hybrid dispatches in 3 seconds.”
HIGH-SPEED STRAIGHT: My take on this section of the course was pretty simple: Accelerating through the track’s long straightaway, both the GS 350 and GS 450h show exceptional control as I power up to 110 mph to test out what Ito calls Lexus’ concept of “aerodynamic handling.”
“We’ve worked ‘with’ the wind,” Ito explains. “You can see it in the sculpted lines of both cars’ exteriors but also sense it through their road-hugging drives and quiet cabins at high speeds, thanks to their aerodynamic underbodies and special stabilizing fins.”
Article written by Doug Knox
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