LEXUS HYBRIDS IN 3D
The third dimension: GS 450h
This article is from our archives and has not been updated and integrated with our "new" site yet... Even so, it's still awesome - so keep reading!
Published on Mon, Jan 16, 2012
By: The LACar Editorial Staff
By Zoran Segina Having large amount of power at one’s disposal promotes tranquility and serenity, even if one never has to use it. Just ask any self-respecting potentate, despite the fact that 2011 was not the best year for them. The above maxim certainly holds true in the automotive world. Get behind the wheel of the Lexus GS 450h, and somewhere below you can hear the neigh of the two hundred and ninety-two horses from the 3.5-liter V-6 internal combustion power plant, plus another forty-seven from two of its electric brethren. The combined forces which power rear wheels (as the nature intended) will propel the 4,183 pounds of luxury from a standing start to 60 mph in 5.2 seconds. Aaaah, the glorious acceleration. So if the average fuel economy on a three hundred mile city trip hovers around twenty-three miles per gallon, this is still a very respectable number—given the pleasure of the GS.
And then there is the inside. Cherry wood trim and black leather. Multiple function touch-screen. Door pockets on hinged panels. Parking sensors. Automatic xenon headlights. Keyless entry—enter the car, start and stop it, step out and lock it—while the keys have never left the driver’s pocket. Heated and ventilated power front seats with memory settings. Dual-zone automatic climate control. Auto-dimming mirrors and a rearview camera. Bluetooth phone. Fourteen-speaker Mark Levinson surround-sound audio system with six-CD changer and satellite radio. A hard-drive navigation system with real-time traffic, and voice control. A gentle push on a button on the left side reveals a sliding tray with additional set of controls. “Is this machine going to give me a shiatsu massage,” queries Robert while the GS 450h glides to our luncheon destination. “Because it pretty much does everything else.” We laugh, but Robert is right. There are precious few desirables that are not already installed in this car.
While the driver moseys through traffic in the hybrid mode, a change in circumstances may demand a quick arrival. Underneath the sliding armrest resides another set of switches and knobs. Adjusting them to “sport” setting (as in suspension) and “power” (as in the herd under the hood) gives one a strange sensation akin to electronically unlocking the cage of a beast in “Jurassic Park.” This is followed by a yank of the gearshift to the left to engage sequential electronic gearbox. And a press on the pedal. All of a sudden, the other cars on the road seem stationary. The speedometer needle nuzzles number ninety (as in miles per hour) in the split second the driver briefly glanced at a rear view mirror. The eighteen inch Dunlop Sport 2030 low profile tires help the GS weave through traffic with ease. Should one need to avoid the slower cars ahead (suddenly there are so many of them!), the regenerative-action brakes will decelerate the GS with confidence, and work on detaching the driver’s retina. By now, the fuel gauge has quit in disgust. The Tall Girl and I are late to a Saturday dinner in the West Valley. The northbound traffic on the rainy 405 with all the construction seems interminable. Because it is impossible to predict when we may arrive, such situations ordinarily cause the family tempers to rise,. This GS, however, is guided by a real time GPS which not only provides the directions, but continuously calculates the estimated arrival time. Knowing that we will ring the doorbell only ten minutes late keeps us in good holiday cheer. After the dinner our hosts board the GS for a midnight test drive in the neighborhood. They already own a gasoline powered Lexus, and being environmentally conscious, find the hybrid technology appealing.
The GS has drawbacks, albeit minor. An attempt to get underway quickly, may cause the driver to start the car out of sequence. As a result, the gears will not engage. This is ordinarily not a problem unless the GS is parked on an incline toward a high curb, which is getting close to the expensive-looking front spoiler. Powering the system off and on - the high tech version of ctrl-alt-delete - gets the GS moving. The large rear window gets dirty in the wet weather. Under the hood the only accessible parts of the engine are three containers for oil, coolant and windshield washer, everything else is under large plastic covers. Two large diameter, and presumably high-voltage, orange cables snake from the back. The GS costs over sixty grand. This price point provides plenty of excellent hardware with the family name “wagen”, with fuel consumption in the low twenties. The GS 450h is a fantastic automobile, but encountering very stiff competition. After three weeks I found how to keep the satellite radio display on all the time. On page 248 of the six hundred page manual, there it is, under “auto screen change.” Who says comprehensive owner manuals are not useful?
EPILOGUE A successful purveyor of luxury automobiles, has to meet its customers’ expectations of uncompromising luxury and performance. The premium that its customers are willing to pay over similar non-luxury product reflects their belief that comfort, beauty, first class craftsmanship and reliability take precedence over the amounts of money one has to spend in order to obtain products that have these attributes money. It also helps that the prospective customers usually have large amounts of it - money that is. A purveyor of alternative propulsion technology has to meet different, but equally important expectations by its customers. These customers are also willing to pay a premium price over conventionally powered products, but for a different reason - they believe that a cutting edge technology, including unusual shape of their cars, use of lighter materials, reduces the use of fossil-based fuels. This results in lower fuel costs, and contributes to slowing effects of global warming. In the luxury hybrids Lexus has to balance the two seemingly contradictory expectations of its core customer base summarized as follows - would the prospective buyers prefer to have a luxury product with the added benefit of hybrid technology, or opt to drive a hybrid powered automobile with the added benefit of luxury. The solution which relates to physics and market reality is not as simple as it may seem.
Of the tested trio, the luxury and performance of the GS450h, overrides the convenience of gas saving. This is not to say that the fuel consumption of the cherry wood and leather clad cruiser does not benefit from the electrical motors and batteries under the hood. The overall consumption of twenty-three miles per gallon in combined (and at times very aggressive) city-highway drive for a nearly two ton automobile with three-hundred and forty horsepower is more than respectable. After all, the GS450h is still subject to immutable laws of physics dealing with mass and velocity. As anybody who ever tried to push a wheelbarrow knows, one needs to use energy to get things moving. Heavier objects or those that need to be move faster require more energy. The GS450h not only comes with cherry wood and leather, but also with a lot of extra electronic equipment, in addition to electrical motors, batteries, and computers. In light of the engineering challenges facing the Lexus team one should not question whether the fuel consumption suffices for a hybrid, but how did they manage to put all of this together in such an appealing (do we dare say sexy?) package. A short ride in the HS250h reveals that the basic idea was to have a hybrid car with an added benefit of luxury. While not the fastest or the most nimble of the group, the HS250h meets expectations. Powered by an advanced technology which saves gas, the car is also equipped with every conceivable state of the art driver-assist-electronic system technology while the user of all this travels around blissfully ensconced in leather, while surrounded by polished wood. The hybrid technology developed by Toyota arguably blazed a new trail in automotive history and the HS250h is a proud descendant of Prius, the car that initially seemed more of a curiosity than a lasting icon. So the modern hybrid has to satisfy its core audience who are willing to pay the premium for its technological features. While the HS250h does not meet the legendary gas-sipping performance of a Prius, the thirty miles per gallon in the combined driving is still outstanding, especially since the car saves more fuel in the city than on the highway. The problem for the HS250h—as a member of the Lexus family-- is that it also has to appeal to the prospective purchasers who stand ready to pay the premium for luxury. The two combined premiums bring the suggested retail price of the mid-size sedan to over forty-eight thousand dollars. In that price segment the HS250h may face stiff competition in an attempt to satisfy both groups of its prospective buyers.
Unlike its established brethren, the newcomer CT200h needs improvement. If this car placed an ad in one of the on-line dating services it would say: “An extremely capable and curvy chassis seeks a strong and reliable engine for mating and long term relationship.” The biggest problem with the CT200h is that its platform begs for more power especially in light of the raised expectations with the availability of the Sport mode and the creation of the electronic tachometer on the red-glowing dashboard. While a segment of the CT purchasers may demand the fuel efficiency by sacrificing performance, this car looks like it wants to have fun. Or to quote Jessica Rabitt: ”I am not bad, I am just drawn that way.” In light if the advanced technology controlling hybrid motors it should not be beyond the realm of the Lexus engineering team to tweak the computers and bring the CT closer to the GS universe rather than the traditional hybrid world where it is right now. In the case of the CT the proper question is whether a prospective purchaser would like to have a high performance hatchback with the added benefit of hybrid technology? Having reviewed the car, the answer is resounding yes. Lexus’ sales last year indicate how rough it was owing to the natural disasters in Asia - circumstances completely beyond its control. Nevertheless, Lexus is a capable car-maker with an enormous amount of engineering prowess and—more importantly—seemingly inexhaustible supply of customer goodwill. Lexus has proven time and again it plans for the long term. The three tested cars are valuable additions to the company’s portfolio, and with some adjustments over time will establish themselves as formidable competitors. To view the introduction to “Lexus Hybrids in 3D”, click here To view "The First Dimension: CT 200h", click here To view "The Second Dimension: HS 250h", click here For more information about Lexus products, go to lexus.com
SPECIFICATIONS Name of vehicle: 2011 Lexus GS 450h Price: $58,950 (base) $62,470 (as tested) EPA fuel economy rating: 22 mpg city/25 mpg highway Engine(s): 3.5 liter DOHC 24-valve, dual continuously variable valve timing with intelligence V6 gasoline engine Permanent magnet, synchronous DC 650V electric motors Batteries: Sealed nickel-metal hydride, 240 cells. 6.5aH, 288V (can be boosted to 650V with power circuit), 35kW Horsepower Gasoline: 292 hp @ 6400 rpm Electric motor 1: 180 hp (134kW) Electric motor 2: 197 hp (147kW) Combined: 340 hp Torque: 267 pound-feet at 4800 rpm Transmission: Electronically controlled continuously variable transmission with two-stage torque multiplication. Manual/electronic shifting. Power and show mode. Drive configuration: Rear-wheel drive Steering: Electric power steering. Speed sensing progressive rack and pinion with electric power assist Suspension Front: Double wishbone with high mount upper arms, coil springs, gas-filled shock absorbers, stabilizer bar. Rear: Multi link with high mount upper arms, coil springs, gas-filled shock absorbers, stabilizer bar. Wheels and tires: 18-inch five spoke aluminum alloy with chrome-like finish, with 245/40R18 Z-rated summer tires front and rear. Brakes Front: 13.1 inch ventilated discs with ABS four channel, four sensor anti-lock, electronic brake force distribution. Electronically Controlled Brakes. Rear: 12.2 inch ventilated discs with ABS four channel, four sensor anti-lock, electronic brake force distribution. Electronically Controlled Brakes. Overall length: 190 in. Overall width: 71.7 in. Overall height: 56.1 in. . Curb weight: 4,134 lbs. Performance 0-60 mph in 5.2 seconds Top Speed: 131 mph electronically limited