Fuel sipping luxury cruiser gets a little frisky
MONTEREY, California – It's hard to believe we're lapping the famed Laguna Seca raceway in a car whose legacy was established on its ability to provide the ultimate in disconnect between road and driver.
Not only that, but it's a hybrid to boot.
Surprisingly – the 2013 Lexus GS 450h proves itself to be an engaging performer, its well-engineered suspension absorbing the off camber turns with balance and composure.
Like Cadillac and Buick before it, Lexus decided an injection of youthfulness was just what was needed to avoid cruising serenely into an early senility. Spearheaded by the fabulous LFA supercar, the company's new direction is summed up by the phrase "Waku Doki" which, loosely translated, means "heart-pumping adrenaline".
The previous-generation GS 450h had twice proved it harboured aspirations of sportiness, finishing well in the arduous Targa Newfoundland in 2007 and 2008.
For those who were curious, there was one available for comparison during our Laguna Seca test session. It bordered on cruelty, flogging its soft corpulent bulk around that demanding road course, rubbery wheel in hand.
The recently introduced Lexus CT 200h was a promising sign that change was in the air, its chief engineer Osamu Sadakata proclaiming that it was a hybrid that was "designed to be fun to drive". It certainly looked the part; with its Mazdaspeed3-meets-STI looks, the CT 200h is a youthful, cocky hatchback riding on flashy multi-spoke rims. Despite its well-sorted suspension and decent handling, the CT 200h fell short in the performance department, let down by the same lacklustre 134-hp Hybrid Synergy system powering the Prius.
But one in five Lexus vehicles purchased by Canadians are hybrids – and the company is gambling that those buyers are ready for some excitement to go with their responsible choice.
The GS lineup has become the poster child for Lexus' new direction – and just like its non-hybrid brethren, the GS 450h has had a complete transformation. The wheelbase remains the same, but the car is 5.1 cm wider for more planted stability and 3 cm taller to increase interior headroom.
The suspension has been re-engineered – not only providing a balanced, firmer ride, but to reduce intrusion into the trunk, thus increasing cargo space. Add to that a battery pack that's been vertically stacked to avoid compromising trunk room, and overall cargo space increases by 85 litres.
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