Contributing Monkie G Living Staff Monkies
Published on November 28, 2009
The big brains at Lexus have evidently stumbled upon a fundamental truth of the American car market: instead of trying simply just make cars run more efficiently, it’s more lucrative to make cars run fast more efficiently.
Take the Lexus GS 450h.
Coming into its second year on the market, the 450h is the second of Lexus’s now three vehicles to feature the Lexus Hybrid Drive (in reality just a relabeled second-generation Toyota Synergy Drive). Along with the RX 400h sport utility and brand-new LS 600h flagship sedan, Lexus is attempting to corner the market on performance hybrids, just as Toyota has with efficiency hybrids.
Its 3.5-liter V-6 engine puts out 292 horsepower, while the electric motor-generator ups its power is equivalent to a 4.5-liter V-8. The generator produces some 197 horsepower, but because the peaks don’t match up, 292 and 197 add up to 339. Don’t ask me how.
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The numbers aren’t that impressive, however, given that the GS 460 – the non-hybrid replacement for last year’s GS 430 – puts out two more horsepower than the hybrid.
Given that the numbers pencil out awfully close, the GS line is great fodder for comparison.
Zero-60 times for the two models are roughly equal, with Lexus’s own numbers putting the hybrid at 0-60 in 5.2 seconds and the non-hybrid at 0-60 in 5.4 seconds. Despite the hybrid’s added weight, Toyota continues to claim that the hybrid will outperform its conventional brethren, but this seems suspect. Batteries and electric motors weigh a lot. Road tests may prove otherwise, in that many a carmaker has been known to shave tenths in its press releases.
In terms of practical performance, the company is touting the 450h’s in-drive acceleration characteristics. Between 30 and 50 miles per hour, the driver will notice an added nimbleness of acceleration that’s uncommon in the V-8 class. We’ll reserve judgment on that one for the test drive.
The 450h records 22 mpg in city driving and 25 mpg on the highway, while the conventional 460 puts out 17 and 24 mpg city/highway.
From a strictly financial standpoint, and with the hybrid listed at roughly $3K more than the conventional GS, it will be well over 70,000 miles of city driving before the break-even point comes. And that’s city driving, where the spread is 5 miles per gallon. At highway speeds, and with batteries warranted only through 100,000 miles, the reality of a break-even point seems pretty suspect.
From an environmental standpoint, the narrow margins of carbon savings are questionable, given the energy costs of recycling or otherwise mitigating the 288-volt nickel metal hydride battery pack. But I digress.
That’s where less tangible features enter the picture, like the 450h’s rating as a Super Ultra Low Emissions Vehicle. That being said, there’s zero compromise in luxury when it comes to purchasing a 450h.
It borrows from the LS flagship line’s cruise control that features lasers monitoring the following distance between it and the vehicle ahead. Combined with a “driver monitoring system” that pays attention to, you guessed it, how much the driver is paying attention, it’s one smart car. Creepy, maybe, but also smart.
Unfortunately, its conventionally powered little brother may be the better environmentalist’s bet, and for $3k less. Not that informed environmentalists would be driving either one of these, but you get the idea.