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Destination entry is locked out on the touch screen while under way, but voice command proves impressively capable, prompting us for each part of a destination and doing a fine job of understanding our spoken street and city names. Where it doesn't clearly understand a name, it presents a list of options around what it heard. Route guidance from this system is basic, showing decent graphics describing upcoming turns, but not able to read out the street names.
Our freeway soundtrack was pumped out through the premium Mark Levinson audio system's 14 speakers by a 330-watt amp. Strangely, music played from an MP3 player through the car's auxiliary input didn't sound very impressive, while music played from an MP3 CD showed much more definition. As we would expect from a car like the GS 450h, the bass isn't particularly pronounced as the system creates a well-balanced sound, even when we subjected it to hip-hop.
The freeway cruising took us to some roads where we could see if the Sport setting for the suspension really does anything. Out on the twisting roads, we put the transmission and suspension in Sport and put the car in Power mode.
Moving fast into a corner, the car kept understeer to a minimum, a surprise with this big, luxury sedan. And there wasn't a lot of wallowing, either, as the suspension counteracted the body roll we expected. The car gave us increasing confidence, and soon we were going through turns at 60 to 70 mph, getting the tires to sing a little but enjoying a pretty sedate experience overall.
Lexus equips the GS 450h with its Vehicle Dynamic Integrated Management (VDIM), making traction and stability control work together to quickly adjust braking and acceleration, maximizing vehicle control. At no point did the VDIM system act intrusively, so we assume it was making subtle inputs to keep the car pointed correctly.
Messing around with the different settings, we didn't notice a big difference between the Sport and normal settings on the suspension, other than a rougher ride in Sport. Likewise, the Sport setting on the transmission merely seemed to take the continuously variable gear ratios down quicker when we lifted off the accelerator. Although the GS 450h does have a manual mode for the transmission, these are merely programmed virtual gear points, and not really meant for sport driving.
Of course, the GS 450h isn't really meant for sport driving, either. Although it was untroubled by fast cornering, it also didn't provide much driving satisfaction. From steering to suspension, we felt disconnected from the road. Even in Sport mode, we could feel suspension travel in the corners, leading to a floating feeling as the car came through the apexes. Similarly, the steering remained overpowered, letting us have our way with the front wheels without communicating anything back. Like a good butler, this car does the work, leaving you to enjoy the scenery.
The EPA rates the 2009 Lexus GS 450h at 22 mpg city and 25 mpg highway. During all of our driving with the car, we saw a tank average of 23.2 mpg, which is pretty impressive considering some serious time in the city and pressing it through the turns. For an even better eco-feeling, the California Air Resources Board rates the GS 450h as a SULEV, or Super Ultra Low Emissions Vehicle.
For performance, the GS 450h does very well. You don't get this kind of power with this kind of mileage in a luxury sedan from anyone else. We have to take the car down some for the disconnected handling feeling. The car doesn't do so well in cabin tech, and here we would look for the next update. There are just so many useful navigation and audio features available in other cars that we missed in this one. For design, the onscreen interface is nice looking and intuitive. The exterior of the car, while a little homogenous, does show a distinctly Lexus look with its almost fastback roofline.
|Model||2009 Lexus GS 450h|
|Power train||3.5-liter V-6 hybrid|
|EPA fuel economy||22 mpg city/25 mpg highway|
|Observed fuel economy||23.2 mpg|
|Bluetooth phone support||Standard|
|Disc player support||Six disc DVD changer, MP3 CD support|
|MP3 player support||Auxiliary input|
|Other digital audio||XM Satellite Radio|
|Audio system||Optional Mark Levinson|
|Driver aids||Adaptive headlights, rear-view camera|
|Price as tested||$60,705|