2013 Lexus GS 450h review:

2013 Lexus GS 450h

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The two cars share the same cabin electronics package, centered on a 12.3-inch LCD in the center dashboard, part of the navigation option. This LCD was the biggest in a production car, until the Tesla Model S started rolling off the line. Most of the time, the screen is configured with a main area, occupying two-thirds of the left side, and an auxiliary on the other one-third.

The controller for the screen is a joysticklike pad that moves a pointer. It does not have the substantive feel I would expect in a luxury car, and although it uses haptic feedback to identify active areas of the screen, I found it difficult to hit the button or menu item I wanted. Turning the haptic feedback to maximum helped, but I think Lexus needs to spend more time refining this controller.

Lexus GS 450h
The GS 450h's voice command even understands the names of New Wave bands. Josh Miller/CNET

Voice command works in many cases as an easier and safer substitute, not only placing calls by contact name with a Bluetooth-paired phone, but playing music by artist or album name from just about anything plugged into the car's USB port. I found that voice command worked very reliably when I asked it to play music from my iPhone, which I had cabled into the USB port.

CNET's car included the Mark Levinson audio option, an impressive 17-speaker system with 835 watts. Lexus uses Harman International's GreenEdge speakers, which are designed to produce quality sound while using less power than comparable speakers, appropriate for a hybrid car. I was very pleased with this system's sound quality. It proved very tunable, so that if I wanted good highs, I had merely to turn up the treble. Bass also came through very strong, yet without rattling the door panels. However, I did not find this system such a great leap over the GS' base system, which I previously tested in the GS 350. At $1,380 for the option, I cannot wholeheartedly recommend it.

Among the audio sources feeding this stereo are HD Radio, Bluetooth audio, and a number of apps, including Pandora and iHeartRadio. Lexus' app integration is called Enform, and it uses the driver's smartphone as its data pipe. In my case, I had the Enform app loaded on my iPhone, which was paired with the car through Bluetooth. With this setup, I could use the in-dash apps, which included OpenTable, Yelp, Bing search, and the aforementioned audio sources.

With my iPhone 3GS, Enform over Bluetooth was a little fussy, occasionally refusing to connect. But I could always go back to the cable, which proved more reliable. I really liked the Bing integration, which included voice activation. Pushing a microphone button on the screen, I could give it a search term, like "pizza" or "hamburger," and it returned a list of local businesses matching the term. Once they were onscreen, I could make any of those business results my destination.

Enform screen
Enform brings Bing, Yelp, OpenTable, and other apps into the car. Josh Miller/CNET

Enform works very well for a first-generation service, but it could be better integrated with the car. First of all, the apps folder is buried under a few menu screens. Bing is the only app that offers voice command, and activating it uses a different button than the car's main voice command button.

I do like how it can push addresses from apps such as Yelp and OpenTable into the navigation system. This navigation system stores its maps on a hard drive, but only shows 2D views. The system does integrate traffic, and suggests detours if there is a traffic jam ahead. But I found it was not particularly aggressive about avoiding bad traffic.

This car also had the blind-spot detection option, one of my favorite features, which lit up an icon in the side mirrors if there was a car in the next lane over. Lexus also offers an impressive array of other driver assistance features, such as a head-up display, night vision, and adaptive cruise control.

In sum
The 2013 Lexus GS 450h shows that tech can lead to excellent automotive performance while delivering outstanding fuel economy. At the same time, Lexus pushes the cabin technology with an advanced voice command system and very practical app integration. Hitting heights in all those areas, the GS 450h earns CNET's Editors' Choice Award.

However, there are still some areas that could be improved. The cabin tech controller does not work as well as I would expect for a luxury vehicle. And the navigation system, while working perfectly fine, does not have as refined-looking maps as I have seen in cars from Audi and BMW.

Tech specs
Model 2013 Lexus GS 450h
Trim N/A
Power train Hybrid 3.5-liter V-6 engine with electric drive system, continuously variable transmission
EPA fuel economy 29 mpg city/34 mpg highway
Observed fuel economy 31.4 mpg
Navigation Optional hard-drive-based, with integrated traffic data
Bluetooth phone support Standard, with contact list integration
Disc player MP3-compatible single-CD
MP3 player support iPod integration
Other digital audio Pandora, iHeartRadio, Bluetooth audio streaming, USB drive, auxiliary input, satellite radio, HD Radio
Audio system Mark Levinson 835-watt 17-speaker system
Driver aids Adaptive cruise control, night view, lane-departure prevention, blind-spot detection, head-up display, rearview camera
Base price $58,950
Price as tested $68,814

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