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Lexus GS450h (2013) long-term test review
the CAR road-test team
Long Term Tests
29 April 2013 10:00
Month 3 running a Lexus GS450h - gripes with the over-complicated infotainment
I worry that I'm getting stupider, or that I’m just not bright enough to own a Lexus GS450h in the first place. For me, sitting in the driver’s seat with the manual open, the ignition on and a free hour is one of the joys of getting a new car, and I don’t expect to be able to get the most out of something so complex without some study time. That said, many new cars have human/machine interfaces of such Apple-like simplicity that you’ll have most of it figured out on the drive home from the dealership…
Not so with the Lexus. I spent the full hour with the manual and, nearly 2000 miles later, I still find the controls confusing and often infuriating. It’s partly the fault of the ‘mouse’ controller: as I’ve noted before, it’s awkward for the right-handed and the patch of screen you’re aiming for is often small, requiring you to spend more time looking at the screen than feels safe. But it’s also the way the functions are organised; rather than model itself on an iPhone, the Lexus takes a mid-’80s JVC video camera as its HMI benchmark, and the literary style of the 948-page manual only deepens the confusion.
Example? Muting the sat-nav voice requires you to exit the nav and go into the main set-up menu, then back to nav: six key-presses in total, plus time spent carefully positioning the cursor with the mouse between each. In my Mercedes, it’s done with one push of a button on the wheel. There are other tasks I would expect to achieve safely while driving that I’ve found too distracting and have had to pull over to complete.
Just me? I’m aware that this is a very subjective subject, and I’d be glad to hear the views of Lexus owners. Plainly you read CAR and are therefore smarter than the average driver, but are you smart enough for this Lexus?
By Ben Oliver
Month 2 running a Lexus GS450h - our first brush with Lexus dealer service
These long-term tests are meant to replicate what it’s like to own a car, and your relationship with your dealer is a big part of that. Trouble is, we only run these cars for six months or a year and many just don’t need the dealer in that time. But the dealership experience is a big deal for Lexus: it aims to beat its premium rivals here, so it was good to put it to an early test by booking the GS450h in for a swap to winter tyres.
And the service was mighty impressive: the same ‘Lexus host’ (hello, Louise) who answered the phone sorted the entire operation in one call: no waiting for the service department to come back from their tea-break. The tyres were ready in a few days despite it being shortage season and the cost was a very reasonable £760 fitted. The summers were bagged for me to store at home: definitely my choice of winter-tyre scheme as it saves you buying a second set of rims, as some makers require you to do, and I have the space to store them alongside a Kwik-Fit’s worth of other half-used rubber. If you live in a flat you might feel differently. Only downside was a 90-minute drive to the nearest dealership in Tunbridge Wells, low-volume Lexus not having the coverage of a brand like Mercedes. But the tea was very nice.
By Ben Oliver
Month 1 running a Lexus GS450h - the Lexus arrives
So my much-loved Mercedes-Benz CLS250 CDI has gone, to be replaced by this, a Meteor Blue Lexus GS450h in top-spec Premier trim (and anything that ranks above ‘Luxury’ had better be good, right?). Two reasons for running one. First, I had the original hybrid GS for a year in ’06 and liked it a great deal: not least for the congestion-charge exemption that my new one no longer enjoys, but also for the obsessive-compulsive build quality, which marked it out from its premium rivals. I remember most clearly how the cabin felt, more than how the car looked or sounded: the silken leather, the tight panel fit, and the even damping and resistance of every handle and knob. It was perfectly made; this car has much to live up to.#
It’s also a direct rival for the car it replaces. The Lexus lists at £50,995, £425 more than a CLS250 Sport. Pretty much all you could want comes as standard on the impressively specified GS, though any colour other than solid black is a cheeky £610. LED lamps, a sunroof and a three-grand coolbox (!) are the only other options. Mine has only the paint, but at the time of writing it’s due to have winter tyres fitted by the dealer at a reasonable £760.
And both GS and CLS represent a different take on modern luxury motoring, assuaging your environmental guilt with a novelty drivetrain. The downsized 2.1-litre diesel in my Merc offered just 201bhp but claimed 54.3mpg. This Lexus makes 286bhp and knocks 1.6sec off the Merc’s 60mph time, but its fuel claim is still impressive for a big car at 46.3mpg.
But aren’t hybrids’ fuel claims always hopelessly optimistic? My old GS claimed 35.8mpg but averaged 26.8 over a year and 12,000 miles; what this new one will do in real use will be instructive. (We drive these luxury vehicles for your benefit, dear reader; what kind, selfless people we are.)
It’s too early to dish up any definitive judgments on the GS – including fuel claims, which can wait until I’ve done a more representative mileage – but here are some early impressions. The first is that I’m unexcited by the styling: it doesn’t seem to have the presence or appeal you’d hope for from a 50-grand car. This will suit many Lexus buyers very well; they choose one because they don’t want one of the usual premium suspects. And you can have a Sport-trimmed GS with one-inch-bigger 19in rims and more aggressive styling. But even with the ‘bold’ new Lexus trapezoidal grille, this car is a little too under-the-radar for me.
More serious, potentially, is the huge 12.3in display (good), operated by a mouse and your left hand (very bad, on first acquaintance, especially if you’re right-handed). I can’t understand how this is preferable to the touch-screen the old model had and almost every other rival offers. You have to look down to find the mouse, then search the screen for the cursor, then jerkily guide it to the often frustratingly small patch of screen you have to hit. I’ve dutifully read the manual and lived with it for nearly 800 miles, but I’m still struggling. And still, truth be told, missing the Merc.
By Ben Oliver