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The GS 450h is the hybrid companion to Lexus' new GS 350 sport sedan. As with the previous generation, the new hybrid blends V-6 and electric power to the rear wheels for improvements to the GS' EPA-rated fuel economy numbers, with some mild changes applied to its exterior and cabin to distinguish it from gas-powered models. But while the last-generation GS hybrid put its foot down for performance while sacrificing some gas mileage, Lexus is turning the equation around for the 2013 edition.
The most important specification for this year's GS 450h is its projected EPA rating. Though the figures haven't been confirmed yet by the agency, Lexus estimated the GS 450h will be rated at 29 miles per gallon city, 34 miles per gallon highway, for a 31-mpg combined rating. The standard GS 350 is rated at best at 19/28 mpg, which means the hybrid will put a much wider distance between itself and its more thirsty cousin and with the previous GS 450h, with improvement of about 35 percent, Lexus says.
While fuel economy should improve, Lexus also says the new hybrid will also accelerate from 0-60 mph in about 5.6 seconds, and will reach a top speed of about 134 mph. It does so by pairing the output from a 3.5-liter V-6 running lean on the Atkinson cycle, to a motor and a nickel-metal hydride battery pack. The net output of 338 horsepower is achieved with a more compact motor and battery assembly, with direct injection in the gas engine, and with better cooling on the hybrid power system. The GS 450h can be driven on battery power alone for short distances, and can run on gasoline power alone, too.
A note: in the past generation, the GS hybrid met with mixed results for real-world fuel economy. Like many testers, we were hard-pressed to measure a real difference between gas-only and hybrid GS sedans. With the wider gap in fuel economy, we're expecting to see more of a distinction with the GS 450h in future test drives, and we'll update this report as we drive it during the model year.On the dynamic side, Lexus has opted to make its semi-active suspension standard on the hybrid, along with electric power steering and a drive-mode selector that programs the electronic continuously variable transmission (ECVT) to behave in eco, sport, sport-plus, and EV modes, as well as in normal mode. The different driving styles adapt well enough to the GS 450h's demeanor, though it's still saddled with the lower end of the GS' performance abilities--the smaller sizes of tires, lower rolling resistance for better fuel economy, and a lighter touch to its steering all remove the feedback that's been carefully dialed into the sporty versions of the gas-powered GS 350. The brakes are the usual hybrid sore point, with lots of regenerative stiffness and little real braking sensation. This is the GS to drive if you're strictly concerned with a planet-friendly statement.
At least there's more distance now between the models, not just in driving feel but in looks. The usual blue hybrid badges and blanked-off tailpipes are applied to the exterior; inside, the GS 450h wears unvarnished bamboo as its calling-card finish, and the hybrid's information screens dominate the dash LCD readouts. Otherwise, the GS 450h has all the usual luxury features, and options include the same Mark Levinson audio system and Entune connectivity, with in-car apps like Pandora and Facebook.