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car review

Lexus GS

If you want a V-8 power in the 2013 GS, Lexus has an answer for you: try the GS hybrid, the GS 450h.

It runs as fast and furious as a V-8, but with something like a 35 per cent fuel economy improvement over the 2011 GS hybrid. Combined fuel efficiency for the 2013 GS hybrid: 6.4 litres/100 km in a car with a 0-100 km/h time of 5.6 seconds.

This latest Lexus series-parallel hybrid – it's capable of operating in electric-only, gas-only, or a combination of the two – has a 286-horsepower, 3.5-litre gasoline V-6 using the Atkinson cycle for greater fuel efficiency. That's the gas story.

If you read Popular Mechanics, you know that Atkinson cycle engines are more fuel-efficient, but they also have a narrower power band. This is where the water-cooled 30kW (41-hp) permanent electric motor comes into play. Powered by a nickel-metal hydride battery pack, the electric drive combines with the gas engine for 338 of total horsepower.

Moreover, the gas engine and electric motor drive the rear wheels independently or in tandem, depending on the need. Lexus says fuel consumption is better thanks to improved cooling of the hybrid's power control unit, combined with Eco mode, which limits electric motor output to 500 volts, and more advanced regenerative braking

The GS 450h and the GS 350 V-6 (252 hp, six-speed automatic transmission) have the identical wheelbase and overall length of the 2012 model, though the car is notably wider and taller. Why? More cabin space for heads, knees and feet, front and back. Truck space is up, too.

The body is also stiffer and the engineers put the car on a diet. From the start, the idea has been to make the GS as fun and rewarding to drive as, say, a BMW 5-Series, Audi A6 and Mercedes-Benz E-Class.

The interior, meanwhile, is new all around – new design and better materials. Order the optional navigation system and you'll get a gigantic 12.3-inch display screen that is managed via a second-generation Lexus Remote Touch controller. Call this an in-car computer mouse. The seats are especially supportive and can be adjusted in seemingly infinite ways.

Lexus is billing this one as a "driver's" car. Both the GS hybrid and the GS 350 V-6 (rear- and all-wheel-drive) have an updated chassis with a wider track, increased use of aluminum for the front double wishbones and a multilink setup in back. The chassis engineers have played with all the bits and pieces to improve dynamic performance, as they say.

If you want the best Lexus has to offer, the Adaptive Variable Suspension (AVS) system is for you. The setup is softer than on the GS 350 F Sport, yet it delivers responsive but not punishing handling. In a nutshell, the shocks adapt to road and driving conditions constantly and the driver can dial in preferences: Eco, Normal, Sport and Sport Plus, which firms up the shocks and dials back the steering boost.

The GS 450h is a fairly heavy car, yet in Sport Plus all the body roll is nicely controlled, the steering weighted just right for steady, sweeping corners. When driven hard on the race track, the hybrid does not have the thunderous sounds of a juicy V-8, but it does deliver plenty of power. The downside is to be expected: the electronically controlled continuously variable transmission (CVT) rubber-bands now and again and you might be able to induce some steady-state throttle surges, too. The brakes? Linear and easy to modulate.

This new Lexus GS arrives in the late spring, starting at $51,900 for the GS 350, $54,900 for the GS AWD and $64,650 for the GS 450h hybrid. It really is a lovely car in terms of design and material execution. The technology is generally easy to manage, too.

Is it a racy luxury sedan for crazies with petrol in their veins? Not a bit. A very nice highway cruiser? Yes, absolutely. Frankly, that's what we all expected.

jcato@globeandmail.com