2014 Lexus GS 300h Premier review. Luxury Hybrid Saloon is Exceptional

Absolutely exceptional build quality inside and out, serene cabin feel, high-quality engineering, well priced, it’s a Lexus

0 – 60 mph time a little sedate, low top-end speed

Lexus GS?

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Now on its 4th generation, the Lexus GS began life in 1993 (1991 technically, if you count the Japanese domestic market equivalent, the Toyota Aristo), with the a hybrid version landing in 2006 on the third generation model. It’s always been a decent-looking car from the very first gen version, slotting neatly in between the IS and LS models for both size and cost.

January 2014 saw the arrival of the GS 300h hybrid, and with a more powerful 450h to choose from the Lexus GS rivals the BMW 5-series and the Mercedes-Benz E-class from the luxury German marques. We were sent a top of the range 2014 Lexus GS 300h Premier to review, and find out if this car lives up to Lexus’ adage of ‘the pursuit of perfection’, or whether it falls short…

Exterior. Butt-ugly or beauty?

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The GS exudes an air of class with a contemporary snappy sharpness, blending modern lines and a definite assertiveness. Every aspect of the front – from the rather cool HID and LED headlights, to the upper chrome-edged grille, lower fog lamps and grille, to the muscular bonnet bulges – look to be in completely perfect proportion to one another. It’s a very exact car the GS, if that makes sense. Clean-cut would describe it well.

2014 Lexus GS 300h Premier rear view

From the sides it is sleek and appears slippery, like it’ll glide through air easily. And actually if you’d already thought that you’d be correct, as it has a low drag co-efficient rating of just 0.27. At the rear the most grabbing detail are the rear lights, which glow in L-shape strips like a set of Transformer’s eyes. Very cool.

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The longer I’ve had the GS the more I appreciate its looks. It strikes as being handsome when you first set eyes on it, but as the days of testing have gone by I grew to like it more and more, and the details of the design tend to start coming more to the fore. Parked up next to a row of other vehicles, the GS is highly noticeable and it gets plenty of stares when I was driving about.

Sure, the Lexus GS is a fairly subtle design all said, but I ended up loving its modern elegance, quiet sophistication, and understated sportiness.

Interior. Neat or nothing special?

2014 Lexus GS 300h Premier review front leather seats console steering wheel centre

Just to be clear, the interior I’m writing about is for the GS 300h Premier model, which is the highest spec in the GS range and so naturally has more kit and gadgets as standard than the others. Below that (in order of price lowest-highest), is SE, Luxury, and F Sport.

Opening the driver’s door of the GS and slipping into the comfortable driver’s seat, you’re immediately struck by the high-end look and finish of the cabin. In fact, it’s absolutely just a scaled-down version of the LS’ interior (which we’ve already reviewed) – a car costing almost £100,000 for the top model.

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Even after just sitting in the cocoon-like front for the first few minutes, the obsessive way that Lexus relentlessly strive for perfection is entirely obvious, from the feel of the dash and seats, the superb quality of the stitching on every leather panel, the beautiful fit of each and every trim piece, the way each button and switch clicks or pushes in, and the exceptional finish of the wood and metal trim. The GS Premier really does absolutely ooze quality from every area, and it’s an exceptionally nice place to be.

The 4th generation GS has 30mm more headroom up front, the rear benefits from 20mm more knee room and 25 mm more headroom, plus there’s 55% extra storage in boot (now 465 litres) thanks to the way Lexus have packed in the hybrid battery.

2014 Lexus GS 300h Premier review trunk boot space 1

On the lines of Lexus’ attention to detail on the GS, take the seating as an example; the driver’s seat was a whole five years in the making! Up at the front of the GS Premier, the leather is wonderfully supple and both driver and passenger have an unbelievable 18-way adjustment, which includes lower and upper lumbar support, shoulder support, adjustable bolsters, calf support, and they’re also heated and ventilated too. To say they are simply comfortable would be a complete understatement, and at the end of the journey it was difficult to motivate both myself and the passenger to leave the comfort of them.

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The rears are also very good, and the Premier boasts heated side seats as well as being able to use controls on the armrest to adjust the air temperature in the back, and even control the stereo as well. A clever detail is that the front passenger seat can be moved forward and/or tilted by the rear passenger via controls on the upper side of the seat, creating more legroom if needed.

2014 Lexus GS 300h Premier review rear leather seats arm rest

Impressive tech includes Lexus Nanoe® technology (through the 3-way climate system), which releases microscopic, negatively charged ions to freshen cabin air and moisturise your hair and skin. This system works exceedingly well as even after hours with the Nanoe® tech and air conditioning on the air in the cabin felt fresh, and unlike using normal air con, our eyes didn’t feel painfully dry either.

Up front, the driver benefits from a huge 12.5″ monitor which can be split into two screens to control the heating or stereo whilst viewing the sat nav directions. It’s all controlled using a small joystick on the console between the seats. A very slick system overall, and the smooth graphics are bang up to date too.

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The driver’s instrument dials are intelligible, crystal-clear, and change depending on whether you have it in the eco or sport modes. On the centre console, the few controls are laid out neatly and are well marked for ease of use. On the GS there’s also a brilliant HUD (heads-up display), which shows speed and how you’re driving (economically or not), and you can also flick to a rev counter too, as well as it showing satellite navigation directions when needed.

2014 Lexus GS 300h Premier - The driver’s instrument dials are intelligible, crystal-clear, and change depending on whether you have it in the eco or sport modes.

A good point was made about the section where you control the Mark Levinson system: the physical look and feel of the dials, buttons, and trim finish, make it seem like you’re using a really high quality home audio system, and it was one of the things I enjoyed using most in the LS 600h.

The 17-speaker, 835 Watt Mark Levinson Premium Audio system is utterly brilliant, and is one of the best I’ve tested in any car. The music flows rich and thick, seemingly encompassing you, rather than it feeling like it’s being fired out the speaker. It’s also very high-tech too, using GreenEdge power-saving technology which is incorporated in each of the 17 speakers, enabling twice the volume to be developed for the same power consumption – just 6.5 Amps.

There’s genuinely nothing I dislike about the 2014 Lexus GS Premier interior. For me – and others who travelled in the car – it ticked every box twice over, and Lexus have done a thoroughly amazing job in the design and build of it.

Engine & gearbox

2014 Lexus GS 300h Premier naturally-aspirated 2.5 litre, four-cylinder engine

The GS comes in either 300h or 450h guise. We had the 300h on test, and it has the same hybrid system and power output of the Lexus IS 300h, which we’ve already reviewed.

The GS is rear-wheel-drive and on the engine side of things, there’s a naturally-aspirated 2.5 litre, four-cylinder, dual VVT-i, DOHC unit putting out 178 bhp at 6,000 rpm and 163 lb ft (221 Nm) of torque between 4,200 and 5,400 rpm. While you’re more than likely thinking that that’s a rather weak attempt in a car that looks as sporty as this, there’s also the electric motor generator to take into consideration.

The permanent magnet, synchronous motor is a 650 volt system giving 141 bhp and 221 lb ft (300 Nm) of torque, and a total system output figure of 220 bhp (when both petrol and electric motor are in use together). While a 0 – 62 mph time of 9.2 seconds isn’t exactly blistering, the GS 300h gives respectable-enough ‘in-gear’ acceleration, and while rather than being a harsh shove it’s tends to build silkily, as any luxury car worth its own metal should. A 119 mph top speed is also isn’t going to get the heat rate quickened either, if I’m honest, and you’ll easily be thrashed by diesel sales rep-mobiles if you’re doing a spot of Autobahn storming.

The batteries for the electric motor are charged from either the engine when it is running, or from regenerative sources during deceleration and braking. The battery level gets topped up extremely efficiently, and I was impressed at just how quickly you can go from just a couple of bars to nearly full. Obviously the system must work just as good as Lexus’ engines do then, and surely it’s partly a sign of both high-end technology and a quality system. For more information on the Lexus hybrid systems, I’d recommend having a gander at this official Lexus Hybrid page.

2014 Lexus GS 300h Premier Lexus 650 volt hybrid drive

Official E.U. tested fuel consumption UK miles per gallon figures are: urban 56.5, extra urban: 58.9, combined: 57.6, and it produces just 112 g/km of CO2 emissions. On a motorway run at around 70 mph, I managed a respectable 46 mpg with fairly heavy sidewinds and regular decelerating/accelerating in traffic flow. Around town, thanks to the electric motor kicking in and out, I was sometimes hitting way above 50 mpg, which is excellent considering the GS has a hefty minimum kerb weight of 1,735 kilos (3,825 lbs).

Ready to roll? Let’s drive!

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So, the GS has the looks, along with an outstanding interior, but if it doesn’t drive well what’s it all for? As it happens, the 2014 Lexus GS 300h rides and drives satisfactorily too. In fact though, it’s more than just satisfactory in this department – much more.

As with any the other Lexus models we’ve reviewed, from the get-go the GS 300h impressed me immensely. The high level of engineering in the GS is entirely palpable from the moment I pressed the accelerator. Push it lightly in ‘normal’ mode (more on that later), and the car glides forwards silkily and silently on full electric, up to around 30 miles-per-hour. However, if the batteries are full enough to run on pure EV you’ll be able to reach almost 40 mph.

If a manufacturer is going to make a hybrid or electric car, they’d better make sure it’s extremely well bolted together, for when you’re driving along in silence you’ll notice even the tiniest of squeaks or rattles from both the cabin and undercarriage.In the case of the GS, the car is so well constructed that there are zero issues in that area.

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It’s an incredibly serene place to be, this Lexus, and – as I’ve said about the other models – it somehow manages to create this sense that you’re in a ‘very good place’ both physically and cognitively, almost no matter what’s happening outside. As soon as you close the Lexus’ door, the stresses and strains of the world outside melt away, and as the GS wafts you to your destination in utter comfort – there’s a palpable feeling of relaxation and tranquility rarely felt in a car. I may be waxing lyrical, but the GS is one of a very few select cars where I’ve appreciated every single journey I took in it, long or short, and no matter the location.

It’s a very quiet car on the move, and even at motorway speeds there’s very little wind or road noise coming into the cabin, making things all the more relaxing. To help further there are many helpful automatic features, such as a ‘hold’ function that means when you come to a stop you can simply leave the car in Drive and it will hold the brakes (and the brake lights) on until you wish to move again. Put the car in Park, and it’ll also apply the electronic handbrake too. Things like the above just add to the impression that Lexus wants your drive to be as easy and stress-free as possible – and it works.

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Because there’s not a gearbox in the traditional sense, when you’re moving the GS flows forward in one continuous fluid movement rather than the slight jerkiness you get from a normal or even DSG-type automatic ‘box. This serves to further enhance the smooth and graceful driving experience of the GS 300h.

The GS Premier and F Sport models get Adaptive Variable Suspension (AVS) suspension, which can be firmed up by selecting Sport S+ from the ‘Drive Mode Select’ system. In normal mode, the bumps and road imperfections are soaked up impressively well, and the GS provides a suitably supple ride whilst still feeling well planted.

This 4th generation GS has a re-engineered body shell 14% more rigid than before, and it actually handles really nicely, with little body roll and – to quote Lexus – “[the] AVS automatically adjusts suspension performance at all four wheels independently, activating the adjustable damping force shock absorbers, in response to the way the car is being driven, vehicle body motion and road surface conditions.”

In regards to the Drive Mode Select, you can choose from Eco, Comfort, Normal, Sport S and Sport S+. Each gives the GS a different feel, and especially Sport+, as the car’s suspension, steering and handling systems improves the GS’s stability and steering. The brakes are hugely powerful and sharp, and it actually took a day of driving to get fully used to just how keen they are, as very little pressure is needed on the brake pedal to bring the GS to a stop promptly and positively. Good stuff!

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As you may have gathered from the ‘engine & gearbox’ section stats, acceleration from the GS 300h won’t exactly get your heart pounding. However, the ‘in-gear’ thrust is much more agreeable when you’re rolling. When the engine does kick in, and depending on how far your right foot is down, there’s a sporty digital exhaust sound pumped through the speakers, as you’d barely hear the car otherwise. I’m not a fan of this sort of system though, and it seems a little pointless to have it on the GS 300h.

 

Regarding safety tech, as you’d expect the GS is GS 300h is well-equipped with 10 airbags – which include front knee airbags and full curtain shield airbags down the sides – an advanced pre-safety crash system, a driver monitoring system which knows if you’re not looking at the road ahead fully, Brake Assist (BAS), stability control (VSC), traction control (TCS), blind-spot monitor (BSM) and rear cross-traffic alert (RCTA), plus the option of lane keep assist.

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While the 300h isn’t the fastest thing off the blocks, and aside from that initial acceleration not really feeling like it was good enough, once rolling it’s fine and provides suitable enough ‘overtaking’ thrust. If you do want more speed and power, I’d suggest going for the GS 450h, which almost halves the GS 300h’ 0 – 62 mph time to 5.9 seconds, and gives a very respectable top end of 155 mph (249 km/h).

Price

(figure correct Dec. ’14) After digging out the Lexus GS 300h spec sheet a few days into the test period, I was actually surprised at the price, which ranges from £31,495 to £43,745 for the Premier version we were sent. In case you’re interested in the GS 450h, it’s priced from £45,495 – £51,495.

Physically the GS 300h does what it does so well that it entirely felt like it was worth more than the asking price, and I was expected it to be at least forty-five to fifty thousand pounds, rather than being in the low forties for the top spec version.

So, what about the GS’ rivals? Remember, we’re looking at hybrid cars here and not simply a normal petrol/diesel equivalent. Well, there’s the BMW ActiveHybrid 5 (5-series) which has performance more akin to the GS 450h, and which ranges from £37,790 – £50,760. Personally, I believe the GS has better styling inside and out than the BMW though, and there’s a lot you have to spec on the Beemer that comes standard on the Lexus, and it could literally be a matter of £1,000’s difference when you do spec it to the same level.

Examples of equipment to spec on the ActiveHybrid 5 M Sport (top model) that the GS 450h Premier has as standard: heads-up display: £995, power bootlid: £430, rear sunblinds (sides & rear total): £710, front comfort seats: £1,265, reversing assist camera: £375, rear seat heating: £325. You get the idea.

There’s also the Mercedes-Benz E 300 BlueTec Hybrid saloon which ranges from £39,210 and actually comes very highly-spec’d should you opt for the AMG line version (£2,495 more), and even when I’d configured it with some natty gadgets it still only came out at £38,000. The GS’ interior is still nicer-looking than the E-Class’ though…

2014 Lexus GS 300h Premier verdict & score

2014 Lexus GS 300h Premier front three quarter view

With the IS, GS, and LS tested, I’m going to drop a bit of bombshell: I prefer the GS over both its siblings. Why? It makes more sense. It’s as luxurious as the LS in many ways, around £34,000 – £60,000 cheaper than it (depending on the LS’ spec you choose), the interior switchgear suits the price of the car better than the LS (which feels due for an update), and it rides almost as well too. It’s also much easier to park than the gigantic LS, and has a much more contemporary exterior design.

It’s also the better model to go for over the IS, as it has more room, a far more upmarket cabin design, it rides nicer, and generally feel more luxurious all-round. Oh, and it’s really not that much more expensive than the IS either.

In conclusion, I absolutely love the Lexus GS, and while I’d personally go for the more powerful 450h, the 300h is still a extremely impressive car on almost every level. It has a contemporary exterior design, the cabin is refined, modern, remarkably well-made, the drive and ride are super-quiet and silky-smooth, yet it offers good, capable handling. I’m waxing lyrical here, but it is honestly an utterly brilliant car. If you’re in the market for a hybrid in this price range, go and test the GS and you’ll see why I love it so much.

Do you own a Lexus GS? Share your thoughts and leave a comment below!

Exterior  8
Interior  9.5
Engine/EV motor  8.5
Gearbox  N/A
Price  9
Handling  8.5
Drive & Ride  9
Overall Score  9.0 / 10

Read more of our Lexus reviews here

Specs

Model (as tested)  2014 Lexus GS 300h Premier
Spec includes 10 airbags, ABS with EBD & BAS, VCS, TCS, Hill-Start Assist, Vehicle Dynamics Integrated Management, Adaptive Variable Suspension, blind-spot monitor, cruise control, leather seating, 18-way heated/ventilated front seats, rear heated seats & cooling/stereo controls, 3-zone climate control, side & rear sunblinds, 17-speaker Mark Levinson Premium Sound System, 12.3″ multimedia screen with navigation, Bluetooth, AUX & USB ports, Bi-xenon headlights with LED running lights, See website for more info
Options you should spec  Atlantic Blue paint: £610, Lexus WiFi Hotspot: £370
The Competition  BMW ActiveHybrid 5 (5-series), Mercedes-Benz E 300 BlueTec Hybrid saloon
Price  (Jan. ’15): £31,495 – £43,745
Engine & hybrid  Engine: Naturally-aspirated 2.5 litre, four-cylinder, dual VVT-i, DOHC | EV system: permanent magnet, synchronous motor 650 volt system
Power, Torque  Engine: Power: 178 bhp @ 6,000 rpm | Torque: 163 lb ft (221 Nm) between 4,200 – 5,400 rpm | Electric motors: 141 HP (105 KW) AND 300 NM (221 LB FT)
Drive, Gears (as tested)  Rear wheel drive | Automatic
Top Speed, 0 – 60 mph, Euro NCAP  Max speed: 119 mph | 0 – 62 mph: 9.2 seconds | Euro NCAP rating (pre 2009 only): Adult occupants: 5/5 stars
Fuel economy (UK mpg), CO2  Urban 56.5, Extra urban: 58.9, Combined: 57.6 | CO2: 112 g/km
Weight (kerb)  1,735 kilos (3,825 lbs)
Websites  Lexus UK, Lexus USA, Lexus International

Words: Chris Davies | Photography: Chris Davies, Matthew Davies

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