Entry GS300h hybrid shrewd move from Lexus
Lexus has a new weapon in the executive saloon market 'sweet spot'. The full hybrid GS300h offers big tax advantages over diesel rivals, says Matt Kimberley of the Press Association.
This is a very shrewd move from Lexus. Toyota Motor Corporation has been selling hybrid cars for 16 years but, while the Toyota brand mops up the volume hybrid sales, the upmarket Lexus cars have saved the hybrid running gear for flagship models.
Rightly so, if you ask me. The system is so well developed that commuting in a Lexus Hybrid is a seamless, quiet, smooth and relaxing experience that the brand could be forgiven for reserving for its best cars.
But this is the shrewd bit. There's a new, entry-level Lexus GS300h which comes in a new, more affordable SE trim package.
Before you dismiss it as a low-rent option, for a reasonable £31,495 – remember, it's a Lexus hybrid – you get 220bhp, 10 airbags, 10-way adjustable electric front seats, electric steering wheel adjustment, DAB radio, a 12-speaker surround sound audio system, front and rear parking sensors, cruise control and xenon headlights.
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That's before you start thinking about the intrinsic benefits of the hybrid system, like 109g/km emissions on this model, which gives potentially huge benefit-in-kind (BIK) tax relief compared to diesel rivals. Lexus quotes the new GS as being as much as £7,302 cheaper in BIK tax over three years compared to BMW's ActiveHybrid 5. The proven reliability of the Lexus hybrid system also counts in its long-term favour.
The system is a familiar one, much the same as that in the IS300h, albeit with a relocated battery and slightly altered gearing for the heavier GS. It can power the car for short distances on electric power alone and, if used correctly in town, it can record more than 50mpg. It takes finesse, but it's not that difficult.
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A 2.5-litre four-cylinder engine doesn't quite cut in and out with the silky interchange of the six-cylinder hybrids, but it's still exceptionally refined even among similar hybrids, and it's light years ahead of comparatively clattery diesels. Lexus has been doing this long enough to know how to get it right.
All the other important Lexus stuff is there too, like large, comfortable seats with good back support and supple suspension that, on the SE, won't win any handling awards but will keep you more comfortable than just about anything else in the sector.
Build quality is everything it should be, and with customers consistently rating Lexus as one of, if not the best manufacturer for customer service and ownership satisfaction, this new package has a stupendous amount going for it.
Negatives? Well, the continuously variable transmission (CVT) is fantastic for efficiency and emissions but not so much for outright driving pleasure. Putting your foot down brings an annoying and constant background drone until you release some accelerator pressure and the revs drop. It's not a big deal unless your right foot is somewhat heavier than it could be.
In short, the GS300h, especially in SE trim, is an extremely canny buy. The batteries are designed to last the life of the car, it's extremely comfortable and the standard technology is outstanding.
Its emissions and tax banding are the icing on the cake. As a car it's excellent, but as a financial proposition it's even better.