Hybrid cars have come a long way - take a look at the Lexus GS450h. It could be the saloon you've been waiting for
The next generation of hybrids is here, and fans won't be disappointed. Rear-wheel drive, fast and fun, the new Lexus blends superb economy with V8 pace, and is a hi-tech force to be reckoned with. However, the clever drivetrain is best seen as a diesel alternative rather than an eco-friendly option - and it's an expensive choice.
Hybrid cars have come a long way - just look at the Lexus GS450h! Using technology pioneered by the Toyota Prius, the new saloon is set to destroy the notion that being green means going slowly.
The GS450h is the world's first rear-wheel-drive hybrid - and Auto Express has tried it on the road. With a 3.5-litre V6 engine mated to the clever electric motor, it boasts an impressive 340bhp and 368Nm of torque. That gives the GS450h the kind of acceleration you'd expect from a big V8, yet with the fuel economy of a much smaller model.
So, 35mpg and CO2 emissions of 186g/km are blended with a 0-60mph time of 5.9 seconds, and if you prod the throttle at any speed, the Lexus responds without hesitation.
The instant torque of the latest hybrid drivetrain plays a big role, but the heavily revised CVT transmission helps, eliminat-ing the need for sudden downchanges. However, the powerplant sounds like nothing we've heard before, the hushed engine note having a jet-like quality. This more relaxed approach means you can pull away silently and drive at up to around 30mph relying purely on the electric motor - an eerie experience even in a car as refined as the Lexus.
On the move, the variable-ratio steer-ing is well weighted, yet while the GS is fun, it's no sports saloon. It feels bulky on initial turn-in, and there's plenty of body roll in bends. The brakes provide decent stopping power, but the short-travel pedal is overly firm and lacks pro-gression, with too much initial bite.
Still, this machine looks the part. The GS is pretty and distinctive, although the swooping C-pillar is bad news for interior space and means limited headroom in the back for six-footers.
Worse still, the large nickel-hydride battery pack is located behind the rear bench, limiting the GS450h's load area to the size of a Toyota Corolla's. The superb build quality is just what we've come to expect from Lexus, though, as are the comfortable seats, classy cabin materials and cruising refinement.
For buyers wanting V8 pace without the running costs, the GS450h is very tempting. Just don't expect to persuade anyone you're a green-minded driver.