Luxury cars are generally the best place to turn when you're looking to get your hands on the latest in in-car technology. Case in point: Lexus' $58,950 ($68,007 as tested) GS450h. This hybrid luxury sedan features a ginormous 12.5-inch display, multiple drive modes and smartphone connectivity, complete with its own app suite. We haven't seen a car packed with this much technology since the last Transformers movie. So is the GS the best teched-out luxury sedan money can buy? Check it out.
From its pinched chrome grill and Nike swoosh-style LED daytime running lights to its wide fender flares and swept back greenhouse, the Lexus GS450h is a gorgeous example of what a teched-out luxury car should look like. Outside, it exudes power and aggression. Inside, it offers a refined beauty from the analog clock in its dash to its over-the-top backseat media center controller that folds out of the middle armrest.
The GS's hood rises on the sides and dips in the center, giving it the look of coiled viper ready to strike. Its body panels are a little bland for a car that's so beautiful up front, but Lexus more than makes up for it around back with large tail light covers that shrink as they draw closer to the GS's centerpoint.
Our GS's plush seats were swaddled in a cream-colored leather that nicely matched the bamboo wood trim around the steering wheel and lining the dash. If you're disappointed when you slip behind the driver's seat of this car, you better check your pulse.
During our week with the GS450h we had several different people hop into the car's passenger seat, and, invariably, the first thing to grab our guests' attention was the seemingly endless expanse of the Lexus' massive 12.3-inch 1280 x 480-pixel display. Part of the GS450h's Enform system, the sceen is the second-largest factory-installed in-dash panel on the market. The only thing larger than the Lexus' screen is the 17-inch display found in the Tesla Model S, and that screen takes up the entirety of the Tesla's center.
In addition to its massive screen, the GS 450h also sports a smaller display mounted in the center of the instrument panel that provided us with crucial vehicle information, like tire pressure, average miles per gallon, miles per hour and even when the gas or electric engines were powering the wheel stack.
It's not just the 12.3-inch display size that draws your attention, though. It's the way Lexus uses it that impressed us. Lexus devised a split-screen system that breaks the display into two sections, with the majority of the screen dedicated to your main information panel, and the remaining one-third used as an auxiliary control area that gives you quick access to Enform's media and climate controls and general system information.
To navigate the system, drivers use a mouse-like controller situated to the right of the gear selector in the GS450h's center console. To make using the controller feel more ergonomically sound, Lexus places a leather-coated (of course) forearm rest that you can lean on while manipulating the controller.
Although we appreciated the haptic feedback the controller offered as we glided the onscreen pointer through different menus and settings, we found it to be overly sensitive. On multiple occasions, we found ourselves repeatedly passing over our intended target. We also noted that the controller didn't return to its centerpoint automatically, which meant we had to move it back to the center and to the right again if we wanted to move to the far right side of the screen.
Maps and Navigation
Above the Enform controller, located within reach of your fingers, are a dedicated Menu button and a Map/Voice button. The Map/Voice button was especially useful while using the navigation system, as it would automatically center the map on our vehicle's location and provide us with audible route directions. The Menu button takes you to the Enform home screen, where you can choose from the system's various options. including Destination, Info/ Apps, Setup, Radio, Media, Climate and Phone.
From the Destination menu, you can enter an address, search previous destinations, locate points of interest and use Lexus' Destination Assistance service to help you locate specific businesses. Once an address is entered, you have the option of choosing from several different map layouts, including a turn-by-turn list and intersection list. With the turns list, the display is divided into three sections, one with the map view, one with the turns list and the last with the Enform auxiliary control panel. Looking at all of this information at once can be overwhelming at first, but we quickly became acclimated to it.
Satellite and Audio
From the Info/Apps menu, you can also access the GS450h's XM Traffic, XM Sports, XM NavWeather, XM Stocks, XM Fuel Prices, Traffic Incidents and Fuel Consumption options. XM Sports provides you with the ability to add your favorite sports teams to a scrollable list that highlights a team's name when it is playing a game. Select the team name and you'll be provided with the XM station broadcasting the game. Unfortunately, when we selected the game, there was no way to immediately take us to the designated station. Instead, we had to remember the name of the station and enter it into the radio.
XM NavWeather provides the three-day forecast for your area as well as a doppler radar image of the United States. The radar image, however, isn't very sharp and displayed storm systems as green blobs.
Enform's Radio and Media menus both take users to the GS450h's audio setup, where you can listen to terrestrial and XM Sirius satellite radio, stream music via Bluetooth and USB, access the auxiliary port, or just listen to a CD. We preferred streaming music via our Droid's Bluetooth connection since we could connect up to five separate devices.
Pairing our phone with the Lexus was rather straightforward. We activated our handset's Bluetooth connection, set the Enform system to discover, and paired the devices. From the phone menu you can quickly access your connected smartphone to see your contacts and recent calls.
Voice control options, accessible via a steering wheel mounted control, let us dictate any number of orders to the GS, including addresses, specific bands we wanted to listen to and more.
While the Enform system and its gargantuan display are impressive, it's the Enform App Suite that is unequivocally the star of the Lexus GS450h's tech showcase. To use the system you must download the accompanying Android or iOS Lexus Enform app and sign up for a $7 monthly subscription service. This service allows you access apps such as Bing, iHeartRadio, MovieTickets.com, OpenTablet, Pandora, Yelp and Facebook Place. Lexus conveniently includes all of the available apps in the Enform suite, so you won't have to download them separately.
To use the Enform App Suite, sync your phone with the GS450h via Bluetooth and open the Enform app on your phone. The Lexus Enform logo will then cover your phone's screen, preventing you from accessing your handset while driving. Each of the apps function as they would on your smartphone, although some to a greater degree than others.
Bing, for example, allows you to perform local searches for up to 16 million points of interest. Once you find a location, you can either place a call directly from the Bing app via your connected smartphone, or send directions to the Enform's navigation feature. The Facebook Places app, meanwhile, allows users to check into locations like stores, restaurants or other public venues. iHeartRadio, Movietickets.com, Pandora, OpenTable and Yelp are nearly unchanged from their standard smartphone versions.
Before using Enform App Suite, users should check to see if their smartphones can support the system, via Lexus' convenient compatibility feature at Lexus.com. It's also advisable to use a phone with a 4G data connection to power the suite rather than a slower 3G connection. With our Droid X, which is only capable of using 3G connectivity, we noticed a significant amount of lag when trying to access different features within various apps. With a 4G connection, lag wasn't an issue.
The Lexus GS450h offers several active and passive safety features. Like many new cars hitting the roads today, the GS450h comes equipped with a back-up camera that streams real-time video to the GS's 12.3-inch display to help prevent drivers from backing into or over objects. Unlike the backup camera used in vehicles by the likes of Ford, however, the guide gate that shows you how far you are from an object doesn't move with your steering inputs. Instead, it's stationary.
Our Lexus also came equipped with Intuitive Park Assist, which uses sensors located around the front and rear bumpers to detect objects within a certain distance from the car. Get too close and the Intuitive Park Assist sensor will begin beeping loudly. It's a great feature that is sure to help drivers who are less than experienced with parallel parking. When left on while driving, however, the feature can become bothersome, especially in stop-and-go traffic. Thankfully, Lexus had the presence of mind to include a dedicated button located in the center console for activating and deactivating this feature.
Like many of today's new vehicles, the Lexus GS450h also includes a Blind Spot Monitor that is capable of detecting vehicles and objects in your blind spot. When an object or car is detected, an amber icon will light up in the side view mirror closest to the obstruction. If you flip your turn signal on in the direction of the vehicle or object, the Blind Spot Monitor icon will begin rapidly flashing.
We found the system to be extremely useful while driving on highways and through heavily trafficked city streets, but like Intuitive Park Assist, the monitor can become overwhelming when stuck in stop-and-go traffic. Switching the feature off was as easy as pressing the dedicated Blind Spot Monitor Button located to the left of the steering wheel.
The GS450h is the top dog of Lexus' GS line. It has the most horsepower (338 hp), and a good amount of torque (254 lb-ft), not to mention the highest price in the lineup, starting at $58,950. When packed with the Lexus Enform App Suite and various safety options, that price balloons to $68,007. So what puts the 450h at the top of the GS class? That would be its hybrid engine. Lexus outfitted the GS450h with a 3.5-liter V-6 engine and combined it with a 1.9-kWh nickel-metal hybrid battery and electric motor. The two powerhouses combine to give you a vehicle that, when pushed, will have you questioning how green it really is.
There are four drive modes available in the GS450h, each of which either help increase your miles per gallon or lower the time it takes to go from 0-60 MPH, 5.6 seconds according to Lexus. Changing modes is as simple as twisting the Drive Mode Select knob situated in the center console behind the gear selector. Turn the selector to the left and you'll put the GS into Eco mode, reducing throttle response and power output and cycling the HVAC system between recirculating air and drawing in fresh air.
When Eco mode is active, a backlight in the GS's instrument cluster will turn a cool Frost Blue and a Hybrid System Indicator will provide you with constant information on how much battery power you are using versus engine power and when the battery pack is charging.
Push down on the Drive Mode Select knob and the GS will enter Normal mode. The Hybrid System Indicator will stay in the instrument cluster, but the blue backlighting will slowly turn on and off based on how efficiently you're driving. We tended to use this mode for general driving.
The real fun starts when you twist the Drive Mode Select to the right and set the GS to Sport and Sport+ modes. In both modes, the soothing blue backlighting of the instrument panel and Hybrid System Indicator give way to testosterone-laden panel, complete with fiery red backlighting and a bright red-and-white tachometer. Engine mapping also changes to provide you with a more spirited drive, while Sport+ mode adds to that by tightening the GS450h's suspension. How often did we take advantage of Sport and Sport+ mode? We'd rather not say.
Of course, if you're more interested in saving gas, you can press the EV Mode button next to the Drive Mode Select. In this mode, the GS will run exclusively on battery power until either its reserves are drained or you reach a specific speed, at which point the gas engine will take over. While in EV Mode, we were able to cruise our quiet New Jersey neighborhood without making a sound.
From it's gorgeous design and beautiful interior to its 12.3-inch display and Enform Apps Suite, the Lexus GS450h is the kind of high-tech luxury ride most drivers dream of. Some of the safety features are a little oversensitive, but they will help keep you out of harm's way as you tear down the highway rocking out to Pandora. Step into this hybrid and you may never want to leave.