Greening the luxury saloon

Small Mercedes saloon cars have always been popular with GPs. The C-Class too small? Try the new B-Class hatchback.

It may have been the sheer poise and elegance of the GS450h that first impressed me, but the true beauty of this car is what cannot be seen - it is one of the most technologically advanced production cars around. It is technology that ensures optimum safety, power and comfort, and minimises impact on the environment.

The GS450h has two power sources - a 3.5 litre V6 petrol engine and an electric motor, delivering 292bhp and 197bhp respectively. Combined, they give an impressive 341bhp. However, it still manages to sit in the £190 road tax bracket and its fuel consumption is up to 39.2mpg.

The downside is the loss of boot space to the battery cell required to power the electric motor. And even here, Lexus, in partnership with Samsonite, has developed a range of luggage especially designed to counter this problem.

And I still managed to fit in three sets of golf clubs, so all is not lost.

I drove the range-topping SE-L. The cabin exudes quiet and uncluttered luxury with a combination of expensive plastics, rich wood and leather, and an intelligently designed layout. There is plenty of space for three adults in the back although taller people might find the headroom slightly restrictive.

When you start the car, the electric motor is completely quiet. As you pull off, the petrol engine kicks in almost imperceptibly.

This car is a luxury cruiser and at its best on the motorway rather than twisting country roads. In city traffic, the hybrid comes into its own with the electric motor providing most of the power, hence lowering emissions and improving fuel economy.

At £38,000, the basic GS450h has stiff competition from its German rivals, the BMW 5, Mercedes E and the Audi A6. But even at a relatively early evolutionary stage of the hybrid car, Lexus has created a beautiful fusion of design and technology with a serious and successful attempt at 'greening' the powerful executive saloon.

Dr Naz Kamal, a GP in Wiltshire

Price: From £38,080 to £46,830
Engine size: 3,456cc, V6, 24 valve
Acceleration: 0-60mph: 5.9 seconds
Top speed: 155mph
Insurance group: 18
MPG: urban 30.7/ex-urban 39.2/combined 35.8
Real running cost: (three years/35,000 ownership cost based on fuel,
depreciation, insurance, services):
From £23,984 to £28,042
What Car? rating: 4 out of 5

WhatCar? review
The luxury car company now offers hybrid models in three of its ranges, and What Car? has driven all three, crediting them with being refined, frugal and quiet. After 11,000 miles, the driver of the RX 4x4 version loves 'getting the performance of a petrol car with the economy of a diesel' and is 'sold'. The 5-litre LS tested was 'seriously quick and still green, with average fuel economy of 30.4mpg'.

Of the GS450h, What Car? says:
All GS engines are smooth, powerful and flexible, but bypass the 3.0 V6, and 4.3 V8, and choose the hybrid with a 3.5 V6 and an electric motor.

It holds the road well, assisted by an arsenal of electronic driver aids.

Ride is smooth, but there's so little feedback you feel detached.

You won't hear wind noise at UK speeds, but road noise produces tyre rumble. Engines are quiet though and gearshift smoothness has to be experienced to be believed.

The GS appears expensive alongside other German executive rivals, until you factor in the equipment you get. The fit and finish are exemplary, and the cars rarely break or give niggling reliability problems. It's hard to think of many cars you can buy with such confidence.

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