Toyota's best-selling hybrid car is the Prius; it's best hybrid car period could well be the Lexus GS450h F SPORT. While Toyota hybrids have capitalized on the earth-friendly, fuel-sipping potential of models like the Prius, over in the Lexus stable the addition of electric has been with more driver-friendly enhancement in mind, emphasizing the marque's legendary smooth drive with the lashings of quiet torque the technology can deliver. None represents that green madness better than the GS450h F SPORT, and so unsurprisingly we jumped at the opportunity to test out a car that had been specially shipped over to show us what the US is missing.
The GS has evolved into a handsome car from its somewhat anonymous starting point as an almost-LS, and it looks better still in F Sport form. Lexus' new spindle grill still keeps its upper chrome, but the gaping lower intake is clear of glitz and the grey-finish aero work around the lower spoiler and rear diffuser keeps things on the discrete side of aggressive. Of course, the special F SPORT 19-inch alloy wheels with their smoked 10-spoke design mean the car is unlikely to be mistaken for its regular "Luxury" form, and there's F Sport badging on the front wings, though not the trunk lid.
Inside, meanwhile, the GS450h F SPORT cabin wisely bypasses Lexus' tendency toward pale wood, option instead for - in the case of our test car - red leather sports seats, aluminum inserts in the dash and door trim, and perforated black leather on the wheel and shifter knob. The F SPORT logo makes another appearance on the scuff-plates front and rear, and there are pleasingly snicky little paddles behind the wheel for when you don't want to let the CVT gearbox do its thing automatically.
As you might expect, the standard equipment level isn't at all bad, though we'd be unable to resist ditching the 12-speaker DVD audio system with 8-inch display and navigation that comes by default, in favor of the incredible 17-speaker Mark Levinson Premium Sound system with its 835W of amplification and huge, bright, and engaging 12.3-inch widescreen display. Lexus has made big improvements in its infotainment system, though we're still not entirely convinced by the company's angle on the mouse-analog. The controller, down to the side of the gear shifter, feels like it should be a regular joystick but, rather than springing back to a center default position, actually notches left and right as you step through the menu layers.
Still, F SPORT drivers are probably more concerned with a different type of electronics - the car's hybrid drive system - and here we have no complaints. Lexus pairs a 3.5-liter V6 with Dual VVT-i with a 200kW electric motor that muster 352 Nm and 275 Nm of torque respectively, with a potential top speed electrically limited to 155 mph and a 0-62 mph time of 5.9s.
Up until around 25 mph, the GS450h F SPORT can rely solely on electric power, complete with the instantaneous surge of immediate torque that such motors are notorious for. After that, the gas engine kicks in with rumble, recharging the batteries when it has some power to spare, or simply throwing the car in the direction of the nearest corner.
Lexus GS450h F SPORT test-drive:
Those corners needn't be an issue, either. The regular GS450h added rear-wheel steering to the original car, and the F SPORT hooks together that system with variable gear ration steering and more intelligent response from the electric power steering. Sport+ mode makes the gas pedal response more crisp, the power steering more direct, and tightens up the rear-wheel steering and the car's dampers.
The result is faster turn-in and the overall feel of a much smaller, more aggressive car. In fact, it's easy to mistake the GS450h F SPORT for a compact sedan, and while the steering is still on the lighter side, all the power feels controllable. It's much more engaging using the paddles to manually flip through the CVT's virtual gears, we found.
Of course, since this is a Lexus, there's the expected nod to comfort. The steering wheel eagerly motors out to meet you when you sit down and start the engine, and the front seats are electrically adjustable in multiple directions (16 ways for the driver, 10 for the passenger) including lumbar support. The rear seats may be fixed - none of the airline-style ottoman seating of the LS600hL, for instance - but passengers back there still get an electric rear sun blind, and the car is more than comfortable for four adults.
In fact, twirl the driving mode dial over to EV, Eco, or Normal, and the GS450h carefully sets its F SPORT abilities to one side and becomes a comfortable cruiser, easily capable of the sort of magnetically-smooth highway surfing the company's cars are legendary for. Then, Lexus claims, you could see a combined mpg of around 38 miles per gallon; there are no official US figures, as the car has not been submitted for EPA testing.
That's because Toyota, in its (questionable) wisdom, has opted not to launch the GS450h F SPORT in the US market. Lexus hybrid sedan fans will be able to buy the regular GS450h, but not its more fiery variant. That, the company told us was down to Toyota of America deciding the F SPORT premium was something US drivers simply wouldn't pay, though Toyota Japan offered to supply both the GS450h F SPORT and the smaller IS300h, which also won't get a US release.
What exactly might that premium be? In the UK, where the F SPORT model is already on sale, it commands roughly 14-percent more than the regular model, which based on US pricing could put it at around the $70,000 mark were Lexus ever to offer it. That's undoubtedly expensive, but we can't help feel short-changed nonetheless.