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First Drive: Lexus GS 300h

Lexus, the bigger but more exclusive brother to Toyota, has been pushing hybrid technology for some time. While the Toyota Prius has been around for 13 years, it was only in 2005 that Lexus took the technology and put it in the RX 400h. Since that time the firm has been arguably more aggressive than Toyota in using the so-called Synergy drive, putting a version in every single model from the CT hatchback to the LS über-limo.

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In the BMW 5 Series rivalling Lexus GS, the hybrid system was teamed up with a 3.5 litre petrol engine to produce the GS 450h, a car that performed exceptionally well but was somewhat wide of the mark when it came to economy, especially where company car drivers were concerned.

It was that, or the rather forgettable GS 250, a car powered by a conventional 2.5 litre V6 petrol engine that hammered drivers on CO2 and therefore taxation, while not really going as well as any of its rivals. The good news is that Lexus has fixed that issue now, quietly dropping the 250 and replacing it with a smaller capacity hybrid lifted straight from its more compact IS sibling.

Confusingly, you still get a 2.5 litre petrol engine up front, but this time they’ve lopped off two of the cylinders to create a lighter four cylinder engine option that puts out an underwhelming 178 bhp. This is combined with the usual 141 bhp electric motor and battery pack which, when working together with the petrol engine, pumps out a more than respectable 220 bhp.

This power then goes through a CVT gearbox, something drivers need to get used to. Under acceleration the engine note rises to a borderline scream, although it’s quite well isolated thanks to lots of sound deadening material. The huge benefit comes once you’re up to speed, when the engine revs die right down and a quiet serenity descends on the car.

Lexus GS 300h 2014 Left Front is great news for company car drivers, as the CO2 figures drop to just 109 g/km on the SE spec, a huge change from the uncompetitive 209 g/km of the outgoing model. With pricing starting at just £31,495 for the SE, company car tax bills could be as much as £4,300 lower than those of the Jaguar XF 2.2d or BMW 520d SE over three years.

Even fuel bills could be reduced, with economy of 60.1mpg promised form the official combined figures, putting it right up against the diesel-powered best in class but instead running cheaper petrol.

The numbers alone could be enough to get people out of the usual German trio, but fortunately the GS 300h is good enough in its own right to appeal to rival car drivers.

Lexus GS 300h 2014 Right Profile GS was only launched last year so the designers haven’t made any changes to the exterior of the car for this new model, but that’s a good thing. The distinctive ‘spindle’ grille still stands as a bold statement of intent, flowing in to a collection of angular and aggressive lines around the headlights and along the bonnet. It gets a bit muddy in the middle where there’s large swathes of sheet metal, while the rear end looks to have been taken directly from the IS, but it all comes together well and is unlike anything coming out of Germany.

Inside remains a gloriously produced cabin, put together as well as anything costing twice the price and beyond. A huge screen sits in the centre console, but it’s set back in to the dashboard and somehow doesn’t dominate proceedings. The infotainment system is controlled by mouse that feels slightly imprecise and requires plenty of checking of the screen, meaning eyes are off the road. Like BMW’s iDrive though, I imagine it’s something you could quickly get used to.

Lexus GS 300h 2014 Interior ahead you’ve got digitally presented analogue dials, switching from eco-blue colours to road-rage red when you switch the car to Sport mode, encouraging you to press on.

When you do, it’s then that you find the car wanting slightly. The 220 bhp on tap just isn’t enough to turn the two tonne GS 300h into an engaging sports saloon, so progress is slower than you might hope for while the CVT gearbox keeps things loud. The 12-speaker DAB audio system helps to keep that masked though.

Instead, ignore Sport mode, sit back in the armchair-like driver’s seat and relax. The engine revs drop and the cabin suddenly becomes an incredibly comfortable place to be. Progress becomes smooth and efficient, with the CVT gearbox ideally suited to a more gentle driving style. Driven this way, the car frequently moves in to a pure electric mode that is eerily quiet and boosts efficiency still further.

Order one in SE or Luxury specification and the car makes a great deal of sense. Go all the way to Premier and things start getting very expensive, while the F Sport, a nod towards BMW’s M branding, adds big wheels that affect the ride for the worse and bolts on a few spoilers and logos that interfere with the serenity of the GS, so ignore that.

Instead just wallow in the luxurious interior and surprisingly refined drivetrain, safe in the knowledge that while you’ll see hundreds of BMW’s on your way to the office, as a Lexus driver you’ll be in a somewhat more exclusive club.

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Phil is a motoring writer for print and web, failed racing driver, car hoarder and banger rally competitor. Nominated for the Headline Auto Rising Star award and a MGMW member, Phil freelances for outlets as diverse as Diesel Car magazine, and Cambridge Magazine, amongst many others. He also maintains a fleet of unloved motors, but spends most of his time driving an old Corvette.

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