TEST DRIVE: Lexus GS300h

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Steve Sharpe drives Lexus’ GS300h hybrid

The little lad just stood there, arms by his side and mouth open. He must have been about 12.

“A Lexus! How can you afford a Lexus?” he said. “Is that the Sport? They’re lush, Lexuses.”

You don’t get that sort of reaction with a Fiat Punto.

I’d just parked the GS300h in front of the basketball court where the little lad was booting a football around with his mates, and he just took one look and trotted over.

I was there to shoot a few hoops with my 10 year-old who’s just got into the school basketball team (although when I say shoot a few hoops,more like chucking the ball at the net until one goes in).

The lad’s reaction wasn’t the only one I received.

Not surprising, because this Lexus hybrid is an impressive car. Its sheer size, to begin with. At nearly 16 feet long, it overshot my drive and peeked onto the pavement until I moved the bins.

It looks good too. Not only long but wide and low slung, the big Lexus badge sitting in a bold front grille, with trapezoidal front headlights and dramatic sidelights below.

Its alloy wheels are big and on low-profile tyres, and its coupe-like design gives it an aerodynamic profile.

But step inside the big saloon and that’s where it really impresses.

The GS300h has the air of a very grown-up, sensible, luxurious kind of car.

You expect quality for a car that comes in at £40k plus and the Lexus doesn’t disappoint.

The driver’s seat electronically eases backwards when you stop the car so that it’s easier to exit the car, so when you return to the driving seat your feet don’t reach the pedals.

Press the ignition button and the seat eases forward to one of the pre-set driving positions depending on the driver.

Although this is a family saloon, albeit named an F Sport in the case of my test car, the driving position is similar in a way to a sports car, with your legs stretched out in front of you and not much of a bend to your knees.

There’s plenty of legroom and headroom in the front, but very tall people in the rear will be brushing the roof due to the coupe styling.

There’s reasonable amounts of legroom in the back too, although perhaps not as much as you might expect for a car of this size.

The electric batteries are positioned in the rear of the car, which also eats into boot space, so there’s not as much storage space in the boot either.

But the quality of the interior is up there with the best of its rivals, with plush leather seats, soft-touch, cushioned plastics and glossy black inserts.

The dash is very traditional in some respects, fairly flat to the front seat occupants, with an inconspicuous slit for the CD player, an analogue clock (or one that looks like one) and silver edging and old-style switchgear.

But then just above that you come straight into the 21st century with the biggest media screen, at a foot wide, you’re likely to find anywhere.

The split screen – map and media display – is controlled by Toyota’s Remote Touch Interface system, where the cursor is controlled by a kind of sliding mouse.

It’s beautifully smooth but can be quite fiddly and really takes some getting used to. Even when you’re familiar with it takes some concentration to work on the move.

This fourth generation Lexus GS is available in the UK in two full hybrid versions – the high performance GS450h flagship, which arrived in 2012, with the GS 300h following in January 2014.

The hybrids are powered by petrol engines, a 2.5litre one in this case, plus an electric motor.

Unlike some hybrids, which run on either / or, the electric motor in the Lexus runs whenever the vehicle’s being driven, with the petrol engine stopping and restarting depending on a variety of situations, including how it’s being driven and battery charge levels.

It’s impressive technology, because there’s no discernible transition between the two.

And with excellent sound damping which isolates you from the outside world and a super-smooth engine, the GS is supremely quiet and comfortable.

It has a luxury, quality car feel to it, and on long runs and on the town circuit the big saloon cruises effortlessly, practically silently when the electric motor is in full operation at lower speeds.

The only time noise levels rise is when you press hard on the accelerator. Then the CVT automatic gearbox hoists the revs up for some time while you increase speed, which produces a bit of a whine.

Lexus drivers are people who put the emphasis on comfort, quality and ride, and the GS marks highly on all three.

While the F Sport is the performance version, you’re lacking a breathtaking surge of power when you put pedal to the metal, but acceleration is steady, and it’s quick off the mark.

The steering is firm and nicely weighted, and the big GS300h corners well considering its size.

There are various modes to select to make the most of the conditions, including eco driving, driving in snowy conditions and a sport mode which sharpens up the suspension.

But the Lexus isn’t aimed at those wanting to burn rubber or throw their car around country lanes.

It’s a smooth, capable, good looking prestige car for travelling in peace and luxury.

It’s going to be popular with company car drivers as well as families, because the hybrid’s fuel figures edge past the mid -50s mpg figures, and the emission figures of just 109g/kg mean significant tax advantages for company car drivers,

Each trim is well equipped, as even entry-level SE models come with electrically adjustable front seats, front and rear parking sensors, a digital radio and a reversing camera.

Things like heated and ventilated leather seats, sat-nav and larger wheels come further up the trim levels, while the F Sport version I drove has sportier styling.

Premier trim includes three-way climate control, and automatic boot closing and a Mark Levinson stereo, although the 12-speaker stereo in my F Sport was stunning anyway.

The Germans have a stranglehold on the luxury cruiser market, with Audi, BMW and Mercedes being the first names to trip off the tongue.

But with this new hybrid version of the GS, Toyota has a credible contender.

The fleet market is a big one in this sector, and it’s more than possible that both private and fleet buyers – and 12-year-olds – might have their heads turned by this comfortable and economic cruiser.

Fact file

Lexus GS300h

Engine: 2.5litre petrol hybrid
Transmission: Electric CVT

0-62mph: 9.2 seconds

Top speed: 119mph

Fuel economy: 56.5mpg avg

Price: £42,355