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Hot Rod Hybrid: Lexus GS450h a Harder Sell than ES300h for MPG Nerds

Sections: Fuel Economy, Powertrain

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2013 Lexus GS450h Photo Shoot 031

The Lexus GS450h is more fuel efficient than its non-hybrid GS350 cousins, but I’m not sure it presents the best value among Lexus hybrids for my own use as a daily driver. Your opinion may vary widely depending on what you prioritize in your daily drivers. (Lyndon Johnson photo)

I made no secret about my preference for the hybridized Lexus ES300h over its non-hybrid ES350 sister, but where the rear-wheel drive GS450h is concerned, I’m not sure I can say the same thing.

The thing about the ES300h was its price came in very near the non-hybrid ES350 we tested earlier, yet it delivered much higher fuel economy numbers in my experience. Sure, I paid a power penalty, but in every situation I could throw at it, I didn’t feel like the ES300h and its 200 total system horsepower let me down. Crack the whip on it, and it’d get you a ticket as fast as any other car in its class.

The GS450h presents a harder equation for me. Instead of making me take a substantial horsepower downgrade in order to offer a similar MSRP, Lexus opted to make the hybrid GS the fastest one, as well, necessitating a much higher base price. The difference between a regular GS and a hybrid GS in base price alone is about $10,000. That buys a lot of fuel. Like, more than seven years’ worth, in my case. Or, in a time measurement the typical new Lexus driver might understand best: more than three lease turn-ins’ worth.

I suppose the GS450h value equation depends on where your priorities reside. If you prioritize speed and/or chassis dynamics above all else, the fuel economy of going with the hybrid GS is a happy coincidence of getting the top-spec midsize Lexus with its rear-drive, electrified powertrain. However, if you’re like me and prioritize fuel economy nearer the top of your list and think of horsepower in terms of how quickly it’ll land you in trouble with the local constabulary, the GS hybrid doesn’t hold nearly so much sway.

The GS450h returned 33.4 MPG in my week-long test, according to the trip computer. That was after a week spent mostly in Eco mode, cruising to and from work on country two-lane roads. And to be fair, that was nearly 10 MPG better than I managed in the GS F-SPORT months ago. But the ES delivered an even better improvement. Where the non-hybrid ES350 hovered in the 24 MPG range, my end-of-week average in the ES300h was some 14 MPG better than that, nudging 38.3 MPG by the end of my test. My value matrix skewing toward fuel economy as it does for any daily driver, you know I’m going to take the ES hybrid over its sportier GS hybrid cousin.

What seals the deal? A $20,000 difference in MSRP, for starters. Yes, the ES hybrid is front-wheel drive like any plain-vanilla Camry or Avalon — cars with which the ES platform shares a lot in common, by the way. Yes, enthusiasts will chide me for not desiring the performance-oriented rear-wheel drive option. But in terms of total price– including that variable, budget-baffling regime known as “fuel prices”– the ES hybrid makes a ton more sense than the Hot Rod Hybrid.

That said, for the week of our test, it was certainly a lot of fun surprising the occasional Euroluxury car snob with the GS450h’s gobs of off-the line twist. It makes me curious how monstrous and immediate the tip-in would be on the big daddy LS600h.

Disclosure: Lexus provided the vehicle, insurance, and a tank of gas.

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