Available to UK customers from the start of 2014 were the Lexus GS 300h four door executive petrol/electric hybrid saloons available with four specification levels of SE, Luxury, F Sport and Premier with prices starting from £31,495.
The GS range, which sells in the executive car heartland against the diesel versions of the Audi A6, BMW 5-Series and Mercedes-Benz E-Class, now offers two different hybrid powertrains, the new 300h and the existing but very costly 450h. For business users, the mainstay of customers in this sector, the SE version of the 300h offers distinct taxation benefits.
The headline figures for the GS 300h SE model is firstly the price – £31,495 and then the 109g/km of CO2 emissions from the 2.5-litre, four cylinder petrol engine coupled with the Hybrid Drive electric motor powertrain. This means a Benefit-in-Kind tax rate of 13% now and 14% from April this year. Compared to its key premium market diesel and hybrid competitors this version can save company car drivers more than £2,000 in annual Benefit-in-Kind tax. The official 60.1mpg Combined Cycle figure will potentially save both retail and business users money in fuel costs as well.
We have now reached a tipping point with petrol hybrid executive models because the Lexus GS 300h with its standard fit automatic transmission and its current 13% BIK rate clearly has an advantage over its diesel powered competitors. Not only is a petrol engine inherently smoother and quieter and doesn’t incur the 3% higher BIK levy on diesel engines, add in the electric hybrid function and it becomes much more tax efficient and it’s cheaper to buy by an average £1,500. According to Lexus figures the BMW 520d automatic SE has a BIK rate of 19%, the Audi A6 2.0 TDI SE auto is rated at 21% BIK and the Mercedes-Benz E220 CDI auto is rated at 20% for BIK.
For both company car and private customers the Lexus GS 300h SE offers savings in VED road tax as well, just £0 cost for the First Year rate and then only £20 for year two onwards. The BMW and Merc will cost £0 First Year and then £105 onwards and the Audi £125 every year.
The exterior and interior styling for the new GS 300h mirrors those of the more powerful GS 450h. But to target the company car market the GS 300h adds a new entry level SE trim to the established Luxury, F Sport and Premier levels.
The new GS 300h SE with its headline price of £31,495 comes with 17-inch alloys, 10 airbags, electric steering wheel adjustment, 12-speaker sounds system with DAB radio and DVD player, cruise control, push button start, parking sensors HID (xenon) headlamps, and electrically adjustable, heated front seats. Options include Lexus Premium Navigation with a 12.3-inch display and leather upholstery (including heating/ventilation front seat functions) which together will add £3,990 to the price and that is still over £2,000 less than the Luxury version. The astute tax conscious buyer should choose this SE version. Why pay more?
The GS 300h Luxury model costs £37,495 and the specification includes leather upholstery, navigation, 18-inch alloys and a Blind Spot Monitor pack with Rear Cross Traffic Alert, while the £41,745 F Sport version adds features such as exterior and interior styling elements, perforated leather sports seats, 10-spoke 19-inch wheels and Adaptive Variable Sports Suspension.
At the top of the range, the GS 300h Premier, costing a hefty £43,745, adds a Mark Levinson 17-speaker hi-fi, system, 18-way electric front seat adjustment with memory, a new colour head-up display and LED fog lamps.
Lexus sent as my test version the F Sport priced at a very lofty £41,745, a far cry from the headline grabbing £31,495 SE version. All GS 300h models use the same 2.5-litre four cylinder 178bhp petrol engine and the electric motor which gives a combined power output of 220bhp with drive to the rear wheels through and electronic CVT automatic gearbox. Whereas the SE version has CO2 emissions of just 109g/km, due to the extra spec and more significantly larger wheels, the F Sport sees the CO2 figure rise to 115g/km so VED road tax increases by £10 to £30 for year two onwards and BIK company car tax goes up from 13% to 15%, more good reasons to stick with the much less costly SE version.
Top speed 119mph and zero to 62mph takes 9.2 seconds so F Sport is all about styling and specification rather than performance. The official fuel economy figure is 56.5mpg in the Combined Cycle but I couldn’t get near that during my week long test driving covering the usual motorways trips, A/B roads and a small amount of stop/start town driving using the Eco mode resulted in a disappointing 39.8mpg, good for a petrol engine but not up to diesel standards. But then again if I was a company car driver I would be smiling because of the tax savings.
However the car is so refined to drive; it’s not pacey, it feels a bit uninvolving in the handling and steering departments but it produces refined and stress-free travel thanks to its effortless, quiet and seamless power delivery. A central control dial allows the driver to select Eco, Normal, Sport and Sport+ settings and there are additional buttons for Snow and EV modes and all simple to use. Most of the time I just left it in Eco mode other than brief spells to sample how different the other settings were. Only Sport and Sport+ makes much difference and that is to make it a shade more responsive but the increase in the firmness of the suspension was more noticeable. In its standard setting the F Sport with its 19-inch wheels and low profile tyres gives a firm ride over poorer road surfaces but that really stiffens up as I edged towards Sport+. Given the state of our roads, the congested traffic and the weather the Eco mode is perfectly adequate.
If driving an executive premium brand four door saloon is less to do with your wallet and more to do with your image, the F Sport offers great kerb appeal. It has a sharply chiselled front end with unique style bumper and grille, curvaceous bonnet, sculptured side sills, a sports bumper and discreet boot lid spoiler at the rear and then of course there are the 19-inch sports design wheels, but just keep them away from potholes.
Inside there are front sports seats, heated and ventilated of course and electrically operated with the driver’s seat having a memory function for easy access. The specification is very comprehensive and all beautifully put together with immaculate leather upholstery with
perfect stitching. It really is a ‘classy’ product and by choosing the SE version it’s a smart buy money wise as well.
MILESTONES. Lexus GS 300h F Sport Hybrid 4-door executive saloon. Price £41,745, (range starts at a more reasonable £31,495). Engine/power pack/transmission: 2.5-litre, 4-cylinder, variable valve timing, DOHC petrol engine, 178bhp, 163lb ft of torque, plus a 141bhp electric motor giving a total power output of 220bhp, electric CVT auto transmission, rear wheel drive. Performance: 119mph, 0-62mph 9.2 seconds, 56.5mpg Combined Cycle (39.8mpg on test in Eco mode), CO2 115g/km, VED road tax £0 First Year rate then £30 per annum year two onwards, BIK company car tax 15%. Insurance group: 33E. Warranty: 3-years/60,000 miles, hybrid components 5-years/60,000 miles. For: An executive company saloon that is cheaper to run, tax and (in SE form) to buy than premium brand diesel saloons, classy refinement, great build quality, kerb appeal. Against: Other than the SE specification other versions are expensive to buy, real-life fuel consumption was not even close to the official figure. Miles Better News Agency