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Lexus Offers High-end Luxury in Power-Efficient Cars

Special to Informer | , Njuguna Kabugi | 8/8/2012, 3:29 p.m.

Why do the rich seem happier than the rest of us? I am convinced that since they can afford better toys, they often wind up having their cake and eating it too. This week's test car, the Lexus GS 450h, ranks up there on the list of toys that only the rich can afford. For many of us common folk, spending more than $70,000 to buy a car when any set of wheels will get us just about anywhere for less than half of that may seem a bit insane.

Even for hybrids [GS 450h is a hybrid], which cost more than their gasoline only siblings; other offerings from numerous automakers are now very common. These hybrids not only carry 5 passengers comfortably as in the test car, but also come loaded with lots of gadgets and cost less than $30,000.

In the GS 450h, Lexus however, makes a very good argument why common wisdom needs to be debunked once in a while. On a recent hot D.C. July afternoon, as the summer was baking large swaths of the mid-Atlantic region, I was faced with a simple challenge. My teenage son, who does not have a driver's license yet, wanted a summer job. He had identified a dozen plus places that hire kids under 18, but he needed a ride to the interviews given the high 90s temperatures outside.

In the slow urban stop and go traffic, I needed a car that would provide high gas mileage. I could have taken the smaller Kia sedan I had received the day before which gets excellent fuel mileage. I ended up, however, slighting the Kia and driving the Lexus that cost three times as much.

Both cars had identical numbers for city fuel mileage [30], but how could I pass up the soft seats that felt like buttered mashed potatoes and the accented matte bamboo trim to boot? Did I mention the padded surfaces covered in stitched leather on the dash, the sides of the console, the center armrest, and the door panels? LED ambient lighting made the car a delight during evening drives, and the highly comfortable, multi-function power seats, with extendable under-thigh support and articulating backrests were a delight to both driver and passenger.

On the dash, a horizontal-themed instrument panel emphasizes spaciousness through its wide layout. Equal attention has been paid to maximizing space for rear passengers, with generous headroom, legroom, knee room and foot space.

Though the GS 450h is one of the slow sellers in the Lexus lineup, it is a technological marvel and without exaggeration one of the most power-efficient cars on the planet. What that means is that, for the performance on offer, you won't find a greener car. When you drive the GS 450h, you ride at sports car pace [provides 388 horsepower] and still sip gas as if you were driving a small vehicle.

The GS 450h is a full hybrid capable of operating in gas-only or electric-only modes, as well as a combination of both. Its Lexus Hybrid Drive system features an ultra-smooth running, Atkinson cycle 3.5-liter V6 engine mated to a compact, high-output, water-cooled permanent magnet electric motor. The two powerplants drive the rear wheels both independently and in tandem, as needed.