IS IT just me? Or does anyone else out there think that Lexus designs of years past have a remarkable capacity to turn from swan to ugly duckling in a singularly short period of time.I mean, look at an early LS300. When it appeared first it seemed to be the essence of solid luxury design and engineering, as pioneered by the European ‘big three’ of Mercedes,BMW, and Audi. Although squarish in shape and undramatic in appearance, it nevertheless exuded the sort of quality look that Lexus had been established to achieve.Less than 20 years later and it looks horrid. Other Lexus contenders for the design hall of shame include the original GS 300 or the company’s first SUV, the RX 300.All of these cars initially looked to be sensible, if conservative, designs but attractive enough in their own right and of their time. Right now it looks like age has not — to put it politely — served them well. Undeniably nice cars to drive and kitted out to a level any luxury brand should aspire, they now look appallingly dated and with very little to recommend them from a design point of view.
advertisemenThe LS 460 is another case in point; originally a much more svelte looking car than the LS 300 it has aged quicker than a Manchester United away kit from the early 90s.But Lexus has upped the ante on the design front in recent years and got a whole world away from the ‘design by committee’ practices of yore and into a whole new ‘edgier’ realm which the company is convinced will allow it turn the corner in terms of both in-house conservatism and public appeal.Indeed just over a year ago Lexus boss Tokuo Fukuichi maintained that the new Lexus ‘spindle grille’ face which decorates most of the company new products right now gives the brand the stand-out look it previously lacked.Many may still not agree that the look of the car is what is needed for Lexus, but Fukuichi has determined that the days of “styling conservatism which everyone tolerated but nobody was passionately in love with” are over.Well, yes and no. It may be that something as simple — and controversial — as a grille design will transform the staid into the edgy, but that remains to be seen. Certainly the ongoing cultural changes in the design process and ethos at Lexus are welcome, but the company has other — mainly engineering — issues to address as well.Its insistence on following the hybrid-only path as the preferred propulsion method for a majority of its cars has been brave if somewhat foolhardy. Not everyone out there wants a hybrid powertrain. Also, the absence of diesel motivation means whole swathes of the potential customers for Lexus products are ignored.On top of that the brand has come under fire because the sophistication it supposedly offered was not exactly mirrored by the quality of the product, with questions being asked about the mating of the Atkinson cycle petrol engine, an electric motor and a CVT gearbox — particularly the latter.With a top speed of just over 200km/h and a nine second 0-100km/h time, this is not the swiftest car you’ll find out there, but it is very smooth, very quiet and very cultured.It also hits the mark with an average consumption rate of 5.0 l/100km (56 mpg) and the 113 g/km emission level which brings annual taxes to a very affordable level at just €200 per year.Neither the available power or the handling and ride will excite drivers who like their cars to be razor sharp, but it will definitely appeal to those who put personal comfort at the top of their priority chart.The various available settings do offer choices, but the promise suggested by the Sport or Sport+ modes are nothing really to get excited about. They do sharpen acceleration and damper settings but not by any huge measure.You will find the silence of the all-electric EV mode to be a little disconcerting but, around town where such a facility is most useful, it does have an obvious effect on consumption levels.The default comfort essence of the GS 300h is clearly defined by the wonderful interior. Build quality has always been a Lexus hallmark and it is very evidently at the top of its’ game here. The seats are fantastic – back and front — and the interior layout and design are of a high order with top drawer materials and finish. The amount of space on offer too for front and rear passengers is as good as it gets in the class.Minor quibbles include the mouse-like controller for the infotainment systems which is fussy and takes a lot of getting used to while the graphics are hardly awe-inspiring.But these are small details in what is an otherwise exceptional package.So the GS 300h has come on in very many waysSure it is not the most engaging car to drive, but if you’re looking for polish and graciousness — allied of course to economy and tax-friendliness — then look no further.