The latest Lexus to receive a new hybrid engine, the GS450h has been given the same smart facelift as its predecessor, the GS300, but features an all-new 3.5-litre V6 engine, gearbox and improved sports suspension. Both grand sedans share the new longer GS platform and Lexus' arrowhead-inspired redesign features tapered headlights, sculpted door mirrors, a shark-like nose and a trapezium front grille. There's little to separate the two cars from the inside either, as the hybrid receives all the luxury trappings of its petrol-powered sister. Double-stitched leather seats, a sculpted no-fuss dashboard with natural wood panelling, a moon roof, and internally fan-cooled front seats appear as standard in the GS450h, as do ambient interior lighting, dual-zone climate control, a 10-speaker sound system and rain-sensing windscreen wipers. A power-operated tilting and telescopic steering wheel with controls comes as standard, as do front memory seats, cruise control, smart entry and a touch-panel display operating the air conditioning, Bluetooth, audio and the rear-view monitoring systems. So far, so similar. The old GS300 V6 was just as handsome, well-equipped and luxurious as the 450h, so why does the hybrid cost HK$150,000 more? While the GS300 is biased towards refinement rather than out-and-out performance (silky smooth power delivery and a cosseted ride are Lexus by-words, after all), the GS450h is pitched firmly as a luxury sports sedan and the emphasis is on the car's driving dynamics.The 450h provides beefier performance- a full 100bhp more compared to the outgoing V6 - and it has more precise handling, matching its lively performance. It is a genuine contender against the BMW 7-series. What's more, the GS450h hits 0-100km/h in 5.9 seconds (almost as quickly as a Lotus Europa in a straight line) but with CO2 emissions of just 186g/km, the Lexus GS450h shames Acura's RL (270g/km) and Mazda's RX-8 (208g/km) when it comes to the environment. Sounds promising, but like its hybrid RH450h SUV sibling, the GS450h displays the same sense of detachment under 25km/h as you cruise along powered purely by battery power. The near-silence and vagueness of power-assisted steering does not seem in keeping with the 450h's sporty credentials. But like the 300 sedan, once you gain speed - and find the tiny Sports button that firms the suspension and tightens the gear ratios - the 450h noticeably springs to life. In very un-Lexus fashion there's a thrum from the 345bhp V6 and rapid pickup as the car moves from electric, to petrol and back to electric, and then pure petrol power at highway speeds. It's only once you hit the highway that you realise what this car can do. In terms of pep, the GS450h is quicker than the Acura RL and nearly matches the RX-8 in a straight line. Lexus has firmed the suspension (although it is still a bit soft if you don't activate the sports button) and has also developed a more responsive six-speed gearbox to cope with power delivery. The result is an uncharacteristically dynamic Lexus. The GS450h shares the Lexus-derived vehicle dynamics integrated management system from the GS300, but it's the adaptive variable suspension system that helps sharpen up the traction and stability controls to give firmer cornering. Its lower power band and crisper steering make for one dynamic Lexus. When you slow down or speed up rapidly it is a smooth ride, and when the electric power steering kicks-in you get that familiar light steering feel you expect from a Lexus. This is no bad thing and makes for easy cruising on the highway where the sedan displays such unerring composure that you can forgive its light handling. While all that extra power may seem a little wasted on Hong Kong roads, it could be a welcome addition for long-haul trips to the mainland. As with the GS300, the GS450h gains top marks in the Euro NCAP ratings, and receives the full HK$50,000 government tax concession as an environmentally-friendly car. But given the car's price at HK$700,000, this saving seems a drop in the ocean and could encourage buyers to take another look at mid-range German cars for short city runs in recession-hit Hong Kong. AT A GLANCE: Lexus GS450h What drives it? A 345bhp 3.5-litre DOHC 24-valve V6 with dual VVT-I and high-performance electric motor linked to a six-speed automatic gearbox. How fast is it? Hits 100km/h in 5.9 seconds, with a top speed of 250km/h. How safe is it? Fitted with 10 airbags, adaptive variable suspension, anti-lock braking system, electronic brake-force distribution, brake assist, dynamic stability and traction control. How thirsty is it? The GS450h travels 12.6km/L on a combined cycle. Hong Kong friendly? The GS450h produces 186g/km of CO2 - the fug equivalent of 1.55 Smart Fortwos. Nice touches: Refined, luxurious, efficient and fast. Availability: HK$699,750 with a five-year / 100,000km warranty and a 10-year battery guarantee from Crown Motors (tel: 2880 1366).