Car reviews - Lexus - GS - GS300 sedan
Styling, technology levels, safety features, comfort, refinement, build quality, cabin quietness, performance, engine smoothness, handling, equipment levels
Room for improvement
Lacks passion, lacks aural excitement, back-seat accommodation, no split-fold rear seat, small boot
28 Jun 2005
THERE might be overtones of Nissan’s new Maxima around the rear three-quarter view and Lexus may have dropped its BMW-style inline-six engine, but the new Lexus GS300 approaches what the last version should have been.
It’s a good-looking car in a derivative sort of way, better proportioned than the last model, and it sizzles with technology that makes it more secure, safer on the road and more comfortable.
But it only approaches, rather than fully realises its potential because while it might seem to have all the answers, the new GS series Lexus has a noticeable flaw: It lacks passion.
Where the new 5 Series BMW might repel (its styling) and attract (its exemplary road manners) at the same time, it’s highly unlikely it will leave you unmoved.
The GS300, for all its excellence, barely raises a flicker of emotion – to many buyers at this level, a vital ingredient.
That’s not the way Lexus sees it of course. The company believes the GS has the BMW nailed at every level. And in terms of refinement, quality and silence of operation, it is unquestionably a benchmark setter. But it doesn’t stir the heart.
When Lexus planners set out to establish the parameters for the new GS series, they obviously set their sights high. The car that, more than any other bearing the Lexus badge, carries expectations of outstanding dynamism should really be a showcase of what the company can achieve in creating a car that would attract buyers away from BMW, Mercedes-Benz, Audi and Jaguar.
The new Lexus was styled under the watchful eye of British designer Simon Humphries, who heads up the design strategy department in Lexus’s Global Design Management Division.
The GS is definitely a better looker than the previous model, or even the Giugiaro-designed original launched in the US in 1991 but never seen here.
The proportions are neatly balanced, without the old slab-sided look and more global than Oriental in its finishing touches – particularly inside.
But the most significant thing about the GS is the fact that Lexus has taken the decision to ditch what appeared to be an intrinsic part of its engineering philosophy and adopt a V6 configuration for its basic engine.
This is a notable move away from the inline six that drew instant comparisons with BMW, but it paved the way for the introduction of a V8 version at the top end.
Lexus did decide to stick with rear-wheel drive though, claiming that the use of a V6 engine benefits the car not only in terms of packaging, but also in its dynamic balance.
The V6 is a new, 60-degree, all-alloy engine with plenty of design trickery including variable-timing inlet and exhaust camshafts as well as direct fuel injection. With a super-high 11.5:1 compression ratio, the 3.0-litre engine delivers exceptional power and torque for its capacity 183kW and a quite astounding 310Nm of torque.
The impressive V6 is hooked up to a six-speed automatic transmission developed by Lexus that gives the GS line its first sequential-shifting gearbox and replaces the old five-speed E-shift.
The suspension is all-new, with a multi-link arrangement replacing the double-wishbone setup used previously and matching the double wishbones at the front. Lexus says it’s a light weight system, although it doesn’t make as big a play at aluminium componentry as, say, do the Germans – particularly Audi. Cast aluminium is limited to the suspension uprights, both at front and rear.
All this works in with a carefully thought-out underbody where the aerodynamics play a part in keeping the overall Cd figure to a low 0.27 while creating stability-inducing downforce at speed.
The GS300 has grown physically too, although the new lightweight engine – it’s 39kg lighter than the old 3.0-litre inline six – and other weight-containing measures mean it’s actually lighter, by 30kg, than before.
There are increases in cabin space, which is always welcome and quantifiably worthwhile – although the reality is the Lexus doesn’t have the back-seat room of any of its German competition. The stats claim there’s an extra 54mm of rear legroom but that translates to what would be described as acceptable space, rather than generous.
There’s no problem in the front, even though the seat height has been lowered along with the overall height of the car (five millimetres), while the body width increase of 20mm relates more to exterior aesthetics than any noticeable increase in shoulder room.
Although Lexus talks about the improved packaging of the new GS, that’s not really what the car is all about (there’s no split-fold rear seat for example, merely a small ski port in the centre of the backrest). The boot is actually quite small too, not particularly wide or deep.
The aim is to please the driver as much as the passengers, so the combination of the new suspension, which offers greater wheel travel for improved ride as well as improved geometry that reduces nose-dive under braking and helps minimise body lean through relocating the roll centres, and electric power-assist steering give an improved on-road feel.
The sum of all this is a more dynamically competent GS that is clearly well-balanced and quite fun to drive even if it doesn’t have the monumental electronics of the V8-engined GS430.
The new 3.0-litre six, as you’d imagine, is a smooth, willing spinner that is quite comfortable taking redline excursions yet reasonably punchy at lower speeds. The very impressive torque figure comes in at a reasonable 3500rpm although there’s a feeling it rises steeply to that point.
If there’s any shortfall in very low-speed torque, the new six-speed transmission compensates quite well. A prod on the accelerator will produce a smooth, silent and quite eager response and have you blasting through 400 metres in 15.2 seconds, which is relatively quick.
And talking of silence, Lexus says this new model is quieter than ever, which is good in some ways but contributes to the car’s mild personality on the road. In the GS, there’s not the feeling of being a part of what’s going on between the road and the car, or what the engine is actually doing. It’s all too muted to really excite the hoon glands.
The Lexus handles impeccably too. The steering is nicely weighted and responds quickly to driver input, while the ride is firm and well controlled without being in the least bit harsh. It’s a well-sorted suspension package, although the tactility of any of the German opponents is missing.
What buyers relate to in the GS300 is the exquisite quality, the generous standard equipment and the sense of complete refinement even in this supposedly driver-oriented model.
The GS300 is available in Sports or Sports Luxury versions, but there’s not a lot missing in the cheaper Sports model. It gets "active" Xenon headlights (low beam only), soft-close boot lid, reversing camera, heated front seats, power-adjust steering column, power front seats with memory on both sides, auto-dipping exterior rearview mirrors, in-dash CD changer and a total of 10 airbags including sidebags for rear-seat, as well as front passengers, and dual knee bags in the front. That’s on top of the usual dual front airbags and full-length curtain bags.
The GS300 naturally comes with an electronic stability programme and an ABS system with all the usual value-added items, such as electronic brakeforce distribution and brake assist to add extra squeeze-power under emergency braking.
In no way could the GS300 be seen as anything but a totally competent challenger to even the latest breed of German mid-size luxury cars.
It’s a quality challenger that mounts an argument centred on quantifiable advantages over its competition, whether it be the unquestioned Lexus quality of ownership or the faultless attention to detail.
But it does lack excitement, and interior space, when compared with the latest BMW, Mercedes and Audi models.
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