Car reviews - Lexus - GS - range
Supreme quality, Euro styling, on-road agility, V8 availability, interior space, stability control system on GS430, noise supression
Room for improvement
Slightly disconnected feel of variable-ratio steering, V6 not as punchy as expected, lack of aural excitement, no split-folding rear seat
4 Mar 2005
By CHRIS HARRIS
IT’S almost as easy to get excited about the latest iteration of the GS series Lexus as it was when the first model to arrive here came almost eight years ago.
Like the previous GS, it brings together the Lexus hallmark of supreme quality with plenty of technological trickery – then adds a touch of Euro-style on-road agility.
If the last version pushed the attributes of in-line cylinder arrangements as being the best format for a performance six-cylinder, the latest one blithely walks away from that BMW-style philosophy and goes for expediency of a V-shaped cylinder block.
There’s an all-new V6 (exactly the same capacity as the Lexus ES300 transverse, front-drive V6 but a new engine nonetheless) and, for the first time in GS, a V8 – which is the same engine used in the LS430 and SC430.
As the press material says, there’s no strings attached to the past with Lexus, and therefore no problem shifting expediently from one design philosophy to another.
A new GS may have been a long time coming, and the last model may have been getting a tad long in the tooth by the time it bowed off the international stage, but the new car is every bit as technologically advanced as the previous GS in 1997.
Lexus engineers don’t talk too much about benchmarking their product, but it’s clear the GS is intended to take on cars like the BMW 5 Series, Mercedes E-Class and Audi A6. Their feeling is they’ve got the BMW nailed in terms of dynamics, while they reckon the GS is more generous inside than the E-Class.
It’s a little longer and higher than the Benz, and about the same width, and slightly below BMW 5 Series dimensions.
Central to the new Lexus is the Vehicle Dynamics Integrated Management (VDIM) stability control system that brings together a host of dynamic functions to move the concept of the fail-safe car a little closer to reality.
Where what is now thought of as a conventional stability control system works with the ABS, plus various data such as steering angle, individual wheel speed and yaw rate to control errant car behaviour, Lexus adds steering intervention to finesse the concept even further.
The system is not unlike that used in the BMW 5 Series launched here in 2004.
It works in with a new steering system that changes its ratio depending on the circumstances. In the case of the BMW, this means the steering wheel goes from lock to lock in less than two turns at slow speed, yet resumes a more normal ratio at higher speeds to prevent problems with over-sensitiveness.
The GS’s variable-ratio steering (Variable Gear Ratio Steering, or VGRS) combines with the advanced VDIM stability control system and is only fitted to the V8 model.
The 3.0-litre V6 versions get a regular, electrically assisted steering system and a more conventional stability control system that operates by braking individual wheels to haul the car back into line if it inadvertently oversteps itself.
There’s an awful lot to talk about with this new Lexus GS, but the stability control system is pretty central to what it’s all about. So much so that the Australian launch of the new car was centred on the Australian army’s Monegeetta proving ground where the system was demonstrated on a watered-down skidpan.
The ability of the GS430 to faithfully track a chosen line on a water-slicked, 120km/h bend was quiet astounding, but what was especially astounding was the secure way the car came to a full stop when the brakes were applied with full force midway through the corner. We didn’t try the exercise in the GS300.
The new car’s on-road ability was given a brief chance to reveal itself on the drive from Melbourne to the proving ground, mainly on freeways, but with a bit of curving, narrow blacktop thrown in.
The new GS, on the relatively brief on-road component of the programme, certainly felt well screwed-down, especially the GS430 that gets switchable suspension settings enabling the driver to select the appropriate characteristics for the occasion. On the firmest setting the GS felt noticeably tight, but in a nice way that didn’t introduced bone-jarring harshness.
The variable-ratio steering felt okay, if a little wooden, and didn’t have the low-speed go-kart sharpness of a BMW. It felt very predictable, yet the car still had a slightly disconnected feel about it that probably came from other characteristics as much as the steering. The Lexus on-road silence for example.
The GS proceeds with very little noise, from anywhere except, perhaps, the tyres, which sent a certain amount of rumble up from the road surface. The thought was this may have been deliberately dialled in by Lexus to help with a sense of liveliness, and contact with the outside world.
Neither the V6 nor the V8 produce very much noise inside the cabin, and when it does intrude, right at the top end of the rpm band, the sound is not necessarily pleasant. It’s certainly not a BMW.
The direct-injection V6 looks spectacular on paper, especially in terms of its 310Nm torque output but it still has upwards of 1600kg to deal with so it’s not quite as punchy as you might expect.
The 4.3-litre Lexus V8 on the other hand, even if it’s not the most powerful in its class, lifts the GS along very nicely thank you, with a really noticeable shove of mid-range torque.
The driving environment is naturally quite luxurious, relatively restrained for a Japanese premium car and, as we alluded to earlier, there’s a decent amount of space in both front and rear.
The new electro chromatic instrument panel seems to address the problem of viewing the gauges in bright sunlight, and the general layout for most controls is quite logical.
Probably a good idea, but confusing at first, is that a group of secondary controls, for working things such as the rear-view mirrors, is hidden away in a drop-down panel to the right of the steering column.
The look is quite attractive, although nothing outstandingly innovative, and even has a touch of Nissan Maxima around the stretched-out C-pillar area. The boot appears quite deep, but there’s no split-fold rear seat, just a central ski-port.
But the new Lexus GS looks as if it should stand the test of time okay although, hopefully for Lexus, it won’t have to soldier on for as long as its predecessor.
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