Car reviews - Lexus - GS - Sedan range
Quality, dynamics, refinement, ride comfort, value, space, attention to detail, no more foot-operated park brake
Room for improvement
Dull steering, derivative design inside and out, oddball front-end styling
4 Apr 2012
BE GLAD the Lexus GS even exists.
During the GFC the Toyota top brass almost pulled the plug on the rear-drive BMW 5 Series/Mercedes E-Class/Audi A6/Jaguar XF rival, citing a shrinking medium luxury sedan market, super-sluggish sales and an icy financial outlook.
Lexus’ team of gun engineers had to fight tooth and nail to get the green light for this all-new fourth-gen version, promising to deliver a successor to the respected but overlooked GS with standout styling, heaps more driver appeal, and improved interior packaging.
Now while the brief might sound straightforward, the Japanese couldn’t justify rolling out just another Munich, Stuttgart, Ingolstadt or Coventry clone yet straying too far from the sports sedan formula was far too risky.
Lexus’ solution was to create its vision of a true GT – or Grand Tourer. It’s basically a driver’s car that pampers people while still able to lug their luggage around.
Stylistically, the latest GS is controversial to say the least, particularly concerning that ‘spindle frame’ grille. Get used to it – it appears every Lexus from now on will adopt this fussy nose concoction.
It’s a peculiarly Japanese application, but some cynics say that Japan’s time-honoured policy of “being influenced” by other car-makers’ designs is also maintaining a tradition. This might explain the very 5 Series-esque rear quarter and Audi-like tail treatments.
But who are we to criticise? The last three GS generations beginning with the 1992 original that never officially made it to Australia were an evolution of a striking Giorgetto Giugiaro design. Clean and distinctive, in the end buyers stayed away in droves, so perhaps the newcomer’s visual internationalism is the right way to go.
Don’t forget … the GS was a dead Lexus walking not too long ago …
Speaking of moving, here’s the bit where we tell you whether the Toyota luxury subsidiary has succeeded brilliantly in bringing the sports sedan back from the brink of oblivion by redefining the GT.
Driven across beautiful north-east Victorian alpine scenery, on some demanding roads, the GS is a toweringly capable five-seater luxury sedan, oozing composure and control when raced up a ragged mountain road, while maintaining comfort and compliance as it coped with a hundred different corners with varying degrees of camber and surface condition.
Whether you’re a novice or Tazio Nuvolari, the Lexus levels the playing field in terms of covering ground – even on treacherous roads – safely and securely. With the electronic safety systems standing behind you like a single-minded bodyguard, you can press on with confidence without raising a sweat. And even when turning the traction nannies off, the sturdy, steady chassis – with all four paws seemingly planted to the bitumen – has everything flowing steadily on.
For most people, the GS indeed is the very definition of a grand tourer.
Additionally, this capable new-kid-on-the-block reeks of quality – and not just of the material kind, but also in terms of the way it’s built, engineering depth, perceived reliability, and long-term dependability. The last version was much loved by owners for being such a faithful companion, and we’re sure the same applies to this iteration.
Indeed, when you add the super-quiet and cocooning cabin, utterly comfortable seating, palpably increased rear legroom, larger boot and user driver interface (albeit with a dashboard that seems embarrassingly close to that of a BMW 5 Series), the Lexus is in with a massive chance of finally giving its German and English foes a real hiding.
But the GS steering is a massive disappointment, lacking low-speed bite or truly sufficient feedback at any speed for it to be considered in any way sporty. Even with the GS350 F Sport’s rear-wheel steering, you just cannot connect emotionally with the Lexus’ helm. Dynamic capability is nothing without tactility.
This is our biggest gripe with the new Lexus, and one that we find hard to reconcile in a vehicle that is taking on the 5 Series and XF in particular.
Things do begin to look up again in the engine department, however.
The 154kW/253Nm GS250 – the entry-level model that takes on the fine base Audi A6 and BMW 520i – is tied to a 2.5-litre petrol unit that is seriously smooth and quite deliciously sonorous in its soundtrack.
While it lacks low-down oomph at take-off, and requires quite a long bit of empty road to overtake at speed safely, it is up against some (albeit turbo-charged) four-pot rivals that lack the overall polish of the Japanese V6.
Furthermore, being saddled with a six-speed automatic is no drawback in the real world, for this gearbox changes up and down quickly, slickly, and will hold on to a lower gear right up to the red line (and even a bit beyond).
Of course, we prefer the 233kW/378Nm GS350, for it concedes nothing in terms of refinement and real-world economy to the smaller V6 while providing usefully more power and torque throughout the whole driving experience.
But as the GS is quite a heavy car, neither powerplant feels as punchy as their respective outputs suggest. Perhaps the reborn GS450h hybrid – not available as yet so absent from our drive program – will be the performance highlight of the range.
There is no doubt the luxury midsized Lexus is an advancement on its likeable-loser predecessor. It goes, rides, and stops handles like a Mercedes E-class competitor should. The attention to detail inside is as you would expect from a Lexus. And we doubt any rival can approach the Japanese car in terms of features, value or owner satisfaction.
However, we had not expected the steering to be so dull. Maybe at speeds over 200km/h, on the Nurburgring that featured so prominently in this-generation GS development regime, the Lexus has all the feel and feedback we could ever wish for. But on our speed-limited Aussie roads, both the 250 and 350 – even in F Sport and Sports Luxury guises – left us wanting more involvement.
Still, we’re plenty to like about the GS. We’re glad buyers in this segment of car have such a toweringly talented option we’re glad Lexus is still out there trying to top the great 5 Series and most of all, we’re glad Toyota did not pull the plug.
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