FIRST DRIVE: Lexus GS

FIRST DRIVE: Lexus GS

The least interesting model in the Lexus sedan line up gets an extreme makeover and a new image as sporty, exciting and packed full of soul… We head to the North Waikato to find out if this is a load of old marketing bollocks or not.

WHAT IS IT?

The over-looked middle child of the Lexus range. The IS has always been the nimble, sporty BMW 3 Series competitor, while the regal LS has easily taken the luxury limo fight to the likes of the Mercedes S-Class, but the GS has never really managed to be one thing or the other. As a 5 Series/E-Class competitor it has fallen short of the sporty and luxury marks set by both and really only seemed to play in the shallow end of the luxury mid-sizer pool with the likes of the elderly previous-generation Audi A5.

Last year a new A5 was released and left the kiddies pool to do bombs off the high diving board at the deep end with the adults, leaving the poor old GS adjusting its water wings and muttering that it looks like a dumb thing to do anyway…

But now Lexus have released a new GS that they are intending to push straight off the high diving board into the deep end of the luxury mid-size market and have packed full of enough technology, luxury and (sigh…) “soul” that they are expecting it to make a nice, big splash.

Available in three models – GS250, GS350 and GS450h – the splash should be big enough to cover the mid-size segment, with the GS250 offering a 2.5-litre entry point and the GS450h offering a 3.5-litre hybrid drivetrain-powered uber-luxury upper price point, while the GS350 lurks around the middle with its 3.5-litre V6.

An F Sport models of all variants are available which adds sports suspension, sports pedals, adaptive variable suspension, additional “SPORT+” drive mode, unique interior trim with 16-way driver’s sport bucket seats, electric rear window sunshade, a body kit, brushed aluminium trim, mesh grille, and unique 19 inch alloy wheels to all models.

The GS350 and GS450h F Sport models also get the new “Lexus Dynamic Handling System” with dynamic rear steering, a head up display, variable gear ratio steering and larger front two-piece rotor brake package with larger four piston opposed calipers.

A Luxury pack is also available on the GS350 and GS450h, which adds a 12.3 inch multimedia system, a driver fatigue monitor with eye detection, advanced pre-crash system with active cruise control, 18-way adjustable seats with front passenger’s memory system, a 17 speaker Mark Levinson audio system, tri-zone climate control with rear controls, a heated steering wheel, automatic high beam headlights, semi-aniline leather interior, woodgrain-accented trim and side and electric rear window sunshades. GS450h models with the Luxury package also get LED headlights.

WHAT’S IT LIKE?

Well… like a Lexus, really. That is to say, beautifully built, impeccably appointed, packed with kit and superbly comfortable. But this time round, Lexus are going for “soul”, so have they achieved that?

Hard to say on the launch drive, to be honest.

Lexus chose to launch the GS at Hampton Downs race track, no doubt to emphasise the sportiness of the new model. Which was fine. It did tell us that the GS250 was surprisingly quick and nimble, the GS350 added a surprising amount of grunt to the GS250’s poise and the manual mode of the GS450h’s CVT transmission was utterly useless at the track…

The time spent on the open road revealed a capable, confident handler with superb ride quality and comfort. On the track understeer was the default position with aggressive approaches to corners – particularly the GS450h – but backing off slightly revealed a more enjoyable side to the GS’s handling, while taking the “slow-in, nail the throttle on the way out” approach produced surprisingly enjoyable amounts of progressive oversteer.

The GS250 comes with a 2.5-litre V6 that pumps out 154kW of power and 253Nm of torque and will propel the car to the legal limit in 8.8 seconds, while the GS350 gets a 3.5-litre V6 with 233kW of power and 378Nm of torque. The GS350 will hit 100km/h in 6.3 seconds and both it and the GS 250 come with a 6-speed automatic transmission.

The GS450h gets an Atkinson Cycle version of the 3.5-litre V6 hooked up to a hybrid drivetrain and a continuously variable transmission. With 252kW of power and 345Nm of torque, the hybrid GS will scamper to 100km/h in just 6.1 seconds.

Looks-wise, the GS still struggles with blandness. With its aggressive angles, the new Lexus family grille makes for a strong frontal graphic, but the rest of the car drops off into conservatism and obvious nods to other luxury marques. Which is not to say it isn’t a handsome car, because it is. Just not a strikingly memorable one.

Like the outside, the interiors again have been liberally beaten into shape with the conservative stick, but the bamboo interior (only available in the Luxury pack on the GS450h) adds a welcome touch of individualism and “Japanese-ness” that the brand could well do with leveraging more. A fact that Lexus New Zealand seems to be alone in the company at recognising, with its kanji-inspired marketing.

After our time on the track with it, the sportiness seems to have been upped coin the new GS, the luxury seems to be fully intact, but the “soul”… well… that may take a bit more time in one to define.

WHAT’S GOOD ABOUT IT?

A huge amount of standard kit even in the entry point GS250, strong engines across the range, typically superbly well-built and supremely comfortable.

The GS350 sounds brilliant under full throttle and the F Sport models look good, especially from the front, with their more aggressive fog lights and intakes.

The quality is simply stunning and the Luxury pack, while expensive ($25,500 on the GS350 and $24,000 on the GS450h) adds a staggering amount of extra kit for the money.

WHAT’S NOT SO GOOD?

The non-F Sport models still look slightly bland.

The manual mode of the GS450h’s CVT is a complete waste of time and its regenerative brakes have an awful blunt and distant feel to them.

Then just the usual gripes regarding luxury cars and some of the horrific interior trim options available that further go to prove that money can’t necessarily buy taste…

FIRST IMPRESSIONS?

Extraordinarily well put together, extremely well specced, surprisingly well priced and superbly competent on the road, the Lexus GS range is deeply impressive from a dispassionate “band for buck” point of view.

But while it is superbly well-built and technically impressive, the GS still seems to lack the “soul” that Lexus so desperately craves for it. Despite their best efforts, it still seems to be missing and, as it stands, the Lexus still hangs off to one side of the luxury mid-size pool with the equally strangely dispassionate Audi A5 as the quiet, slightly weird kids of the segment.

To be honest, it is a hard one to judge from a brief drive at a launch though, so a full road test and some meaningful time with the cars may well show another, more soulful side to the GS. We certainly hope so.

Specifications

Models/Prices

GS250 – $102,900

GS350 – $117,900

GS450h – $134,900

GS250 F Sport – $108,900

GS350 F Sport – $125,900

GS450h F Sport – $142,900

Luxury Package available for $25,500 on the GS350 and $24,000 on the GS450h

Powertrain

2.5-litre six-cylinder petrol producing 154kW/254Nm (GS250), 3.5-litre six-cylinder petrol producing 233kW/378Nm (GS350), 3.5-litre six-cylinder petrol/electric hybrid producing 252kW/345Nm (GS450h); 6-speed automatic transmission (CVT GS450h); rear-wheel drive

Fuel consumption: 9.3L/100km (GS250), 9.7L/100km (GS350), 6.3L/100km (GS450h)

CO2 emissions: 215g/km (GS250), 225g/km (GS350), 139g/km (GS450h)

Safety

ANCAP/EuroNCAP rating: Not tested yet

Air bags: 10

Stability control: Yes

Lap/diagonal belts: 5

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