Ray Leathern drives the new Lexus GS models and manages to stay awake. In fact, he wasn’t just awake, he was pleasantly shocked by the new personality of the GS and found himself saying things like “hells bells” – we reckon a “tallyho” may even have passed his lips too.
My overriding memory of the old Lexus GS sedan I had on test a few years ago, was of longing for a plane to fall out the sky, or a cash in transit heist to happen right in front of me… Gosh, anything just to liven up the experience. The car was as quiet and refined as a Rolls Royce Phantom, be in no doubt; but my word, before you’d got to the edge of your suburb it was already setting off ‘chain reaction yawns’ from the driver to passengers. By the time you got to junction 14 off the highway, no matter if you’d got there at a hundred miles an hour or 15; you were nearing coma levels of brain activity.
This makes my next statement all the more worthy of exclamation. Hells bells, where does this new Lexus GS sedan come from then!? It’s loud, connected, sporty and as responsive as Captain Kirk on the bridge of the Starship Enterprise. It’s well styled, refined, luxurious and just as thoughtful about the environment too, but more about the boring environmental stuff later. Let’s talk about how far Lexus and the GS sedan have come.
Back in 1989 Mr. Toyoda was getting fed up with only Europeans playing in the luxury car segment, so one day he asked the question, can Toyota make the world’s most luxurious car? He teamed together his best engineers and called it the ‘Flagship Number One’ project or ‘F1’ for short (no that’s got nothing to do with their Formula 1 farce) and they came up with the first ever LS400 sedan.
Its big party piece was the seat and steering wheel arrangement that slid and tilted to welcome its driver. That’s pretty standard stuff nowadays, but revolutionary back then for sure. Lexus has grown in reputation around the world since then, mostly with a focus on luxury and roominess, the two easiest areas to make inroads against its competitors. For the first time, however, with this all-new Lexus GS, the priorities have been turned on their head. Fourth on the list of priorities is ‘Luxury,’ third is ‘Roominess,’ second is ‘Styling’ and then we have ‘Drivers Car’ as the number one priority. Let it be clear that that’s not ‘performance’ or ‘speed,’ but ‘Drivers car.’ This is a positive list of decisions in my eyes and signifies another bold step for a company that’s hardly put a foot wrong of late.
So what do you get in the GS range? The distinctive ‘spindle grille’ is something Lexus are quite excited about and rightly so, because it looks great for a normally meek and mild Lexus. There are three V6 engine choices: the GS250 with 154 kW, the GS350 with 233 kW, and the GS450h with 252 kW. The GS250 is offered in entry-level EX specification at a sub R500 000 price-level to enter the segment. The GS350 is offered in EX specification and finally the top dog GS450h comes as either an SE (luxury) or F-Sport model.
The GS450h combines 345 Nm from its petrol engine and 275 Nm from its electric motor to help it to 100 km/h in 6.1-seconds. The GS350 does it 0.3 of a second slower. The hybrid will consume 6.2 L/100km and produce 139 g/km CO2, whereas the non-hybrid will do the same thing to the tune of 9.4 L/100km and 223 g/km CO2 – a clear sign of the ‘environmental performance’ advantage of the hybrid’s Atkinson Cycle V6 offers over a regular V6.
For the first time though Lexus are making the F-Sport model more than just a cosmetic enhancement to it’s car. If you get the GS450h F-Sport, you’ll be getting 19-inch sports wheels, the ‘Sports+’ mode on the Drive Mode Select system, Adaptive Variable Suspension (AVS), heads up display, four wheel steering, bigger front brake discs and of course the F-Sport bumper and grille with blue badging. Giving the customer the option to fit any GS model with an F-Sport aesthetic package may have been something I would have done personally, but clearly Lexus are hanging their hat on making the F-Sport a halo model in more than just looks, but in real substance as well.
On the inside the GS provides a superb finish and tactile experience. Soft leather, refined, sturdy switchgear and Japanese-type graphics are one part of it. My personal favourite though is the 12.3-inch EMV (Electro Multi Vision) screen for the Sat-Nav and central fascia. It is the biggest in its class and indeed the biggest ever fitted to a car. You could watch Captain Jack Sparrow in 3D on it and you’d be happy I promise. The centrally located analogue clock is milled out of aluminium and it’s the only one of its kind I’ve seen that doesn’t look like it comes from the David Brent Collection.
The whole cabin is illuminated in LED lighting as is the instrument binnacle in red or blue depending on which driver mode you’re in, it’s all very Blade Runner. It is a button fest in respects, with some that are even hidden by the steering wheel, and the ‘mouse’ operated command system does take getting used to, but it’s such an improvement on the old one, you’d gladly spend a bit of extra time learning how it all works and getting in touch with your Japanese side.
Driving wise, as mentioned earlier and true to the wishes of the engineers, it can for the first time be classified as a ‘drivers car’. The first thing you notice is the pulsating V6 engine note that makes its presence felt inside the cabin. I may have even said something like, ‘Well, Hello…’ in some surprise when I put my foot down for the first time in it. This car impresses you. Surprisingly though the Japanese haven’t synthesised that particular engine note back into the cabin through the sound system, as is the trend these days with modern cars. According to the Lexus product guy there is a ‘resonator’ that beefs up the best of the V6 sound in the engine bay, but from there it’s all gruff, wailing and real 3.5-litre V6 sound.
The next thing you notice is the ride quality that’s most certainly firmer than before and more connected. You can feel a road join or a cat’s eye pass under your rubber, so it keeps you invested in the driving experience. The steering too is beautifully deft and connected; and doesn’t feel like it changes its character when you fiddle with the Drive Mode Select. Come to think of it, though, steering has rarely been a problem for any Lexus, all of them have steered well. The traction control too, seems as if it works in a helpful and unobtrusive way compared to other cars of this type that intervene as if they’re displeased with you.
Our launch route took us several hundred kilometres out of Cape Town, through the Overberg and the Lexus GS was close to faultless the whole way. I can’t think of a thing to complain about. It behaved like a ‘drivers car’ on the twisting sections I drove and it didn’t feel nearly as heavy or cumbersome as I was expecting; and for the rest of the time it was a luxurious, fast cruiser. The peak power and torque is perhaps a little peaky, but the six speed automatic gearbox in the GS350 is a pleasure to entrust with cog swopping duties and you’ll hardly complain about the throaty exhaust note that comes with hitting the redline.
The GS450h has to make do with a typical hybrid derived, CVT transmission, however, and that does spoil the sound, power delivery and sportiness. Hints of V6 get drowned out by the overpowering CVT whine. It’s Lexus themselves that are talking ‘drivers car’ here remember, but the CVT harms the driving experience enough for me to say the GS350 is the simpler, sportier of the two. If you’re concerned about the environment, however, and none of the clean burning, German, diesels do it for you, then the GS450h is certainly worth considering.
|Pricing (incl. VAT and CO2 tax)|
|Lexus GS250 EX||R494 400|
|Lexus GS350 EX||R564 900|
|Lexus GS450h F-Sport||R753 700|
|Lexus GS450h SE||R771 700|
Pricing includes a 4-year/100 000km warranty and maintenance plan.