Lexus GS review
by Tom Stewart (13 June 2012)
Heading south on the autobahn from Munich while on the recent press launch of the fourth-generation Lexus GS, I was reminded that 19 years ago I attended the press launch of the first-generation, Guigiaro-styled Lexus GS 300, also held in Germany.
Back in 1993 the then new three-litre, 209bhp, 143mph, 26.6mpg, 1720kg, GS 300 was a smooth, sophisticated, fine-handling, rear-wheel drive but average-looking executive saloon built to rival to 5-Series BMWs and E-Class Mercedes. So what's new?
In some ways not a lot, as the 2.5-litre, 207bhp, 144mph, 31.7mpg, 1720kg GS 250 is quite similar in some respects, at least on paper, although the full hybrid drive 3.5-litre 341bhp, 155mph, 46.3mpg GS 450h has moved the game on more noticeably.
Needless to say, both the new GS models are smooth, sophisticated, fine-handling rear-drive saloons to rival BMWs, Mercs and now Audis, but the latest GS is now a much more handsome car relative to its German rivals. As you would expect, everything else is new, even from the most recent third-generation model, right down to the new spec grades, which for the GS 250 are SE (£32,995), plus Luxury or F Sport (both £39,995), while the GS 450h starts with Luxury (£44,995) and progresses to F Sport or Premier (both £50,995).
To describe the GS 450h as a technological tour de force would be an understatement, but as I'm assuming you don't have all day to read this review, allow me instead to present a heavily-edited list of its more notable standard and optional features: four driving modes, adaptive suspension, Vehicle Dynamics Integrated Management, Dynamic Rear Steering, adaptive cruise control, Lane-Keep Assist, tyre pressure warning with auto location, three-zone climate control, a huge (12.3") multimedia touchscreen, a 17-speaker 835-watt Mark Levinson 5.1 surround sound audio system, 18-way adjustable powered front seats, LED headlamps, and so the list goes on, and on.
However, the new GS can't go online and so in this respect it's behind some of its rivals with their Google mapping, wi-fi hotspots and more, and the GS's multimedia system also falls short of a £120 TomTom in terms of web connectivity. That said, what the new GS does it does well, and crucially it's very intuitive to operate, this due in part to the redesigned mouse-style controller on the centre console.
A tree-hugging hybrid it may be, but the GS 450h certainly packs a substantial punch. The claimed figures are 0-62 in 5.9 seconds and 155mph max, but if you spend time rushing about on unrestricted autobahns then you'll appreciate its keen responsiveness in the 70-140mph range. Despite such lead-footed motoring my 450h still averaged 36.7mpg over a varied test route, 9.6 short of its official 46.3mpg combined figure.
Weighing some 1910kgs fully fuelled, the 450h is no lightweight, but its variably-geared electronic steering and well-sorted chassis, plus the assortment of active dynamic aids mentioned above, presumably contribute toward making the car manageable and reasonably nimble on twisty roads, while also helping it feel stable and planted at (very) high speeds.
It rides extremely comfortably too, especially on the snooker table-smooth roads of Bavaria and the Tyrol. And even in the F-Sport version's Sport S driving mode setting the handling and ride is certainly taut, but still more than tolerably compliant.
Having enjoyed the substantial under-bonnet thump of the dual-motor GS 450h I was expecting the GS 250's conventional V6 to feel comparatively wheezy, especially as it's 2bhp down on the first-generation GS300, but it performs well enough. Its claimed 0-62 time is 8.6 seconds, and although it obviously doesn't have the overtaking prowess of the 450h, its 144mph max allows for relaxed 120mph cruising – adequate for pretty much everywhere, German autobahns included.
The GS 250 doesn't boast the rear steering system of the two upper-grade 450h models (their rear wheels can turn either way depending on speed by up to two degrees), and the Luxury-grade 250 I drove also lacked the F Sport's adaptive suspension, but as a driver's machine it felt no less agile and equally capable – this very probably due to the GS 250 being some 190kg lighter than the 450h.
Driven equally enthusiastically, my GS 250 returned a less thrifty 31mpg according to the onboard computer, which surprisingly was just 0.7mpg short of its combined figure. At 207g/km its CO2 emissions won't win any awards, and they put the car into VED Band K which means you have to pay £270 in annual road tax.
By comparison the GS 450h (341bhp/46.3mpg) emits a significantly greener 141g/km (Band E/£120). For reference, the 302bhp Infiniti M35h returns 40.9mpg combined and emits 159g/km, while the new 306bhp BMW 5-Series ActiveHybrid returns 44.1mpg with 149g/km. Close, and closer still, but no cigar.
New GS interiors are suitable spacious, comfortable and well-appointed, although due to substantial lumps of rear-sited hybrid gubbins the 450h's 465-litre boot is less voluminous than the GS 250's 552-litre loadspace, but the 450h still trounces the BMW's 375 litres and the Infiniti's 350 litres.
Despite the GS 250's mpg and CO2 figures, plus a slight and uncharacteristic lack of progressive low-speed braking on both models, I'd say that Lexus's 19 years of GS production and Toyota/Lexus's 15 years of hybrid car production has been time well spent.