America, they say, is the land of the free and the home of the brave. That's debatable if you look shifty or drive like a loon on public roads but what is a fact is it's also the birthplace of Lexus and to this day, it remains as the biggest market for the brand worldwide. We attended the international media launch for the all-new Lexus GS at Laguna Niguel on the coast of California, which was just a few kilometres away from Laguna Beach with downtown Los Angeles about an hour away.
The new GS is a critical product in the inexorable climb up the brand image ladder for Lexus. Now in its fourth generation, it competes head-on in arguably the toughest class you can think of against cars like the BMW 5 Series, Mercedes-Benz E-Class and Audi A6. That's a tough ask for any brand, just ask Jaguar.
It also shows a new design direction for Lexus, marking the debut of their new spindle grille, which will then be adapted across the rest of the range. The quick verdict is, it adds a new stylistic dimension to the Lexus face though it may not be to all tastes.
This is a handsome three-box saloon and proportionally, finally banishes the short-deck hunchback looks of the previous car. It's 80 percentile LS profile is fleshed out by complex lights and interesting detailing. That new grille for instance now stands proud of the bumper to give a distinct arrow head shape while the muscular bonnet continues the impression of motion. Are there any hints of Germanic design in the GS? Well, you could say there are only so many ways to draw a mid-size sports saloon so yes, there are hints of E60 BMW in the side-profile but overall it's a unique and appealing look.
Underneath the new sheet metal is a range of engine options designed to cater to three distinct market segments. Available in GS 250, GS 350 and a range topping GS 450h flavours the only thing missing is a modern turbo diesel, which are unpopular in Japan.
The specs sheets make for some interesting reading. The GS 250 uses direct injection for its petrol V6 with Dual VVT-I to produce 207bhp at 6400rpm and 253Nm at 4800rpm. The gearbox is a six-speed auto deemed '6 Super ECT', which has a sequential manual shift mode as well as having closer ratios for improved acceleration.
Move up to the GS350 and you move up to a 3.5-litre V6. Despite the lack of turbos it produces 306bhp at 6400rpm and 378Nm at 4800rpm and is uses the same gearbox as the GS250. The GS 450h is equipped with a second generation Lexus Hybrid Drive system and offers significant reductions in fuel consumption and CO2, NOx and PM emissions. Total system power output is 338hp at 6000rpm and 345Nm at 4600rpm, which makes it most powerful GS currently available.
Lexus used to lag behind its European rivals for interior design but it's now been addressed with the new GS. The interior breaks no new ground in terms of styling but the clever use of leather, plastic, metal finish panels and perfect ergonomics makes this a very nice interior to be in. Particularly interesting is the 'bamboo finish' option offered that uses real bamboo in lays and laminates in place of more traditional wood.
The interior highlight is a large 12.3-inch LED screen, which is the largest in the business. It's controlled by something akin to a computer mouse for easy access. You can also choose the way the GS drives by using the Drive Mode Select dial. There are four modes to choose from, Eco, Normal, Sport S and Sport S+ with each incremental mode offering a more sporting driving experience. Rather cleverly, the instrument dials change too between modes, which is an excellent way to offer yet more differentiation.
Lexus turned us loose on roads surrounding the California coastline and threw in a track session on a former air force base as well to get a taste of how their newest baby felt from behind the wheel. The conclusion is; this is a Japanese luxury saloon that can hang with the best in the class.
Driver aids and safety systems are a must these days and the new GS is no exception. It gets adaptive dampers, variable ration steering and rear wheel steer on top-spec GS450h F Sport cars as an option. It also gets massive brakes, 10-airbags, ESP and a re-engineered body shell that is 14 per cent stiffer than its already very impressive predecessor.
If the new GS sounds a bit overwhelming to take in, it's because in their quest for improvement, the engineers and designers at Lexus have left no stone unturned. The rivals it has to compete against demand the new GS makes an impressive statement from the first time of asking and the fact it does is proof of how thorough Lexus has been in designing their new car.
Verdict: A capable and handsome Lexus with enough verve to beat its German rivals
- The handsome looks
- Refinement levels
- Perfect build quality
WE DON'T LIKE
- A slight lack of soul
- Not that exciting to drive
- Price: RM468,884.95
- 0-100km/h: 6.3 secs
- Top speed: 235km/h
- Engine: 3.5-litre V6, petrol
- Installation: Front, longitudinal, RWD
- Power: 306bhp at 6400rpm
- Torque: 378Nm at 4800
- Gearbox: 6-speed automatic
- Wheelbase: 2850mm
- Length: 4850mm
- Height: 1470mm
- Width: 1840mm
- Brakes (f/r): Ventilated disc
- Suspension (f): Double Wishbones
- Suspension (r): Multi-link