BY JONATHAN CROUCH
When a certain Japanese car company declared the philosophy of its new luxury division to be 'the relentless pursuit of perfection' the sceptics laughed. Their smiles quickly faded, however, as Toyota's quietly determined engineers developed a series of cars that set new levels for refinement, build quality and after-sales care. Having launched the original LS400 in 1990, Lexus dealers gained a second string to their bows three years later with the release of the sportier GS300. It boasted a six-cylinder engine, not a V8 like its bigger brother, yet both performance and refinement were superb. The styling too, was the topic of much discussion as many motor-noters remarked on the almost Jaguar-esque lines.
Models Covered: First generation GS300 - October 1993 to January 1998 3.0 6cy Saloon [standard, Legato, SE, Sport]
Arriving here in October 1993, the curvy Lexus had already gained a reputation for fine handling and strong performance in its home market, badged as the Toyota Aristo. There, as in the USA, it was available with V8 and turbocharged engines but the European importers decided a 3.0-litre, six-cylinder unit coupled to standard automatic transmission was the most appropriate for these shores. The 'range' consisted of a single version for the first two years of sale until the Sport arrived in September 1995. This version used the same engine but benefited from a firmer ride and more purposeful stance, thanks to huge wheels and tyres and lowered suspension. In May 1997, two additional models were added, creating a four-car line-up. The entry-level Legato lacked some of the equipment of its more expensive brothers, but its price undercut the cheapest of them by over £3,500 and the dearest, the existing Sport by £5,500. The SE, on the other hand, was an out and out luxury express. It sported a chrome grille, walnut-veneered dashboard panel, a subtle boot spoiler and bespoke alloy wheels.
What You Get
In true Lexus tradition, both first and second generation GS300s boast a specification list that lacks for absolutely nothing. Apart from all the electrical gizmos you would expect, leather and walnut abound, as do state-of-the-art technicalities. Examples include airbags for both driver and passenger, an electrically adjustable steering wheel, a nine-speaker CD sound system with a 12-disc autochanger (an option on the Legato), electrically operated seats, cruise control, air conditioning and a security system with an immobiliser. The boot on both models is a coffin-shaped cargo bay, big enough for two sets of golf clubs and trolleys. Whilst we're on practicalities, you can expect around 26mpg in normal use from the pre-1998 shape.
What You Pay
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What to Look For
As with the LS400, there is, amazingly, almost nothing to report. Toyota were determined to make these cars as faultless and long-lasting as possible and it seems they've succeeded. The main worry with a Lexus will be accident damage or mileage clocking. The panel gaps on both LS400 and GS300 astound even now in terms of consistency and flushness of fit, so a second-rate repair will be obvious. If you can, check the car's service records and cross-reference mileage with the dealers who carried out the scheduled maintenance. That way, you'll have peace of mind that the immaculate, low-mileage car you're looking at, really is just that.
(Based on a 1996 GS300) A new exhaust, excluding the catalytic converter will be just over £800. Brake pads are roughly £70 each and a headlamp is around £140.
On the Road
Whichever model you choose, it comes with a 24-valve 3-litre six-cylinder engine. The first generation models develop an effortless 209bhp to take the GS300 from rest to sixty in 8.6 seconds on the way to a top speed of some 143mph. The series two cars are even more impressive, with corresponding figures of 8.2 seconds with the same maximum. The engines are mated to two of the smoothest automatic transmissions in the world, the final touches in the creation of an almost perfect environment of peace and tranquillity as you travel. The first GS300 used a superb four-speed unit with changes that were almost inaudible, yet the post 1998 cars went one better with an all-new five-speeder that must be close to the world's best.
Perfection achieved? Not quite, but as an alternative to a Mercedes or BMW, the GS300 comes very close.