BY ANDY ENRIGHT
Circumstances have conspired rather cruelly against Lexus' GS430, but while this has resulted in modest new sales, it only plays into the hands of the used buyer looking for a bargain executive car with plenty left in the tank. Although it has struggled to establish itself as a viable rival in the Audi A6/BMW 5 Series/Mercedes E-Class echelon, the GS430 nevertheless offers a unique slant on the executive theme, serving up peerless reliability and refinement backed up with a huge helping of standard equipment. It's well worth your time.
Models Covered: Second generation GS Series - Four door saloon, 4.3-litre petrol
Lexus launched the second generation GS series in January 1998, although it wasn't until October 2000 that the more powerful GS430 model debuted. With a 4.3-litre V8 engine developing 280bhp, this was the quickest Lexus to date. Offered in one luxurious SE guise, the GS430 ran head on into rivals from Mercedes, BMW and Audi and struggled at first, hampered by the fact that few perceived the GS series as a new car, despite the fact that the German rivals were hardly in their first flush of youth.
What You Get
The Lexus GS series is Japan's (or more accurately Toyota's) idea of what the successful Western executive would like to be driving. When it was first launched in 1993, it was based on a concept car originally designed for Jaguar by Italian stylists Giugiaro. The current version, in contrast, appears to have borrowed more heavily from Mercedes, with similar front and rear styling to Stuttgart's old E-class. The GS430 is extravagantly equipped. The interior of the car carries on the somewhat glitzy effect started by the 'look-at-me' wheels. Packed with every electronic gizmo imaginable, the GS430 is a magnet for technophiles. There's little of the fashionable minimalism that big Audis and BMWs display, and the combination of veneer finish and grey plastic is something of an acquired taste. Nonetheless, the sheer amount of kit is deeply laudable and includes an activated charcoal cabin air filter, electronically adjustable steering wheel, wave-reflector headlamps, water-repellent glass for the front side windows, and leather seats with heating and memory function for the front pair. The wood and leather steering wheel isn't the prettiest fitment, but it's fitted with an airbag, one of a number including passenger, side and curtain-type ready to transform the interior of the GS430 into a bouncy castle in the event of impact. The equipment list also includes a particularly good speed-sensitive power steering system, a 6-disc CD autochanger located in the glovebox, thus preventing those awkward moments spent digging through luggage in the boot to retrieve a disc. As standard equipment, you get another Mark Levinson stereo, this time featuring a custom-designed amplifier and eight specially designed speakers, including a centre dash-mounted speaker for more detailed surround sound. With an optional satellite navigation system to play with, the GS430 could be the world's finest car to get stuck in traffic in. There's a lot to fiddle with, from the dual climate control air-conditioning to the electrically multi-adjustable front seats. If you can exhaust the entertainment possibilities of all these features, then a game of 'count the cupholders' never loses its appeal - the GS430 has a fair amount to find.
What You Pay
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What to Look For
As with the LS series, 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 LS and GS series cars 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 2001 GS430) 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
The engine offered in the GS430 is the same unit which powers the range-topping LS430, and it's an absolute gem. Powered by a 4.3-litre 32-valve V8 that can muster 279bhp, the emphasis, as with all large Lexuses (Lexi?) is on driveability and smoothness rather than outright muscle. Nonetheless, it's still enough to haul the 2145kg GS430 to 60mph in a negligible 6.3 seconds before being electronically limited at 155mph - a fair way short of becoming breathless.
If you're looking for old money image and the ability to create an impact at the golf club, the Lexus may not be your prime pick. If you're buying for more practical reasons, the GS430 has a lot going for it. It's probably better built than any car in its class, it's quick, comparatively inexpensive to keep on the road, and has been designed with day to day living in mind. Although it may not be endowed with the biggest sense of occasion when you slip behind the wheel, you'll forgive its slightly anonymous character when you realise what this car can actually do. If substance counts for anything, a used Lexus GS430 is worthy of a place on your used executive car shortlist.