Can the fourth generation Lexus GS succeed in beating the best of the executive car class? June Neary tries one.
Will It Suit Me?
I've always had a soft spot for Lexus, not least because the company is nothing if not persistent. Take the brand's full-sized executive saloon GS series. It first arrived on these shores way back in 1993 and singularly failed to match the impact created by the LS400 luxury saloon. Since then, each successive generation of the GS has closed the gap on the market leaders but has never really given them sleepless nights. The GS450h hybrid exploited a small niche but without a diesel model in its ranks, the GS was hobbled. Fast forward to today and Lexus has a fourth generation car to do battle with. Sharper looking, more spacious, better finished and more dynamic in its responses, is this finally the car that can face down the likes of BMW, Mercedes, Audi and Jaguar? It certainly looks promising but a look at the preliminaries fails to mention a diesel model. It's said that those who fail to learn from their mistakes are doomed to repeat them. Will fourth time prove a charm? I thought I'd try one and find out.
The fourth generation GS is a more confident piece of design than any that have gone before it. While it's not quite swaggering, it's not hiding its light under a bushel. The front 'spindle' grille is a design touch that will feature on all new Lexus models and combines with deep-set headlights and L-shaped LED daytime running lights. The bulging wheel arches give the car a less slab-sided look than its predecessors and emphasis the muscularity of the design. A short front overhang also helps promote an impression of dynamism. Move round to the back and you'll find a bumper assembly that features a diffuser and aero fins to help control underbody airflow. Glass flake paintwork is also offered, with an almost high-definition look to its metallic finish. The cabin looks even more special and unlike previous generations of the GS, it looks as if a real effort has gone into the styling rather than concentrate on function to the detriment of aesthetics. The layout of the long, sculpted dash gives the driver and front passenger a sense of roominess through its clean centre stack and large high-resolution display screen. Most of the comfort and convenience controls such as audio and climate are relocated to provide a cleaner and more sophisticated dash layout. Redesigned seats and changes to the steering column give more space and better comfort as well as improved forward visibility to the driver. The door openings offer easier entry and exit and boot access is improved with a wider, deeper opening. Luggage capacity has been increased by almost 25 per cent. An analogue clock, carved from an ingot, helps with the upmarket look and feel.
Behind the Wheel
The Lexus GS has rarely drawn criticism from testers based on its ride quality but those looking for an engaging drive often felt a little short changed. True, BMW and Jaguar cover that base very well but the Japanese felt that by basing themselves at the far end of the comfort continuum, they were missing out on many European customers who craved a little more involvement. The latest GS features a wider stance and stiffer structure, a transmission with quicker changes and a more dynamic engine sound and exhaust note. I certainly enjoyed that exhaust note and my test car seemed to corner more sharply than I remembered the old generation version managing before. The reasons why are technical and I won't bore you with them in too much detail, but Lexus talks of extensive use of aluminium to reduce unsprung weight, resulting in significantly improved agility, ride comfort, body control and steering precision.
Value For Money
*Value for money Prices for the entry-level GS250 petrol V6 start at just over the £30,000 mark, which gets you a V6 for the kind of money that German rivals will charge you for something with four cylinders. The GS450h hybrid I tried is much pricier, residing as before in the £45,000 to £50,000 bracket. At least for that, you get plenty of kit. GS drivers will enjoy DVD audio and video compatibility, MP3 sound enhancement, 5.1 Surround Sound, and a high-resolution eight-inch central control display centrally located high up in the instrument panel. Models fitted with the navigation system will have an industry-first 12.3-inch high-resolution multi-media screen, large enough to support simultaneous, split-screen viewing of a large map display, plus audio, climate or other vehicle information. It's Lexus. You wouldn't expect anything less.
Could I Live With One?
My worry before driving this car was that in making it appear more dynamic, Lexus would be moving away from its comfort zone. But I should have thought things through more carefully. Anybody's who's been fortunate enough to drive the IS-F or LF-A will attest to the fact that Lexus can build some genuinely stirring sports cars and a little dab of that DNA sent in the GS's direction can hardly be a bad thing. Likewise, while we take Lexus quality and technology for granted, we don't always expect style. This latest GS is an impressive looking car and the interior is a very smart piece of design. On a par with Jaguar or Audi? Let's just say it's different. It's a Japanese take on things which is no less impressive. The only cloud on the horizon is a lack of a diesel engined model - but then, is one really needed why the hybrid variant is so clean and frugal? Overall, a minority choice but a grower. There's no reason why this MK4 version shouldn't comfortably eclipse its forebears.