The fourth generation Lexus GS 450h has the looks and technology to succeed against the BMW 5 Series and Mercedes E-Class. But does it have the charm? Jonathan Crouch reports.
Ten Second Review
The latest generation Lexus GS not only looks sharper but has been engineered to drive more engagingly than any of its predecessors. Its interior, too, is more spacious and has been styled more elegantly than that of any previous Lexus GS. In range-topping 450h hybrid guise, it looks like a formidable proposition.
You certainly can't fault the persistence of Lexus. Its GS executive saloon first arrived on these shores 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?
The new GS450h remains rear-driven but is powered by a comprehensively worked-over petrol-electric drivetrain, with a 3.5-litre naturally aspirated V6 and two 35kw electric motors sharing the responsibilities. As before, the GS can be driven on electric-only power at low speeds but when the petrol V6 kicks in you certainly know it, thanks to the sportier tuning of the exhaust note. The always impressive performance and exceptional refinement have been further improved but the real revelation is the chassis. 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. The revised platform is much more rigid compared to the current model and this, coupled with a track that's wider by 40mm at the front and 50mm at the rear, allows the revised suspension to offer more composed cornering performance with less roll and dive. The front suspension features aluminium upper and lower control arms with larger bushings while the rear end gets an entirely redesigned subframe to house a lightweight multi-link setup. One benefit of the stiffer platform and lighter components is that the shock absorbers can use lighter viscosity oil, responding faster to subtle driver inputs. Extensive use of aluminium reduces unsprung weight and results in significantly improved agility, ride comfort, body control and steering precision. The 450h gets the dynamic handling pack as standard which introduces rear-wheel steering for sharper turn-in responses. We'll need to conduct a full road test on UK tarmac to see how successful Lexus' engineers have been, but the fundamentals look very promising.
Design and Build
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.
Market and Model
The range-topping GS450h hybrid is predictably opulent and extravagantly kitted out with a standard equipment list that includes 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.
Cost of Ownership
With no hard data on the revised hybrid engine, we'll have to make do with a few educated guesses until a full product launch to flesh out cost of ownership figures. But expect a combined consumption figure in the region of 45mpg and CO2 around the 150-160 g/km mark. Not bad for a circa 1800 kilo saloon capable of springting to 62mph in 5.9s.
While we tend to 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 - and for some that peaceful yet potent hybrid powertrain will be enough to sway the argument. It's a Japanese take on things but no less impressive for that. There's little doubt that some customers would prefer a conventional diesel engined model, and we'd be surprised if there wasn't one in preparation. But even as things stand, there's no reason why this fourth generation GS can't comfortably eclipse its forebears.