Stellenbosch and the wineland surrounds played host to the new Lexus GS, which is quite possibly the most anticipated launch of the year for them. The GS is an executive saloon that competes with BMW’s 5, Merc’s E, Audi’s A6 & Jag’s XF. It’s not huge volumes for Lexus, but the biggest seller in May this year in this segment (by Naamsa figures, and Merc isn’t included here) was BMW with 225 5 series sold. That’s astonishing considering the price of these vehicles. Lexus wants a larger piece of that pie, worldwide, and thus the all-new GS boasts advances in all key areas to compete head on with the Germans and the Brits.
An all-new entry GS 250 (V6 154kW, 253NM), the familiar 350 (233kW, 378NM) with a new engine standard or F-Sport 450h (252kW, 345+275NM) top of the range makes up the new GS range. There are 3 spec ranges, EX, SE and F-Sport (only available on the 450h).
Executive saloons have to fulfill on some key criteria. It has to offer a good mix of engine variants, including an entry level version with a good engine. It has to be spacious, especially in the rear compartments. It has to turn heads (because you’ve now arrived you see). The chassis has to be dynamic, bringing both sportiness and comfort to play, and it has to be filled with cool technology.
Have this beast roll up behind you at speed and I can guarantee one thing, you’ll be moving aside. Lexus’ new “spindle” grille design will be rolled out across the range, and it does the GS much justice by giving it a very aggressive front end, especially with the now obligatory L-shaped LED daytime running light. More angled lines all the way to the rear, where a slightly wider and longer new-GS really does demand more presence. The rear view is far less shouty, and does with an LS inspired look. Overall it definitely looks a lot sportier to me, and now begs for attention, especially when you get the F-Sport pack. Much like BMW’s M-Sport it gives bigger rims, sportier front and rear bumpers, sportier variable suspension and 4-wheel steering (more on that later), but only available in the 450h.
So tick on the head turning department.
Something that the rest of the crew, (bar Jag) can be criticized for is the now familiar buffet options list approach. Believe it or not, there are NO OPTIONS in the GS. Everything you’d expect from Lexus and more, is standard. The interior is still typically Lexus, noticeable improvements in quality of materials used and far less “Toyota” bits. By that I mean that now the Cressida digital clock has been replaced by a central “expensive looking” analog clock…hooray! The cabin is now definitely more driver oriented, again showing their commitment to making this a slightly more driver oriented vehicle, along with selection knob for 3/4 driving modes (eco, normal and sport, with Sport+ in the F-Sport). Surprisingly the largest screen ever put into a production vehicle (a 12.3inch EMV screen) doesn’t look out of place in the hand stitched leather dash, unlike the iPad looking
mammoth in the B-Class. The remote touch interface (which Lexus uses to drive the big screen) now in its second generation, is now even more similar to a computer mouse, and is probably one of the most uncomplicated systems to get accustomed to. Thankfully, simple controls like radio and dual zone climate control are available outside of the interface in normal buttons on the dash. Rear head and legroom is also improved, as well as the boot size, which can now swallow 4 golf bags…which in my mind is also 4 hookers. Good job!
Just to give you an idea of how well kitted the GS is (on entry level GS250) I’m going to list which features are standard on GS, but are also optional on entry level Merc, Audi & BMW. HID headlamps, towing hook, seat heating & cooling, 12-way electrically adjustable seats, smart entry system, electric-retractable-illuminated and heated side mirrors, 12Speaker audio system, Navigation with HDD, Bluetooth, ipod prep & voice control, reverse camera, illuminated entry system, tinted-laminated & rain sensor on glass and more. These options and more, when specced like for like against the GS 350, would see you spending R170 000 extra on the BMW 528i to get it at the same spec. Sweet baby budget.
I’m not going to run through the safety kit but know that it’s got everything it needs to keep you from having an accident, and then everything that will keep you alive in one.
Thankfully, the GS now also rewards on driver enjoyment. We didn’t get to sample the 250, but the 350 is by far my pick of the bunch, even though it isn’t available in F-Sport nor is it the top of the range. The 350 (R564 900), with 233kW and 378NM it competes well with the E350 (R709 000), 528i (R589 000) and XF 3litre (R629 100) from Jag in terms of performance. The engine note was what really surprised! An incredibly aural V6 sound made it such fun to thrash right up to the red line and keep it high up in the rev range while swooping through the beautiful roads only the Cape has to offer. The 450h F-Sport with its hybrid engine (V6 + electric motor) and rear wheel steering system that either turns the rear wheels with / against the front wheels to give better handling / turning circle. You’d need to really pay attention to feel it work, but it definitely helped the heavier 450h through the very twisty roads. The Lexus & Toyota family has been leading the pack on production hybrids for quite some time, and the GS is no stranger to this technology, with claimed combined consumption of 6.2l/100km (I got 8.8l/100km driving the hell out of it) and emits only 139g/100km (BMW’s hybrid 5 claims 7l/100km & 163g/100km).
The 6speed semi-auto in the 250 & 350 does a good job at shifts, but if you really want to get going shift into full manual mode. It still isn’t up to the level of smoothness and quickness of shifts when compared to the boxes from BMW / Jag, but nothing that an everyday driver would really notice. It’s only at very high speed that I would say I felt a little less confident in the GS as it started to lighten up (had the same feeling in the Jag), where the BMW still felt confident right up to its limits. This said the suspension is now more than ever up the task, with Adaptive Variable suspension available in the F-Sport that firms up the suspension for less body roll and better handling. They really have made this a much more engaging and driver oriented car. Thankfully comfort hasn’t gone to hell. The balance in Eco / Normal mode is astounding. The vehicle is supremely quiet and still manages to cosset the driver over bumps in the road. Tire roar and wind noise from the mirrors is non-existent. The 350, which is my pick, accelerates from 0-100km/h in 6.3 seconds. That’ll do pig.
The GS doesn’t only improve on the old model, but humiliates it in such a way that it’s embarrassing. It isn’t the kid asking to come and play in the German playground, but rather the new kid on the block marching up and slapping them all in the face. The 450h competes with the 535d (which I thoroughly enjoyed) in terms of economy and performance, but doesn’t truly match it for sheer driving pleasure. Still, a near R300 000 price difference when you spec up the 535d to match the 450h CANNOT be ignored. My pick is the 350, which now fights pound for pound against the Germans…I just wish they made it available with an F-Sport pack! No doubt the 250 will be the pick of the public due to the phenomenal value it offers. I really hope South Africans get out of their German trio mindset and give what is quite possibly the best Lexus yet…a try.
I dare you to drive this Lexus. I really do. [Fine I will]