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Competing against rivals such as the E-Class, A6 and 5 Series with their gold-plated reputations doesn’t make things easy for cars such as the Lexus GS. In a market that’s gaga over German executive cars, non-Teutonic brands have to try that much harder to be noticed - usually by means of out-styling, out-gadgeting or out-pricing the opposition.
With the new-generation GS launched in South Africa a couple of months ago, Lexus makes a valiant attempt on all three counts.
For starters, the styling deserves a second glance. Compared to the previous GS, which was getting decidedly long in the tooth, the new car comes with the brand’s new signature nose which Lexus calls the Spindle Grille, with its trapezoidal contours and an aggressive front bumper and daytime LED lamps. The rear is punctuated by a pair of large oval tailpipes that make quite a bold statement.
Although there are some lines inspired by cousin Toyota, the Lexus GS carries itself with a suitable air of expensive flair for a car in the 600 grand price range.
The sleek new body wraps a revamped chassis with suspension that’s been made lighter and stronger to improve both ride quality and cornering ability. The GS350 EX derivative on test here offers a good trade-off between comfortable wafting and slick handling, but if you seek more of a sports sedan the GS 450H F-Sport model has firmer suspension with adaptive damping and larger front brakes.
Priced at R564 900, the 350 is the middle model of the four-derivative GS range which also includes the GS250, the 450H hybrid SE and the 450H hybrid F-Sport. It’s moved along by a normally-aspirated 3.5-litre V6 petrol with outputs of 233kW and 378Nm. It’s a very likeable powerplant with a strong and linear power delivery, delivering a 235km/h top speed and 6.9 second 0-100km/h sprint at Gauteng altitude. With no turbocharger to cause lag, it’s all about quick responses and effortless overtaking punch.
What I like most is the lusty howl when you put foot, as it adds some vocal flavour to the otherwise very refined and smooth driving experience of Lexus renown, and prevents things from becoming too boring and vanilla-flavoured.
Vanilla-like smoothness is prevalent in the appropriate places however, such as the abovementioned comfy ride as well as the silky six-speed auto transmission which delivers the power unobtrusively, without irritating pauses or hunting.
Normal, Sport, Eco and Snow modes revise throttle mapping and gear-shift priorities accordingly, and the instrument display lights up in blue or red to visually confirm which mode you’re in.
Our test car evidently spent much time in red as it averaged a relatively thirsty 12 litres per 100km, against the factory’s ambitious 9.4-litre claim.
The new GS is the same length as its predecessor but has grown slightly in width and height, offering more room for passengers and luggage. The cabin’s fairly roomy, although people taller than six feet will find headroom in the back just a tad cramped due to the coupé-like slope of the roof.
The 530-litre boot’s very large but there’s no spare wheel and the seats don’t fold down, limiting practicality if you need to lug large objects.
There’s no shortage of leather and wood in the plush cabin, with the overall tone more high-tech than warm-and-welcoming.
The largest infotainment screen in the business dominates the centre of the dash and makes the cabin look like a Nasa control centre.
This mega-screen – which controls everything from the sound system to the climate control to the navigation – may be great for the short-sighted, but Lexus still has things to learn on the user-friendliness front. The infotainment system’s accessed by a mouse-style controller on the centre console (Lexus calls it the Remote Touch Interface) which is super-sensitive and makes it too easy to accidently skip past icons and menus that you’d intended to select.
Also, switching the aircon on and off must be done by navigating through the electronic climate control menu; such a basic function should have its own button on the dashboard.
The Lexus GS offers something different to buyers wishing to avoid the “obvious” Audi, BMW or Mercedes route, but its biggest selling point is price.
At R564 900 the GS350 EX is a relative bargain in the executive segment and comes with a flurry of standard features that often come as extra-cost options in more expensive German cars.
Its spec sheet includes electric front seats with heating and ventilation, satellite navigation, cruise control, a reversing camera, a 12-speaker Lexus Premium Sound System with MP3/USB/iPod integration, an electrically-adjustable steering wheel, and Bluetooth with voice command.
Also standard are ten airbags, antilock braking, stability control and whiplash-reducing front seats.
As with the rest of the Lexus range, all models in the GS range are covered by a four-year or 100 000km warranty. - Star Motoring