This, then, is a Lexus GS for less. Less than half a bar, in fact.
But it's not a stripped-out, fleet/rental derivative - it has all the comfort and convenience features of its more expensive siblings.
What it doesn't have is a three-and-a-half litre engine. The latest addition to the Lexus GS line-up, released in South Africa this week and bringing the new-for-2012 range up to four variants, has instead a short-stroke 2499cc DOHC V6 with variable valve timing on both camshafts and multiport sequential fuel-injection.
The GS 250 EX is rated at 154kW at 6400rpm and 253Nm at 4800, and drives the rear wheels via a six-speed auto transmission, taking the lightest Lexus GS to 100km/h in 8.8 seconds at a claimed average cost of 8.9 litres per 100km and 215 g/km of CO2.
The 2012 Lexus GS range of luxury sedans is built on a completely new platform, adopting the new 'spindle grille' design language first seen on the CT 200h and set to be a signature feature on all future Lexus models, along with a host of under-the-skin upgrades.
The new grille melds into a bold front bumper, with air intakes on the outer edges of the lower grille acting as cooling ducts. Deep-set, projector-beam headlights with L-shaped LED daytime running lights match the LED tail-light clusters, above a smoothly-styled rear bumper with built-in diffuser and aero fins to help control under-body airflow.
MEET THE FAMILY
Next up from the GS 250 is the GS 350 EX, with the proven 3456cc 2GR-FSE engine, tuned for 233kW at 6400rpm and 378Nm at 4800, taking it to 100km/h in 6.3 seconds while burning a claimed average of 9.4 litres per 100km and warming the planet at a rate of 223 grams of a CO2 per kilometre.
The GS 450h F-Sport has the same engine as the 350 - albeit detuned to 213kW and 345Nm - coupled to an electric motor that boosts the total to 252kW and 275Nm, driving through a constantly variable transmission and running on uprated suspension and brakes.
The 0-100km/h sprint is dealt with in 6.1 seconds, quoted fuel consumption is 6.2 litres per 100km and the Greenhouse Gas number is a respectable 139g/km.
The range-topping GS450h SE is mechanically identical but with a lot more luxury bells and whistles.
It’s worth noting that the 252kW GS450h F-Sport has almost exactly the same power output as the 250kW BMW Active Hybrid 5, released in South Africa just a week earlier, and, at R753 700, is just over R7000 less expensive than the Blue Propeller’s first hybrid, which retails for R760 976.50.
STIFFER IS BETTER
The GS's new platform is more rigid, says Lexus, with more spot welds and extra laser-welding in very specific locations. Wider track - 40mm in front and 50mm at the rear - and revised suspension gives it a more solid stance and better cornering.
The double-wishbone front suspension's upper and lower control arms are now aluminium, with larger bushings, while the sub-frame has been redesigned around a new multi-link suspension geometry that helps retain tyre cornering force.
The F-Sport suspension has firmer springs, an adaptive variable damping system, thicker anti-roll bars, a variable gear ratio steering system, stiffer bushings and larger, ventilated front brakes with high-friction brake pads in four-piston aluminium callipers.
The GS 250, GS 350 and GS 450h SE come with 18” alloys, wrapped in 235/45 rubber, while the F-Sport has 235/40 front and 265/35 rear tyres on 19 alloy rims.
All GS models - except the GS 250, which has eight - cone with 10 airbags, including a knee airbag for both driver and front passenger. Outboard rear seats have seat-mounted side airbags (not on the GS 250). All models have full-length side curtain airbags.
New front seats reduce the space between the occupant's head and head restraint to help limit excessive head movement and decrease the severity of whiplash-type injuries.
An all-new, long, sculpted fascia frames a clean centre stack with a 310mm, high-resolution display screen. The steering column angle has been changed from 23 to 21 degrees and the front-seat frame redesigned for improved comfort and better forward visibility.
The new GS has more headroom, knee room, leg room and foot space than the previous generation, says its maker. Revised door openings offer easier entry and exit all round, boot access is improved with a wider, deeper opening and its capacity has been increased by almost 25 percent.
A new energy-saving auto climate control system called S-Flow uses an occupant-detection system to focus airflow only to the front area when there's nobody in the back, while a remote touch system for climate, audio and phone controls with one-push confirmation is standard across the range, as are satnav and a reversing camera.
The drive mode select control, next to the gear-shift, allows the driver to choose between three (and on F-Sport, four) modes. Eco, Normal and Sport modes are available on all models, while Sport+ mode is available on the GS 450h F-Sport to activate the adaptive variable suspension and allow tailoring of the engine, gearbox and suspension settings.
ON THE ROAD
The new GS shape is very sporty, says Minesh Bhagaloo of our sister publication Star Motoring, who drove them at the SA launch. “The cars feel solid and well built, comparing well with the new BMW 5 Series, the Mercedes-Benz E Class and the Audi A6.
“The cabin is definitely bigger than that of the previous GS, with very generous rear legroom and impressively upmarket interior finishes.
“It has the biggest LCD screen in production, according to Lexus, but still has that mouse system to guide it, which is not as intuitive as BMW's iDrive or the Audi Multimedia interface.
“Perhaps the classiest feature is the analogue clock in the middle of the fascia, carved from a single block of aluminium with LED hour makers, that's gently backlit when the car is unlocked.
“The 3.5-litre models feel very strong on the road, especially under acceleration through the gears, but the gate of the gear-shift lever is still laid out for left-hand drive markets, and selects away form the driver, which makes it less than intuitive in use.
The GS 250 and GS 350 EX models come with:
High intensity discharge auto headlights with auto levelling and washers.
Front fog lights.
Retractable and heated side mirrors.
Rain sensing intermittent wipers.
Leather interior with piano black trim detail.
Seat heating and ventilation for driver and passenger with 10-way electric adjustment and two-way lumbar support adjustment.
Smart entry and start system (driver, passenger and boot).
Tilt/telescopic leather steering wheel with multifunction controls.
12-speaker sound System with MP3/USB/iPod integration.
HDD navigation with traffic data and voice command.
Reverse camera and guidance monitor.
Rear distance sensors.
Dual-zone automatic air conditioning with pollen filter.
Bluetooth with voice command.
Electro-chromatic rear view mirror
The GS 450 F-Sport package adds:
F-Sport front bumper.
Aluminium interior trim.
16-way adjustable Sport seats with 4-way lumbar support
Drive Mode Select with Sport+.
The GS450 SE specification grade includes:
Three-zone climate control.
17-speaker Mark Levinson sound system.
18-way electric adjustment with driver and passenger memory and four-way lumbar support adjustment.
Walnut wood trim.
Semi-aniline seat trim.
Side mirrors with blind-spot monitoring.
Rear and side window blinds
What makes the F-Sport special, however, is its combination of rear-wheel-steering and variable-ratio electric power steering, the first on a hybrid car.
The system monitors vehicle speed and yaw rate, steering angle and speed, and lateral G to calculate the required rear-wheel steering input, to a maximum rear wheel angle of two degrees.
At most speeds below 80km/h the front and rear wheels turn in opposite directions, while under certain conditions at speeds above 80km/h the front and rear wheels turn in the same direction.
GS 250 EX - R494 400
GS 350 EX - R564 900
GS 450h F-Sport - R753 700
GS 450h SE - R771 700
All GS models are covered by a four-year or 100 000km warranty and Distance Plan maintenance programme.