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ROAD TEST: Lexus GS250 EX
If you're looking at something like this, let us welcome you to the middle of the luxury car pecking order. You haven't quite advanced to doing the government bigwig parade in that 7 Series or S-Class, but you're now looking beyond that aspiring-executive 3 Series pose.
The default shopping list here has been German for as long as we can remember, although the Jaguar XF has been making inroads in recent years, but the Lexus GS has never been more than a rare but bland contender.
With the new GS, Lexus is hoping to finally make some proper inroads into the 5 Series/E-Class/A6 battleground. It's doing this not only with a vastly-improved product, but also with a wider range that now extends to the bottom of the middle segment with its GS250 EX that costs just over half-a-bar.
It's powered by a 2.5-litre normally aspirated V6 petrol engine with direct injection, mated to a six-speed automatic gearbox. With outputs of 154kW and 253Nm, it fits above the smaller-engined turbocharged German rivals in the power war, but will lose its advantage at oxygen-sapped Reef altitudes. Its biggest problem, however, is that Jaguar's just launched a new 2-litre turbopetrol version of its XF, which shares its 177kW heart with the Range Rover Evoque.
So Jaguar wins the performance argument, but if comfort and cruising ability are what attract you more then the Lexus still has a very strong hand to play.
For starters, it's somewhat better equipped than its rivals with features like 10-way electric driver's seat adjustment, reverse camera and seating ventilation for the front occupants. Where BMW and Mercedes charge you more than R22 000 extra for a navigation system, the Lexus gives you a full HDD system complete with voice command and traffic data and there's a 12-speaker premium sound system. Let's not forget that the seats are also very cushy.
Spec might be good, but recent price increases have made the Lexus more expensive than its rivals. That and it also lacks its rivals' long list of optional driver assistance systems - presuming that matters to you.
The GS250's interior design imparts a notably high-tech feel - it's more square and proudly-Japanese than curvy and wannabe-European - while the surfaces (including stitched leather on the dash) look and feel like they're at home in a premium sedan.
The interface system works very much like a PC. You have a mushroom-shaped 'mouse' positioned on the centre console, controlling a cursor on the huge screen at the top of the dash. I found it to be surprisingly user-friendly in most respects.
That said, some of its functions can take a bit of getting used to, like setting up another radio station in the FM menu, as I found out after travelling to another province.
While on that story, it's worth mentioning that I subjected the Lexus to some really shoddy rural tar roads en route to a wedding, where the GS became the much-admired replacement bridal car at the last minute. Yet what impressed me the most was how it kept me comfortable on those aforementioned roads.
The suspension dishes out an extremely supple ride quality while the pedantic insulation keeps things eerily quiet inside the cabin. This Lexus is a luxury cocoon seemingly hell-bent on censoring the harshness of our ever-deteriorating roads.
Its road holding is also neat enough and I found the steering to be acceptably communicative.
As alluded to earlier, performance is rather average - it's not quite slow but, the V6 still dishes out more growl than speed. On the upside, the gearbox is pleasant and responsive - it chooses its gears well and changes down quickly when you need extra oomph.
This Lexus is an exceptionally good cruiser. If comfort, luxury and features are at the top of your list of priorities then I suggest you take a very serious look at the Lexus GS 250.
But despite the fact that it looks a lot more interesting than its predecessor, the car's lines still lack emotional lure.
If I was spending half-a-bar on a car, I'd want something that I could stare at in admiration every time I entered my garage and I'd expect performance that's reasonably brisk, even if it meant being dealt the short straw when it came to standard features.
I wouldn't be able to resist the Jaguar XF, in other words.
Lexus GS250 EX (154kW) - R524 700
Audi A6 2.0T (132kW) - R481 500
BMW 520i (135kW) - R486 980
Jaguar XF 2.0 i4 Luxury (177kW) - R499 700
Mercedes-Benz E200 CGI (135kW) - R515 000