Fleet News

Lexus GS

Lexus

Review

BUSINESS travellers of a nervous disposition who are about to board a plane seldom want to hear just how much their safety depends on technology.

In most aircraft there is no physical connection between the pilot and the bits which keep the plane under control, such as the wing flaps and engines – instead it’s all done by computers. This technology is increasingly common in cars and the new Lexus GS is a showcase for just what is possible.

Amid the technology it uses are accelerate-by-wire and brake-by-wire, meaning that when you press the brake pedal, the computer calculates your intentions and carries them out for you.

It is just one of a wealth of devices on the new GS designed to make it safer, more economical, quicker and more agile.

All models are fitted with ABS, electronic brakeforce distribution, brake assist, traction control and vehicle stability control as standard.

Adaptive cruise control, standard on the top-spec GS430 and available as a £2,100 option on the GS300 SE-L, also comes with a pre-crash system which prepares the car for an unavoidable impact by tightening the seatbelts. If the driver is braking too gently, the car will intervene to emergency brake when a collision becomes unavoidable.

The GS430 also gets the all-singing, all-dancing Vehicle Dynamics Integrated Management (VDIM), which combines all the systems in one package and, in addition, can independently control the steering to ensure the vehicle responds correctly to a driver’s wishes in extreme situations.

The speed-sensitive steering, working with all the other hi-tech systems, can ‘take over’ the steering to get the car round a corner. Even the key does everything for you, with a smart entry and exit system to unlock the doors and start the engine at the push of a button while the key stays in your pocket.

The new GS is the third generation of the luxury sports saloon first launched in 1991 and updated in 1997. Lexus is unveiling its future design philosophy with the latest model and the GS carries more on its shoulders than its predicted annual sales of 2,500 in a full year suggest.

This is a first salvo in a plan to relaunch the Lexus brand in Europe, appealing particularly to a group called the ‘informed luxury group’, thought to make up 36% of potential buyers who demand luxury but are open-minded enough not to only want one of the more traditional (for which, read German) brands.

For company car buyers, an open mind will be vital as the GS will not be offered with a diesel. Instead, drivers will have the choice of an all-new petrol 3.0-litre V6 with 249bhp and a six-speed automatic gearbox. An updated version of the firm’s stunning 4.3-litre V8 with 283bhp is also available.

CO2 emissions are 232g/km and 269g/km, putting both in the upper echelons of the company car tax system.

But those with the patience to wait will be rewarded with the GS450h, a hybrid unit with a 3.5-litre petrol engine and electric power plant, which offers 300bhp but with the fuel economy of a 2.0-litre lower-medium saloon. It is due to arrive here in May next year.

The new GS is 5mm lower than the outgoing model, but a lower seating position gives more headroom, while the wheelbase is up by 50mm to offer better rear legroom.

There are four trim levels, with the £30,400 GS300 making the most of its relatively high list price compared to rivals from BMW, Mercedes-Benz and Jaguar to eclipse them on equipment levels. Moving up to the GS300 SE adds £5,500, but additions include heated front seats, leather trim and a DVD satellite navigation system.

The GS300 SE-L, costing £38,000, gets a 14-speaker sound system, boot spoiler and 18-inch wheels, while the £46,755 GS430 has VDIM.

Despite all the technology, Lexus has kept parts prices low, with 20,000-mile service intervals, but with 10,000-mile safety checks. A service should cost £191, beating rivals from Audi, BMW, Jaguar and Mercedes-Benz, according to Lexus’ figures.

Behind the wheel
TECHNOLOGY aside, from the outside the Lexus is an eye-catching car, clearly reflecting the firm’s new design philosophy which will spread to the smaller IS model when it is launched later this year. There is still the familiar look of the old GS, but it is more taut and the front end has flowing lines and eye-catching looks.

Build-quality is excellent, while front and rear space is good for most drivers and passengers. Although the roof feels quite low, it remains an impression rather than a problem, as even taller rear passengers said they felt they had enough room.

The 3.0-litre V6 VVT-i engine is superbly quiet, only offering a muted growl under hard acceleration. The automatic gearbox is ponderous when it comes to changing down on winding roads, but switching into manual over-ride mode ensures you have the gear you want, when you want it.

Changes are seamless going up or down the gearbox and there is plenty of power coming out of corners. Motorway cruising is incredibly relaxed, with the engine turning over at less than 2,000rpm at most legal motorway speeds.

Moving into the GS430 is a surreal experience, just because it is even quieter and smoother than the 3.0-litre model. But demand power and the GS’s 1.6-tonne kerb weight is thrown forward with sports car-like performance.

Whereas the suspension on the 3.0-litre can be rather harsh over rough roads, the adaptable system in the GS430 smooths out the surface of the road if you want, or by pressing the Sport button offers a much firmer ride.

For fleet drivers, the absence of a diesel engine may be a serious issue, particularly with emissions from the 3.0-litre petrol putting the GS in the 33% benefit-in-kind tax bracket, a difficult equation when a rival premium diesel will sit in the mid-20s.

Although official figures are not yet available, there is a suggestion the GS450h will produce 190g/km of CO2 when it arrives in May next year.

Driving verdict
EVEN in basic models, the quality and technology available in the GS is a formidable package. If you are prepared to pay, there is much more available as well, such as incredible refinement and two engines which offer smooth power delivery. But whether drivers are prepared to wait for the hybrid or opt for a rival diesel will be the key question.

Model: GS300 GS430
Engine (cc): 2,995 4,293
Max power (bhp/rpm): 249/6,200 283/5,600
Max torque (lb-ft/rpm): 229/3,500 308/3,500
Max speed (mph): 149 155
0-62mph (secs): 7.2 6.1
Fuel consumption (mpg): 28.8 24.7
CO2 emissions (g/km): 232 269
Fuel tank capacity (l/gal): 71/16 71/16
On sale: Now
Price (OTR): £30,400-£46,755

CO2 emissions and fuel consumption data correct at time of writing. The latest figures are available in the Fleet News fuel cost calculator and the company car tax calculator.

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