Tony O'Kane | Apr 6, 2012 | 21 Comments

2012 LEXUS GS REVIEW

Vehicle Segment: Large Luxury Sedan

Tested Power/Torque 0-100km/h Fuel Use (claimed)
GS 250 154kW/253Nm 8.6s 9.3l/100km
GS 350 233kW/378Nm 6.0s 9.7 l/100km
 

OVERVIEW

It’s got self-healing paint, an airconditioning system that moisturises your skin and an infotainment screen that’s the biggest ever-fitted to a production car.

It’s the new Lexus GS, and not only is it incredibly comfortable, beautifully trimmed, and packed with technology, it’s also a very, very good drive.

Lexus expects big things from the new GS range. It hopes to move market share in the premium category from an underperforming 2.4 percent, to 10 percent.

To help accomplish this, Lexus has introduced a smaller-engined entry to the GS family. The range now starts with the $77,900 GS 250 Luxury - it sits at nearly $20,000 less than the entry point to the previous (2011) GS range, the GS 300 Sports.

That lines it up with the identically-priced Audi A6 2.0 TFSI and BMW 520i; however the GS 250 Luxury comes with a considerably more-extensive standard equipment list.

The value equation, feature for feature, is even more compelling with the more powerful GS 350 range. At $89,900, the GS 350 Luxury is pitted against the $115,600 BMW 335i and the $132,635 Mercedes-Benz E350.

Even the GS flagship, the amazingly gadget-laden GS 350 Sports Luxury, at $109,900 undercuts both of its German rivals while offering a more generous (and luxurious) specification.

But as we found out, the GS range isn’t just about its value-for-money offering: it’s also a properly enjoyable car to drive, particularly the athletic GS 350 F Sport.

 

Interior

Interior design, function and space are all markedly improved.

While the previous-gen GS was often criticised for its slabby, sterile interior, the design of the new GS cabin is fresh, intelligently laid out and sumptuously appointed with double-stitched leather and high-quality materials throughout.

The new GS is a showcase for Lexus’ new direction in interior design. Nearly every switch and button is brand-new.

The high-grade Sports Luxury is most impressive, with a huge 12.3-inch LCD infotainment screen recessed into the upper dashboard, heated and ventilated 20-way adjustable front seats and heated rear outer seats.

The design might lack the cohesiveness of a BMW 5 Series or the flair of an Audi A6, but it equals (even surpasses) both for quality-feel.

Active cruise control, blind-spot monitoring and a driver-fatigue sensor are also part of the Sports Luxury spec sheet, with a full complement of ten airbags for passenger protection. A simplified head-up display is also now available.

And if the rigours of hours at the wheel in a cosseting interior is too much for your skin, the Sport Luxury’s ‘Nanoe’ air conditioning system moisturises the cabin air to reduce the drying effect of climate control on skin and hair.

There is also more stretching room thanks to the revised proportions of the GS’ all-new chassis. Front headroom is now 30mm greater, there’s 25mm more rear headroom and rear legroom has grown by 20mm.

Boot space is also 23 percent larger at 530 litres (although the rear backrests still don’t fold down).

 

On The Road

The marshmallow-soft dynamics of the previous-gen GS have been banished to history, replaced by a chassis that approaches the likes of BMW for feel and connectedness.

Engine options are also new. For 2012, the GS range is powered by the 2.5 litre and 3.5 litre naturally-aspirated V6s from the IS range, but with hefty intake and exhaust changes.

Power for the direct-injected 2.5 litre V6 peaks at 154kW, and peak torque of 253Nm arrives at 4800rpm.

The dual (direct and port) injected 3.5 litre V6 produces a more substantial 233kW and 378Nm - the same as the IS 350. And, unusually for a Lexus, both engines sound fantastic.

2012 lexus gs australia 03 gs 350 f sport 02

Revisions to the inlet tract and exhaust piping induce a gutteral, throbby note that sounds far more sporting than the IS 250 and IS 350, particularly when given a hefty dose of throttle.

At cruise, it’s as quiet and refined as you’d expect a Lexus to be, and although the six-speed transmissions mated to either engine are mechanically similar to the IS, lower gear ratios improve responsiveness.

Software changes to the shift programming also mean manually-activated downshifts are crisp and - in Sport mode - executed with a precisely-matched throttle blip.

The GS 250 however felt a tad underpowered on the launch’s hilly alpine drive route. It needs more than 4800rpm to feel lively, below that it can feel sluggish under load.

The GS 350 variants are a lot more athletic.

Being naturally aspirated, the 3.5 litre V6 still needs more than 4000rpm on the dial to perform at its best, but there’s a strong surge of torque in the upper reaches of the rev range that doesn’t tail off until just before the 6500rpm redline.

There’s no longer a V8 in the GS family; the strong performance of the GS 350 and the extra muscle of the incoming GS 450h hybrid have bumped the V8 aside.

An all-new chassis and suspension sits beneath the 2012 GS, and it delivered impressive performance on the sinuous mountain roads around Falls Creek.

Around tight corners there’s little body roll, and the electric power steering feels less artificial than other electrically-assisted racks of our recent experience.

The F Sport and Sports Luxury grades also come equipped with adjustable dampers, which firm up slightly when the car is put in Sport + mode. The difference is subtle, but it does make a difference to roadholding.

2012 lexus gs australia 01 gs 250 02

The GS 350 F Sport has an extra dynamic ace up its sleeve in the form of active four-wheel steering.

At speeds under 80km/h the rear wheels move in opposite phase to the front wheels to tighten the turning circle, while at faster speeds they move in the same direction to quicken lane changes.

Around a slalom course, we found the GS 350 F Sport showed a nimbleness at odds with its size and weight. The big GS can be thrown into a corner with absolute and surprising confidence.

We’ll need to put them side by side, but first impressions would suggest it can take the game up to BMW’s 535i, although is perhaps not as engaging at the wheel.

 

First Drive Verdict

Lexus has transformed the GS from an anonymous-looking large sedan into an eye-catching and surprisingly nimble luxury car.

Quality, space and refinement have all been improved - and the gadget count, important at the premium end of the spectrum, has also grown substantially.

In the GS 350 F Sport, there’s a sports sedan that’s not too far off the pace set by its BMW rival. Our time at the wheel of the GS 250 Luxury also impressed. While its weight and size taxes its 2.5 litres, its spec sheet eclipses its similarly-priced German competitors.

The new GS range is also the opening salvo in Lexus’ new design direction. If future Lexus models are as polished, well-rounded and capable as the premium GS, then we can expect great things from the Japanese automaker.

 

Pricing

GS 250

  • Luxury - $77,900
  • F Sport - $85,900
  • Sport Luxury - $99,900

GS 350

  • Luxury - $89,900
  • F Sport - $99,900
  • Sport Luxury - $109,900

GS 450h - Available from May 2012

  • Luxury - $99,900
  • F Sport - $111,900
  • Sport Luxury - $121,900

Note: all prices are Manufacturer’s List Price (unless otherwise noted) and do not include dealer delivery or on-road costs.

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