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There's a pattern forming here. Two years ago, almost to the day, we extended our sympathies to all...
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It hasn't found the mother lode yet and there are people who believe that Lexus will never produce a serious threat to the stonking BMW M5, but there are signs of change in planning and design at the company.
Typically, the Lexus people have had to wrap their ideas in a philosophy – one they are calling L-Finesse – but the bottom line is simple.
They know they must produce cars which look good, drive well, and go well beyond badge-engineered Toyotas if they are to finally translate the promise of the original Lexus LS400 in 1989 into a successful, aspirational brand in the 21st century.
Lexus showed the new direction at the Tokyo Motor Show two years ago with a pair of great-looking concept cars, then set up stand-alone engineering operations and has now delivered the first showroom contender.
The all-new Lexus GS is much better looking than the bland model which first drove into action against rivals led by the luxury Mercedes E-Class and the BMW 5-Series.
The mechanical package also promises a lot more excitement and involvement for the driver.
It is a four-passenger sporty sedan with a choice of six-cylinder and V8 engines, with the sort of all-round refinement you expect from Lexus.
The six-cylinder is new, a direct-injection 3.0-litre V6 which replaces the previous in-line six.
It is good for 183kW of power and 310Nm of torque.
This is the engine that powers the GS300, which hits showrooms with a ticket price of $95,000.
It comes with plenty of standard gear plus luxuries such as heated leather seats, a rear-mounted camera, adaptive headlights and Blue Tooth phone capability.
A Sports Luxury version of the GS300 adds a beefier sound system, adaptive cruise control, touch-screen satellite navigation and a sunroof for $112,100.
Both these cars come with 10 airbags, stability control and traction control as standard, but miss out on the more advanced stability control system called Vehicle Dynamics Integration Management (VDIM), which can alter the steering in an emergency. That's standard with the GS430.
It is powered by a smooth 4.3-litre V8 that pumps out 208kW and 417Nm.
The GS430 has all the gear of the GS300 Sports Luxury, but adds 18-inch wheels, adjustable suspension, variable-assistance power steering and VDIM.
THE GS430 is almost exactly opposite to the MG ZT we drove last week. The British car was all thump and grumble, promising far more than it delivered and costing far more than it deserved, while the Lexus is so smooth you can easily overlook its real powers.
It can get up and really go, but you have to ask the questions – and then listen really hard for the answer.
Even the grunty V8 engine in the GS430 test car was so quiet that the tachometer had to be twisting beyond 5000 revs before you heard the signature roar from the tailpipes.
Yes, it is really getting along, but nobody knows – not even the passengers – that the GS is a car which can stand up and sprint from the traffic lights.
It's the same with the chassis. It had good grip and a huge safety margin going around most corners, but the driver always feels remote from the action.
You turn the wheel and it does the job, mostly, but the steering is luxury vague and there is no real feedback on the road surface or what the tyres are doing at either end. Lexus says that is good, because the car does all the worrying and it has electronics to avoid any nasty stuff.
But few people will be won over to a GS if they are already driving one of the sportier BMWs or Benzes.
Even the cabin quality, which used to be an easy win for Lexus against any rivals, now comes up short against the latest Audis.
It has all the right gear and is beautifully finished, but it just doesn't have enough personality to communicate anything beyond super-Toyota luxury.
The four seats in the GS are nicely supportive and there is plenty of space inside, with a good boot and nice stuff including bright headlights and sensible wipers.
But we wonder about the rear-view camera on the test car. Some people say they are essential on four-wheel drives, to stop people backing over their children in the driveway. But a gimmick is still a gimmick. And will people actually rely on the camera for reversing and bump-free parking once they have shown it off to their friends?
At the end of our time with the Lexus we still weren't believers.
The GS is quick, sporty and nicely built and priced, but it is not the breakthrough car for a brand which wants to put some taste and colour into its vanilla cars.
Perhaps the compact Lexus IS, coming later in the year, will do the job.
THE latest Lexus looks good and the numbers are great, but it still doesn't add up to a serious sports sedan. Despite all the promises and commitment to the new L-Finesse plan at Lexus headquarters in Japan, the company still has not produced a car which is going to rock the world.
|GS300||3.0L, ULP, 5 SP||$7,100 – 11,000||2005 Lexus GS 2005 GS300 Pricing and Specs|
|GS300 Sport||3.0L, PULP, 6 SP SEQ AUTO||$6,700 – 10,450||2005 Lexus GS 2005 GS300 Sport Pricing and Specs|
|GS430 Sport Luxury||4.3L, PULP, 6 SP SEQ AUTO||$10,000 – 15,070||2005 Lexus GS 2005 GS430 Sport Luxury Pricing and Specs|