Lexus has always been a leading stalker of the dominant German three-brand gang but now that it has unwrapped its new GS range its status has moved from amber threat to red attack alert because for the very first time Lexus has the weapons to take on the enemy on all fronts - and to outclass and beat them.
Not surprisingly the 350 will sprint from 0 to 100km/h in 6.3 seconds.
The four new potent guns in the Lexus arsenal is its new GS 250 EX, GS 350 EX , the GS 450h F-Sport and the GS 450h SE. The 350 EX and the 450 F-Sport, in particular, have added some serious Tiger of Sweden kit to the GS's already well-stocked Carducci wardrobe. All the polished Lexus executive elegance is still there but under all the fine kit there is an abundance of newfound muscle, dynamics and driving pleasure.
Even the latest styling is mean and muscular, particularly the new front with its spindle grille, gaping air intakes, chin-out bumper, deep-set headlamps and L-shaped LED daytime running lights makes the GS cars look a lot more aggro.
Space, comfort and driven
The luxuriously fitted cabin is more spacious and even more comfortable than before, but where it really excels is from a driver's perspective. The GS has moved from cosy, classy, quiet cruiser to a much-more driver orientated car. The handling has been sharpened, the steering feels more direct and it clings with renewed vigour through the corners, all to the delightful music of its gutsy, responsive engines.
The 350, in particular sounds almost V8 when its 233kW/378Nm V6 goes into full gallop.
At the Media launch Lexus hauled out the GS 350 and the GS 450h F-Sport, handed over the keys and said: "Have fun, we will see you at Robertson for lunch..."
On the trip from the Babyloren Estate to the Robertson Small Hotel I was at the helm of the GS350 over the scenic Franschhoek Pass via Villiersdorp and on to the R62 which took me to the luncheon venue and it quickly became abundantly clear that this was not just yet another Lexus.
The 350's living quarters, still very comfortable, but more emphasis on the driving experience.
Hit the accelerator and its like turning on surround sound as the deep-throated growl from up turns into mild thunder rippling from the exhaust. In fact, it sounded so cool that I rolled down the windows and turned off the radio to enjoy the exhaust symphony bouncing off the mountainside.
Not surprisingly the 350 will sprint from 0 to 100km/h in 6.3 seconds. It comes standard with six-speed auto transmission and flappies on the steering-wheel add to the car's sporty appeal.
The add more cling and fun to slicing through the twisties the GS platform was given a more rigid design, its track widened by 40mm up front and 50mm at the rear, the suspension components were tweaked and the front and rear aluminium control arms are now lighter. This reduces weight and adds more agility, better body control and steering precision. The fact that the car also runs on 18-inch alloy wheels wrapped in 235/45 low-profile rubber also adds to the fun.
The suspension has been stiffened and although the car's handling has improved considerably and the ride is firmer it is not as thumping hard as others in this class. The new Lexus was also dynamically chiselled so that air inlets serve as cooling ducts, the front bumper design cuts down airflow, the rear bumper has a built-in diffuser and aero fins control the under-body airflow.
The 350's a fun drive.
The new GS has so many outstanding features that it's almost impossible to list them all but you can tick off things such as 10 airbags, whiplash injury lessening front seats, ABS, BAS, EBD, EPS, VSC and TRC (ask the dealer to explain!), a boot big enough for four golf bags, a new energy-saving auto climate control system, a Remote Touch 12.3-inch Electro Multi Vision (EMV) display screen, which provides the smooth operation of climate, audio and phone controls as well as use of the navigation system, and a reversing camera.
Take a deep breath and read on because it also has HID (High Intensity Discharge) auto headlights with auto levelling and washers, front fog lights, retractable and heated side mirrors, seat heating and ventilation for driver and passenger seats 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, EMV display with HDD navigation with traffic data and voice command, park distance control, dual-zone automatic air conditioning with pollen filter, Bluetooth with voice command, cruise control and an electro-chromatic rear view mirror.
Get in the mode
Like many expensive cars these days the Lexus GS also offers different drive modes, Eco, Normal and Sport ( and on the F-Sport, also Sport + which activates the adaptive variable suspension (AVS) and sharpens up the engine, gearbox and suspension settings).
The 450h's lines have been chiselled. The GS 450h F-Sport has a similar V6 petrol engine as the GS 350 but it’s tuned to deliver 345Nm of torque and 213kW.
On the way back from Robertson I had ample opportunity to try out the 450 Sport + setting on the hybrid F-Sport and although it didn't feel as though the car was much faster and much more responsive than in Sport mode, the suspension and steering felt tauter and the grip became even better. Considering that this is a large vehicle its handling was really impressive and right up there with the likes of Mercedes-Benz, Jaguar and Audi.
The hybrid drive was particularly interesting because just a few days earlier I had driven the new BMW hybrid and honestly, there is not much to choose between these two, which says a lot about the Japanese brand.
The Lexus feels as luxurious as the BMW, it matches it for looks and its standard equipment levels are on par and perhaps even better than the blue propeller brand. Note, I said standard, because BMW (like Audi and Mercedes-Benz) is renowned for numerous expensive optional add-ons whereas the Lexus kit all come standard in the purchase price... which spells huge differences in price when comparing cars by components and fittings.
The 450h instrument panel; clear and easy-to-read.
The GS 450h F-Sport has a similar V6 petrol engine as the GS 350 but it's tuned to deliver 345Nm of torque and 213kW. The engine is complemented by an electric motor and high voltage battery which boost output to 252kW. The electric motor also adds a further 275Nm to give the big GS massive muscle.
The drive-train is linked to an E-CVT continuously variable gearbox and it also has a special sport suspension with firmer springs, an adaptive variable damping system and thicker anti-roll bars. It also comes with a variable gear ratio steering system, bushing changes and larger front brakes with high-friction brake pads. The model also has an electronically controlled braking system which has been modified to provide quicker responsiveness from the first touch of the pedal.
It's all in the brochure
The big Lexus gallops on a 235/40 R19 tyre and rim combination at the front and 265/35 R19s at the rear and comes with a standard equipment list (over and above all the kit the others models already have) that is just simply too long to go into detail here so go down to your nearest Lexus dealer and pick up a brochure.
Ready to roll with the best.
On the fuel and emissions front, Lexus claims the following under test conditions: GS 250: 8.9 litres/100 and 215g/km; GS 350: 9.4 litres/100km and 223g/km; GS 450h: 6.2 litres/100km and 139g/km and 450h F-port: 6.2 litres/100km and 139g/km.
The latest GS models are exciting, great lookers, fun to drive, kind to the environment and good value for money and anybody who is in the market for a luxury sedan would be wise not to ignore the value this brand brings to the party.
Lexus dealers have a good reputation for service excellence and all models in the GS range are covered by a four-year/100 000km warranty. (EX models are fitted with a Distance Plan Plus and the F-Sport and SE models have Distance Plan Complete).
Models and prices:
GS 250 EX R494 400 GS 350 EX R564 900 GS 450h F-Sport R753 700 GS 450h SE R771 700
Bizcommunity.com motoring editor Henrie Geyser () has worked as a journalist in Cape Town, London and Windhoek for the Argus Company (now Independent Newspapers) and spent 12 years at The Cape Argus in Cape Town. He then owned and ran a public relations consultancy for 13 years. He joined the online publishing industry through iafrica.com, where he worked for five years as news editor and editor. He now freelances for a variety of print and online publications, on the subjects of cars, food and travel, among others; and is a member of the South African Guild of Motoring Journalists.
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