The major styling change to the third generation Lexus GS (that landed locally in 2012) is limited to new front lights. But behind them lies something more important – a 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine to replace the ageing (but sweet) 2.5-litre naturally aspirated V6.
For around the same price as the GS250 it replaces, the new entry-level GS200t also scores extra standard safety technology – including blind-spot monitor, lane-keep assist, pre-collision warning and auto-braking.
Vehicle Style: Large sedan
Price: $75,000 (plus on-roads)
Engine/trans: 180kW/350Nm 2.0 4cyl turbo | 8sp automatic
Fuel Economy claimed: 8.0 l/100km | tested: 8.9 l/100km
Lexus admits that large sedans are a tough sell. While sales are up 28.8 percent this year for the Lexus brand (to October 2015), it’s the NX medium SUV that can claim all of the credit, adding 2500 units to become the brand’s best seller.
Meanwhile GS sales have halved, trickling to 115 units over the same period.
Enter the new GS200t Luxury at $75,000 plus on-road costs, a $2890 rise over the GS250 it replaces. The GS200t F Sport version is $83,000, and the surcharge for the GS300h is $3000 for either grade.
It’s then a decent jump to the $94,000 GS350 F Sport and $105,500 GS350 Sports Luxury, and a leap again to the $106,000 GS450h F Sport and $117,500 GS450h Sports Luxury.
- Standard equipment: Active cruise control, power windows and mirrors, multi-function trip computer, keyless auto-entry, dual-zone climate control air conditioning, leather trim with electrically adjustable and heated/ventilated front seats, electrically adjustable steering column, automatic on/off headlights and wipers, automatic dimming rear-view mirror
- Infotainment: 8.0-inch colour screen with USB/AUX inputs, Bluetooth phone and audio streaming, digital radio tuner, satellite navigation and 10 speakers
- Cargo volume: 520 litres
Lexus always presents a compelling ‘kit-for-the-cash’ proposition compared with its German rivals, and the GS200t is no exception.
Not only is the GS200t Luxury $5400 cheaper than a 520i or E200, but it includes items such as heated/ventilated front seats, active cruise control and lane-keep assist that BMW and Benz lists as options.
Beyond the long, long equipment list, however, the GS200t doesn’t quite feel the full ‘premium package’ inside, especially compared with the 5 Series. The cabin is beautifully finished as you’d expect, however bland plastics and tones dominate.
GS 200t F-Sport shown
GS 200t F-Sport shown
The standard 8.0-inch screen looks too small, the hole it resides in being clearly designed for a larger one. And so the specification sheet proves, as a BMW-beating 12.3-inch display is optional but only on the GS200t F Sport, and only as part of a $4500 package bundled with 17-speaker Mark Levinson audio and head-up display.
That means forking out a minimum $87,500 just to get the good screen.
Spending $90K on a GS250t F Sport may still represent value against the GS’s very pricey premium competition, but even an $80K 520i scores a bright 10.25-inch colour screen with benchmark iDrive graphics and ergonomics.
And not for any price can a GS buyer improve the Lexus ‘haptic touch’ infotainment interface that requires your finger to glide over a mousepad-like surface to access first a cursor, then the functions. It is especially annoying and lacking in ‘intuitiveness’ when driving over a bumpy road.
The GS is roomy but not expansive, and the seats comfortable, however not entirely plush. We mention this particularly because the benchmark 5 Series offers a 7 Series level of comfort inside, where the GS doesn’t mimic its LS limousine range bigger brother.
At least the 520-litre boot is a volume-match for the BMW.
ON THE ROAD
- Engine: 180kW/350Nm 2.0 litre four-cylinder turbo petrol
- Transmission: Eight speed automatic, rear wheel drive
- Suspension: Independent front and rear
- Brakes: Ventilated front and rear discs
- Steering: Electrically assisted mechanical steering, turning circle: 10.6m
- Towing capacity: 1600kg (braked)
The Lexus 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder is a smooth unit, which suits the grand touring nature of a large sedan.
In the GS, it remains quiet and distant everywhere while feeling (mostly) punchy and effortless.
There is some lag off the line, possibly a consequence of the 1665kg kerb weight. Once ticking towards 2000rpm – peak 350Nm comes online between 1650rpm and 4400rpm – the engine winds out nicely to provide 180kW at 5500rpm.
That’s 38 percent more torque and 17 percent more power than the old 2.5-litre V6.
The turbo’s soft 6200rpm cut-out doesn’t help the eight-speed automatic, which already isn’t a sporting transmission – it refuses downchanges and beeps at you in manual mode. Those traits are less relevant in the GS than the sporty RC coupe, though, and otherwise the auto shifts fluently.
We tested the GS200t Luxury that misses the adaptive suspension standard on the GS200t F Sport. The base car also gets smaller 18-inch alloy wheels, rather than 19s, which should aid ride quality.
However the GS200t Luxury is not quite the plush saloon on road that buyers might expect from a big Lexus sedan. At speed it nibbles at the road, even over ostensibly smooth surfaces.
Over larger impacts it is better, firm yet compliant, and, on all surfaces, it never gives the impression of being overly hard.
Greater emphasis seems to have been placed on agility and minimisation of bodyroll.
The GS sits flat on the road, sticks well and changes direction eagerly. The chassis however lacks the pin-sharp front-end and rewarding adjustability of a 5 Series, simply understeering when maximum tyre grip is reached.
It may as well be front-wheel driven (which is better for efficiency) since the stability control jumps in early should you try to adjust this rear-driver’s line on the throttle, as you would in that German rival.
And, unlike that rival, the GS is safe and solid, rather than delicate and inspiring.
ANCAP rating: The Lexus GS has yet to be tested by ANCAP
Safety features: Six airbags including dual-front, front-side and full-length curtain, ABS, ESC, blind-spot monitor, lane-keep assistance, pre-collision warning, pre-collision auto-braking, front and rear parking sensors, reverse-view camera with rear traffic alert
RIVALS TO CONSIDER
Choose an A6 for its slick efficiency, a 5 Series for its driver focus and superb cabin, and an E-Class for its benchmark ride quality and refinement. The XF is an absolute bargain at the moment, as a new-gen model draws near.
- Audi A6
- BMW 5 Series
- Jaguar XF
- Mercedes-Benz E-Class
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
A smooth, torquey turbo four-cylinder engine goes hand-in-glove with the Lexus GS package. The GS200t is certainly a better car than the creamy but slow GS250 it replaces.
No question, the GS feels its age in terms of cabin design, and the better screen is a pricey option though the equipment list and safety technology remains alluring.
With a plusher cabin to meet with plusher suspension – or alternatively a more sporting chassis – the GS could be a real star.
For now, the large Lexus remains a competent luxury car; what it lacks in dynamics it compensates with astonishing build quality and saloon-car presence.
But that may not be enough to help boost its sales.