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Lexus’ 5 Series-fighter arrives

2012-05-30 12:43

THE PURSUIT OF HYBRID PERFECTION The new GS range combines performance, quality and looks in one refined sedan package. Will it be enough to take on its German rivals?

 
Ask car enthusiasts to name a premium vehicle brand that isn’t from Germany and most would probably name Jaguar or Volvo before coming up with Lexus. The luxury division of Toyota has been around since the 1980's and had its re-launch in South Africa back in 2006.

The brand has really stepped up in the past five years with excellent products such as the IS-F, LFA and IS350. The brand also introduced us to the performance hybrid niche with its CT200h F-Sport, which received a lukewarm reception.

Four generations of GS have been produced since 1993 and for 2012 the brand has adopted a new design ethos focused on its hybrid technology with the introduction of its GS range made up of four models – the entry-level 250 SE, 350 EX, 450h F-Sport and SE. The new models'  improvements include a wider stance, an all-new multilink suspension and a striking design.

BLOATED BANISHED


The GS is completely redesigned and is a huge leap compared to the outgoing model. The vehicle represents the brand’s new design philosophy and overall it’s a striking vehicle with an assertive road presence. Design cues are derived from the LF-Gh concept and LFA and the GS sports the new face of Lexus with its spindle grille with trapezoidal contours.

At the front the “pinched face” replaces the chunky, bloated shape of its predecessor and the F-sport models have the brand’s new grille design while the 250 and 350 have horizontal slats. The rear is much sportier than the previous model. The F-Sport package on the 450h has special badging on the sides and rear, a new bumper, 19" rims and a spoiler.

The package also adds tweaked steering and acceleration and stiffens up the suspension. The upcoming GS250 is identical to the 350, the only distinguishing feature being the engine.

The 250, 350 and 450h SE have 18" alloy rims and ride on 235/45 tyres. The 450h F-Sport has  19" alloys and 235/40 tyres at the front and 265/35 at the rear. F-Sport models are fitted with 356x30mm ventilated front disc brakes.

HYBRID 450h

I was a little dubious getting behind the wheel of the 450h F-Sport having previously experienced the CT200h F-Sport. The hybrid hatchback, despite its shortcomings, was indicative of things to come from the brand, which given time (I hoped) would improve. I’m pleased say I wasn’t disappointed.

Hybrids have this way of drawing groans from petrol heads while giving smug environmentalists more ammunition for their green-friendly arsenal. With the GS450h, the Japanese automaker sought to combine luxury and performance in an eco-friendly sedan package. The hybrid F-Sport has four drive  modes as opposed to three in the 250 and 350 – eco, normal, sport and sport+. In eco the vehicle will try to conserve fuel by allowing the driver to remain in Electric Vehicle (EV) mode up to 40km/h, though this also depends on acceleration, as well as limit power and throttle ratios.

The green-friendly mode is denoted by sedate blue back-lighting on the fascia as well as a superb graphic to the right of the massive multimedia unit. Switching to sport mode activates the F-Sport technology signified by angry red back-lighting and similarly aggressive red graphics.

The hybrid sports the same V6 engine as the 350 though it’s tuned to deliver 213kW at 6000rpm and 345Nm at 4600rpm. The petrol engine is complimented by a electric motor and battery which boosts total output to 252kW and adds 275Nm. The drive train is coupled to an E-CVT gearbox and fuel consumption is rated at 6.2 litres/100 km.

The hybrid delivers a pleasurable drive with plenty of power on tap when switched into either Sport mode. Power delivery is immediate but the grunt of the engine is short-lived and is quickly replaced by the whine of the CVT being a little sluggish in shifting. This can be mitigated by the paddle shifts and I found myself sticking to the auto while in eco or normal mode and shifting “manually” when in Sport.

The F-Sport enhances steering and suspension characteristics of the hybrid with improved power delivery and handling.

The GS’s new platform is more rigid and the wider track (40mm front, 50 mm rear) works in combination with a revised suspension to deliver a refined and road-hugging ride.

PETROL POWER


The GS350 borrows the V6 powerplant from the IS350 and is capable of 233kW at 6400 rpm  and 378Nm at 4800rpm. The engine is mated to a six speed auto and fuel consumption is 9.4-litres/100 km.

The V6 is incredibly responsive and gives of a pleasing snarl when you put your foot down. Gear changes are slick though drivers who want to push the GS to its limit will agree that the transmission is inneed of an extra gear or two found in many of its rivals. The 350 gives drivers and engaging experience behind the wheel and the vehicle becomes a lot more “chuckable” when put into sport mode. 

Both the hybrid and petrol versions have a lot of personality and very different in the driving mentalaties needed behind the wheel as well as the customer each variant will attract.

INSIDE

The redesigned interior gains the Lexus Remote Touch mouse controller system in place of the previous touchscreen, linked to a split-view 31cm wdescreen multimedia display, truly large in comparison to rivals and, according to Lexus, the largest standard screen of any production car.

The unit provides immediate, simultaneous access to various systems and greets you with a customisable image. The GS has the quality and luxury trim we’ve come to expect from the brand, with intuitive design and refinement throughout the cabin. The  PC mouse-esque controller, used in the CT200h and RX450h, is intuitive as the cursor is “drawn” towards buttons. I’m glad they got rid of the “Windows 3.1 era” cursor but the absence of a "back" button is frustrating especially when using the satnav.

The aluminum analogue clock is a great touch of class in an already quality interior. The interior is an absolute pleasure to be in and critics of the brand will be hard-pressed to fault the GS cabin once they’ve actually sat behind the wheel.

COMING SOON

The base model GS250 is powered by a 2.5 V6 petrol engine capable of 154kW at 6400rpm and 253Nm at 4800rpm. The engine is combined with a six-speed auto and fuel consumption is rated at 8.9 litres/100 km. The GS250 will be launched in July 2012.

OVERALL

Breaking perceptions will prove much harder than taking on its rivals in SA. In terms of competition, the GS faces off against the likes of Mercedes-Benz E-Class, Audi A6 and BMW 5 Series Active hybrid. Another rival to consider is the Jaguar XF.

In short the E-Class looks dated, the A6 too predictable and while the 5 Series is excellent, the GS trumps it in terms of inclusive kit. Many of the items offered by the majority of its Bavarian counterparts are available as optional extras whereas Lexus offers a “complete” product.

Many automakers have jumped on the luxury performance hybrid bandwagon of late, among them BMW, Porsche and (shockingly) Ferrari. Lexus arguably set the trend and once performance luxury hybrids begin flooding the market it can unreservedly state: “We told you so.”

It’s easy to be impressed by the GS but I have this fear that it still doesn’t have what it takes to be a big player in the luxury sport sedan segment with its German rivals hogging the limelight for the past 20 years. My gripe with the brand has always been its timid vehicle designs and seemingly security barcode-inspired naming convention. The brand does, however, seem to be headed in the right direction with its exciting products of late and those that are still to come. 

Lexus set itself the goal of combining luxury and performance and the new GS range ticks all the right boxes.

LEXUS GS RANGE PRICES
GS 250 EX - R494 400
GS 350 EX - R564 900
GS 450h F-Sport - R753 700
GS 450h SE - R771 700

All GS models are covered by a four-year or 100 000km warranty. EX models carry the brand’s 'Distance Plan Plus' while the F-Sport and SE models are covered by 'Distance Plan Complete'.

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