Ryan Bubear samples the new turbocharged engine in the Lexus GS 200t EX...
Turbocharging. It's taken Toyota — and, by extension, its luxury arm Lexus — quite some time to come to the forced induction party.
But the Japanese brand's new 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol mill is steadily rolling out across the local range, first appearing in the NX 200t compact crossover, then the IS 200t compact sedan, and more recently the RC 200t coupe.
Now the 27-year-old premium brand has added this blown 1998cc four-pot to its GS rear-wheel drive saloon line-up, performing a mid-cycle refresh at the same time. Interestingly, the local range has been whittled down to just two models, with the GS 350 EX and previously range-topping GS 450h SE falling away (the GS 250 EX having been axed well before that).
What remains is the by-default flagship GS 350 F-Sport and the newly introduced GS 200t EX, the latter forming the subject of this very review. So, does this new powerplant finally provide the somewhat underappreciated Lexus GS with the tools to tackle the lower models in the BMW 5 Series, Audi A6, and Mercedes-Benz E-Class ranges?
Well, with peak outputs of 180kW and 350Nm (the latter available between 1650rpm and 4000rpm), the Lexus GS 200t matches the BMW 528i exactly, and easily outguns the outgoing Mercedes-Benz E250. The Audi A6 2.0T quattro, meanwhile, boasts a fair bit more oomph and, of course, the advantage of all-wheel drive.
Tellingly, despite their respective 2.0-litre mills making precisely the same power and torque, the BMW 528i is a full second quicker to 100km/h than the Lexus GS 200t, which requires 7.3 seconds to complete the obligatory dash. And that points to the fact that this GS variant is more a wafter than a sprinter, placing emphasis on comfort over outright acceleration.
Indeed, the engine is whisper-quiet when throttle inputs are judicious, which makes it surprisingly easy to creep up to illegal speeds without realising it. Mash the loud pedal, though, and the soundtrack that makes it through the swathes of soundproofing is predictably tame. For the record, Lexus claims a combined fuel consumption of 8.0 litres per 100km, and we managed a fairly respectably 9.1.
The eight-speed automatic transmission, though, can be a little indecisive, seemingly unsure about which of its final few cogs should be engaged when the throttle is depressed even slightly at the lowest of cruising speeds. Still, calling up "Sport" mode via the rotary dial behind the gear-lever lends the gearbox a far less hesitant demeanour.
But perhaps purposeful is not what the GS driver craves. You see, despite the fact that it's a rear-drive saloon, the suspension setup — in combination with the refined engine, relaxed transmission, and light steering — doesn't compel the driver to chuck it around. Instead, it serves up a composed, comfortable ride that makes the 4880mm-long saloon exceedingly difficult to fluster.
The updated styling, though, is certainly purposeful. The GS sedan's new face — comprising bi-LED headlights and the latest interpretation of the brand's trademark spindle grille, framed by satin-chrome-effect trim — is somewhat more menacing than before. And around back, the tail-lights and rear bumper have been subtly revised, too.
There's yet more change inside the super-spacious cabin, where the dashboard has been reshaped, the air-vents redesigned, and a posh new analogue clock added. Well-weighted milled aluminium knobs and a healthy splash of metal-effect trim are also new, while the design of the seat upholstery — in a shade of ivory in our test vehicle — has been tweaked.
The 12.3-inch infotainment screen in the centre of the dash gains full-screen map capability, while the mouse-like Remote Touch Interface controller is now fitted with a pair of side-mounted enter buttons. Despite these changes, the controller is still rather frustrating to use, particularly when on the move, where delicate operations prove difficult. The rotary-style controllers in the German brands are ultimately far more intuitive.
But, as has become tradition for the Japanese luxury brand, the Lexus GS 200t EX has the measure of its Teutonic rivals in the standard features department, despite the fact that its price-tag is smaller than those of all three. It's absolutely packed with premium kit, plenty of which is found on the costly options lists of its rivals.
Interestingly, after the latest round of price increases, the GS 200t is some R93 600 cheaper than the GS 350 F-Sport, which boasts an angrier old-school 3.5-litre naturally aspirated V6, a far more impressive sprint time, a nifty adaptive suspension system, variable ratio four-wheel steering, and a smattering of styling and equipment enhancements.
Is the price difference between the pair significant enough to warrant the performance gulf? Well, despite looking very much the same from the outside, these two GS derivatives actually appeal to two very different types of buyers.
That means the long-awaited action of strapping a turbocharger to what is a remarkably refined four-cylinder mill serves to broaden the facelifted Lexus GS sedan's admittedly already narrow audience.
And — even though it remains a distinctly left-field, vastly underappreciated choice in our market — this finally provides the mid-size sedan with the chance to pinch even a small handful of sales from the Germans.
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See page two for specs and pricing.