Ryan Bubear gets to grips with the brand new Lexus GS 350...
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Sometimes, life gets in the way. Yes, dear reader, the universe attempted to conspire to stop me from fully experiencing the brand new Lexus GS 350. Eventually, though, I won. And what a sweet victory it was.
It may sound a little dramatic proclaiming that I defeated the universe by simply driving a car. Quite fast. On a deserted and devilishly twisty road. But the obstacles that prevented me from putting my foot down in the days leading up to that glorious moment were numerous and frustrating. And, as it turns out, the GS 350 is more than just "a car".
When the keys to the GS 350 landed on my desk, I was eager to clear the throat of the 3.5-litre V6 at the earliest possible opportunity. Turns out, that was far, far later than I had hoped. First, the heavens opened. For days. This, of course, meant constant mind-numbing traffic and rather wet roads. All the while I was forced to creep along at exasperatingly leisurely speeds.
Next, I was greeted by a flat tyre. After slapping on the space saver, I was forced to continue the daily dawdle since the temporary rubber was rated at a maximum speed of 80km/h. After eventually having the tyre repaired, more and more hurdles appeared: a local community protest saw me trapped in a ridiculous gridlock on what effectively became a closed road, a not-so-crafty detour ended up making matters far worse, and that pesky tyre inflation warning light re-appeared...
Finally, the wait was over
Then, early one Saturday morning, it all came together. I was finally able to make full use of the 233kW and 378Nm on tap. And worth the wait it most certainly was.
The new GS range is made up of four models: the 250 EX, the 350 EX, the 450h F-Sport, and if you're feeling particularly flush, the 450h SE. Featuring LED DRLs and that distinctive chrome-edged spindle grille first seen on the CT200h, the new GS is a far more visually attractive proposition than its predecessor, particularly from the front. Things aren't quite as exciting from the rear, but the built-in diffuser, LED tail-lights and chrome-ringed twin exit exhausts do just enough to hint at what lies beneath...
The GS 350 shares its 2GR-FSE V6 petrol powerplant with the IS 350. The engine is mated to a six-speed sequential-shift automatic gearbox with paddle shifters, and in the heavier GS, it sees the zero to 100km/h sprint accomplished in 6.3 seconds. And what a glorious sound it makes in the process. Give the loud pedal an enthusiastic prod — in Normal, Sport or even Eco mode — and the V6 will make your ears tingle and your heart sing.
This, as you can imagine, is an addictive sound, and makes matching the claimed combined fuel consumption figure of 9.4 litres per 100km nothing short of impossible. Well, unless you have the willpower of a superhuman monk. Or you're deaf. And since we're neither of those things, we ended the test period on an, ahem, "respectable" figure of 14.4, and with virtually nothing left in the 66-litre tank.
The auto 'box does a fine job in Eco and Normal modes, shifting up through the gears quickly and slicking and allowing the GS 350 to settle into a comfortable cruise. However, select Sport mode (which is accompanied by an ominous graphic on the screen and a splash of red lighting), and the 'box will hold each gear to redline and propel the 4.85m-long vehicle forward at an almost obscene pace. Along with that gorgeous sound.
GS... now more engaging
Lexus had aimed to make the latest GS more "driver-focused" and a more engaging experience. They increased the car's rigidity. They widened its track. They revised and lightened its suspension. They succeeded. Flying up and down a sea-side mountain pass, with everything from hairpins and pseudo-chicanes to long, uphill straights, the GS 350 shone. Brightly. The handling is superb for a car of its size, and the steering has just enough weight and feel to keep you interested. And, surprisingly, despite rather stiff suspension, the ride was not at all harsh.
Inside, it's all about space and comfort. The heated and ventilated front seats are ten-way adjustable, and the position of the multifunctional steering wheel can be varied thanks to an electric tilt and telescopic function. Get into the car and put your seatbelt on, and the driver's seat and wheel return to their previous positions. At the end of your journey when you remove your seatbelt, the wheel automatically draws back and the seat slides rearwards, affording you maximum space to exit. Which is terrific, unless a tall passenger who values his/her kneecaps is seated directly behind you...
The boot now holds 530 litres, and there's more room for passengers too. All of this despite the fact that the exterior dimensions are pretty much unchanged from the previous incarnation.
An LED-adorned analogue clock carved from a single lump of aluminium — which lights up when the vehicle is unlocked — sits in the centre of the dash. Below it, the 12-speaker sound system hub and dual-zone automatic air con reside. Above it lives the cabin's party piece: what is said to be the world's first 12.3-inch Electro Multi Vision display screen, which includes navigation and a reversing camera. This is controlled through the rather sensitive second-generation Remote Touch Interface, which while a better effort than the first, still takes plenty of getting used to.
Lexus as a manufacturer has a number of strengths. Chief among them is the fact that so much kit comes standard with their vehicles. Whereas the E-Class, 5-Series or A6 buyer would be forced to consult an expensive options list the length of the average boardroom table, the GS consumer gets all sorts as standard. Automatic lights, automatic wipers, leather, PDC, Bluetooth, cruise control, all the tasty morsels mentioned above, and plenty more, are all part of the package.
During my speed-restricted travels, the GS performed admirably, showing off its ability as a comfortable, luxurious cruiser. Yet, when the opportunity finally presented itself, the big sedan was just as happy revealing the loony side of its personality, devouring crests and dips, straights and bends, like nobody's business. All with that delightfully wicked exhaust note.
The GS range may not have been the go-to luxury sedan series in the past, but this new model more than just puts its hand up. It jumps into the air with both arms waving. In a dignified manner, of course.
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See page 2 for specs and pricing.