Lexus sexes up 5-Series fighter

Chris Harris April 03, 2012

Toyota's luxury brand promises greater driver involvement for GS sedan.

Lexus says its fourth-generation GS luxury sedan addresses the shortcomings of the previous model, with better driving dynamics, a cheaper entry level model and an expanded range including sexier F Sport models.

The Japanese company's vehicle development division formed a specific team to benchmark the segment's dynamic leader, the BMW 5-Series, coincidentally calling it the 'Driving Pleasure Working Group' (BMW's old advertising tagline was "Sheer Driving Pleasure".

"After visiting many [global] markets and driving hundreds of thousands of kilometres, I began to understand the issues faced by the previous GS model," Lexus' chief engineer of the GS, Yosihiko Kanamori says. He says shortcomings included "occupant space, head room, rear entry, boot space and driving dynamics, to name a few".

In reposnse, the cabin of the latest Lexus is roomier than its predecessor with increased head and legroom thanks to a wider body and 25mm higher roofline, while boot space is up by more than 20 per cent over the outgoing model.

The engineering boss admits Germany's famed Nurburgring circuit and network of high-speed motorways showed up the previous GS's driving dynamics.

"When I test drove competitor cars and the previous GS on the autobahn, which I had driven on many times in the past, I was able to reconfirm the essential elements that are necessary in a vehicle like GS.
"Creating an emotional driving experience was the most important target. Much of the development process was spent behind the wheel, on the road," he says.

The GS's biggest drawcard, however, is its alluring starting price of $77,900 (plus on-road and dealer costs) - almost $20,000 cheaper than the previous version.

Lexus Australia chief executive Tony Cramb says the GS is the start of a renewed product focus.

"We need more personality," he says. "That history is in part due to the reserved approach and culture of the Japanese that by nature have a far less ostentatious culture than some of our competitors.

"The previous GS didn't meet our expectations. No longer are comfort, compliance and serenity enough. Our cars have to engage with their owners - be it at the level of driving enjoyment or usability," Cramb says.

Lexus has tweaked the steering and suspension on the new car and increased body stiffness by a claimed 14 per cent, mainly through the use of ultra high-tensile steel and greater use of laser welding. Its wheelbase (the distance between the front and rear wheels) remains unchanged, however.

Lexus also aims to lower the GS's traditionally buyer age by adding aggressive 'F Sport' variants across the range. The new models have bigger wheels and brakes, a sportier suspension tune and a 'Sport+' driving mode as well as styling enhancements inside and out.

As with the smaller IS, Lexus has stuck with naturally aspirated V6 petrol engines across the GS range instead of downsized, turbocharged units adopted by its European rivals aimed to reduce fuel use and CO2 emissions. Until the arrival of a hybrid version in May, the Lexus range will be significantly less fuel efficient than its German rivals. Kanamori doesn't rule out a switch to turbocharging in the future.

The new range opener, the GS250 (from $77,900), is powered by the IS250's 2.5-litre direct-injected V6, which develops 154kW at 6400rpm and 253Nm of torque at 4800rpm. It officially uses 9.3 litres per 100 kilometres, emits 215g/km of CO2 and covers the 0-100km/h sprint in 8.6 seconds.

The GS350 (from $89,900) also looks to the IS for power, this time with the IS350's 3.5-litre V6, which musters 233kW and 378Nm from the same engine speeds as the GS250 and resulting in a quicker 0-100km/h time of 6.0 seconds.

Lexus claims the bigger V6 delivers 27 per cent more power and 22 per cent more torque than the outgoing GS300's 3.0-litre unit (183kW/310Nm).

The GS350 is also slightly more efficient that its predecessor, using 9.7L/100km (GS300: 9.8L) and emitting 225g/km of CO2.

Both models are mated to a six-speed automatic transmission and retain a rear-wheel-drive layout.

A range-topping V6-hybrid GS450h arrives in May in lieu of more efficient diesel offerings and is priced from $99,900 - more than $26,000 cheaper than the outgoing model. Mated to a continuously variable transmission, the petrol-electric 3.5-litre V6 pumps out 252kW of power yet sips just 6.3L/100km for a 20 per cent improvement over the old model.

The GS will compete in the luxury sedan market against the likes of the Audi A6, BMW 5-Series and Mercedes-Benz E-Class. It will also need to take on newer niche models with fastidious buyers seeking individuality, such as Jaguar's XF, and Audi's A5 Sportback and Mercedes' CLS-Class four-door coupes.

Then there's Nissan's luxury brand, Infiniti, which will fight for the same turf with its M range when it launches later this year.

"I see it as a positive thing. It increases the legitimacy of a Japanese luxury brand," Lexus Australia corporate marketing manager Peter Evans says about Infiniti's arrival. "I wish them well, but not too well. I want them to get in there but I want to take sales from the Germans, not from us."

The GS price cuts come despite an extensive list of standard equipment - as is usual Lexus fare - with front and rear parking sensors, a rear-view camera, bi-xenon headlights with cornering function, 10 airbags, metallic "self-healing" paint, blind-spot monitoring and smart-card entry across the range.

All GS models are fitted with steering wheel paddle shifters, leather-accented interior, heated and cooled front seats with electric adjustment, auto-dimming rear-view mirror, satellite navigation with live traffic updates, a digital radio audio system and Bluetooth audio streaming.

Each will be offered in three trim lines. The cheapest is the Luxury, which gets the above standard equipment and comes with 17-inch alloy wheels, front foglights and LED daytime-running lights.

The mid-spec F-Sport adds sports suspension with variable damper control, a "Sport+" drive mode, a different interior finish with sports seats, 19-inch wheels and bodykit.

The Sport Luxury flagship gets a larger 12.3-inch multimedia screen (up from 8.0 inches in lower-spec models), a 17-speaker audio system, head-up display, driver drowsiness detection, pre-crash detection, tri-zone climate control, automatic high beam, woodgrain trim and sun shades.

The GS goes on sale this month.

GS at a glance

On sale: April 2012

Model line-up*
 
GS250
Luxury $77,900
F Sport $85,900
Sport Luxury $99,900

GS350
Luxury $89,900
F Sport $99,900
Sport Luxury $109,900

GS450h (available from May)
Luxury $99,900
F Sport $111,900
Sport Luxury $121,900

* plus on-road and dealer costs
 
Engines:
GS250: 2.5-litre V6; 154kW at 6400rpm; 253Nm at 4800rpm
GS350: 3.5-litre V6; 233kW at 6400rpm; 378Nm at 4800rpm (up from 183kW/310Nm 3.0-litre V6)
GS450h: 3.5-litre petrol-electric V6; 252kW/345Nm
  
Fuel use and emissions:
GS250: 9.3L/100km and 215g/km CO2
GS350: 9.7L/100km and 225g/km CO2 (down from 9.8L and 232g)
GS450h: 6.3L/100km and 145g/km CO2 (down from 7.9L and 186g)

What's new:

Engines:
• Both petrol V6 units sourced from smaller IS range.
• Entry-level 2.5-litre V6 from IS250 lowers GS entry price and competes with rivals' four-cylinder-powered models.
• Larger V6 (from IS350) has more power and torque but uses less fuel than outgoing GS's 3.0-litre unit.
• GS450h hybrid model is 20 per cent more fuel efficient than predecessor.
• Petrol V8-powered GS460 deleted from line-up.

Transmission: Six-speed automatic (GS450h: continuously variable transmission); rear-wheel-drive.

Technology and Equipment:
• Blind-spot and tyre-pressure monitoring systems come standard across range.
• Sports Luxury variants gains a head-up display and a pre-collision system comprising driver fatigue monitoring system, collision warning, braking and seatbelt tensioning.
• Driver fatigue system monitors driver's eye and head movements and alerts with audible and visual warnings.
• Metallic "self-healing" paint with an advanced layer of clear coat is claimed to heal minor scratches when left in the sun.
• Hard-drive-based satellite navigation comes with live traffic updates.
• Audio system comes with digital radio signal (DAB+) for greater choices of stations and sound clarity.
• GS350 F Sport adds "Lexus Dynamic Handling System" comprising rear-wheel steering, bigger brakes, variable dampers and variable-ratio steering.
• Three driving modes - Eco, Normal and Sport - adjust throttle response, engine characteristics and gear selection. F Sport variants gain a fourth mode, 'Sport+', which adjusts steering ratios, stiffens suspension and reduces threshold of stability control intervention.
• Sports Luxury grades offer "Nanoe technology" airconditioning, which is claimed to add moisture to the cabin to avoid drying occupants' hair and skin.

Inside:
• Roomier than predecessor with increased head and legroom (particularly in rear) thanks to a wider body and 25mm higher roofline
• Boot space is up by more than 20 per cent
• Three different model lines with varying levels of standard equipment - Luxury, F Sport and Sport Luxury.
• New 8.0-inch or 12.3-inch multifunction LCD screen (the latter is claimed to be the largest ever in a production car).
• Revised computer mouse-like hand-held device said to be more intuitive and natural when operating navigation, audio, climate control and connected mobile phone or audio device.
• Choice of six interior colour schemes (depending on model) and four trim options

Outside:
Borrows angular, more aggressive styling language from CT200h hybrid hatch. F Sport variants add sports bodykit and unique 19-inch alloy wheels (up from GS250 Luxury's 17-inch items or GS350 Luxury's 18-inch wheels).

Underneath:
Old model was as involving to drive as watching paint dry - a fact outlined by the company's chief engineer of the new GS. Lexus says the new model sheds the old-man imagine with sportier F Sport models, which offer a sharper, more dynamic drive.

What's missing:
Long-rumoured high-performance flagship, the GS F, is at least two years away. Rumours suggest Lexus's rival to BMW's M5 and Mercedes's E63 AMG could get a version of the LFA supercar's V10 engine.

Competitors:
Audi A6, from $77,900
BMW 5-Series, from $77,900
Jaguar XF, from $78,900
Mercedes-Benz E-Class, from $82,200
Infiniti M (due around September), estimated from $90,000