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Headline:FastSaloons.com Lexus GS430 road testDate:08/04/2006
Source:FastSaloons.com   (Click Here for more details).OurRoadTests
   
Review:FastSaloons.com Lexus GS 430 road test  
 
 

FastSaloons.com
Review

 

Lexus GS430



Our Thoughts
How will Lexus's executive sport saloon stack up. This the third generation GS has a tough battle in a compatitive sector. Can it deliver ?
 
   
 

Background

The third generation Lexus GS was introduced in April 2005 and marks a renewed attack by Lexus in the luxury sports saloon market.

I briefly drove the car at Millbrook last year and have been looking forward to driving the car on real roads.

The GS430 is the top model in the range which also includes the GS300, GS300 SE and GS300 SE-L.

A quick read through the car’s press pack quickly identifies the amount of technology the car possesses under the covers:

  • Adaptive Variable Suspension (AVS)
  • Adaptive Cruise Control (ACC)
  • Pre-Crash Safety (PCS)
  • Adaptive Front Lighting (AFS)
  • High Intensity Discharge headlamps (HID)
  • Electronic Chromatic Device (ECD)
  • Tyre Pressure Warning System (TPWS)
  • Vehicle Dynamics Integrated Management (VDIM)
  • Electronic Brakeforce Distribution (EBD)
  • Traction Control (TC)
  • Vehicle Stability Control (VSC)
  • ABS
  • Variable Gearing Ratio Steering (VGRS )
  • Electronic Power Steering (EPS)
  • Electronic Throttle Control System (ECTS-I)
  • Variable Valve Timing Intelligence (VVT-I)


  • I hope you’re sitting down this could be a long read.

     

    Exterior Styling

     
     


    Great looking from the front and side, less so from the rear
    The new GS certainly is a good looking car. The car we have to test this week is in dark grey with chrome detailing a colour that in some ways hides some of the styling and in some ways looks great on this car. The overall effect is that the car looks expensive and lives up to the Lexus brand.

    From the front the car’s looks are largely influenced by the bonnet shape, which in turn is determined by the greater demands on pedestrian safety. Most cars will need to adopt this sort of bonnet shape in future. The front is not especially complicated and features a simple grille.

    Side on the car is very recognisable as a Lexus GS, the shape is pretty unique and I think it’s fair to say that the original car was the precursor to the Mercedes CLS. It certainly has a number of coupe design cues.

    In many ways the rear of the GS is its worst side. If anything it looks a bit normal from this angle. It certainly looses some of the elegance of the rest of the shape.

    Overall though I think most people would be happy to have this car in their drive. Although I think the real attraction of this car is what it is like inside.

     

    Interior Styling

      The car’s cabin is a mixture of cream leather, red wood and grey facia and looks luxurious and slightly understated. Like the other Lexus this car carries a huge standard specification. In fact, if I were to go into every feature this is likely to be my longest ever review.

    From the drivers seat you get a grandiose feeling thanks to the large wood and leather steering wheel and the cars high bonnet. In front of you is an attractive dash which contains three dials each in their own cowling. Here is one the first unobvious features of the GS; the dash uses Electronic Chromatic Device (ECD) glass. This basically uses an external light sensor (in the high rear brake light) to alter the transparency of the glass to combat glare. Ingenious and unless you read it in the manual most owners would be blissfully unaware of the technology at work.

     




    Tons of toys, great cabin for all occupants.
    The next thing you notice are the great seats. Finished in cream leather both the drivers and front passenger seats feature heating, cooling, eight-way adjustment and lumbar support. They are very comfortable and allow lots of adjustment. Space in the new GS has also improved. Headroom has been increased even though the car is actually 5mm lower than the previous model. Likewise legroom and front seat travel are also increased thanks to an increased wheelbase (50mm). Both front seats have the ability to save up to three settings so your optimum position can quickly be selected.

    A lot of controversy has surrounded luxury cars, with the increases of technology and the challenge of making the technology easy to access but not overwhelming. BMW’s iDrive, Audi’s MMI and Mercedes’ COMAND (Cockpit Management and Navigation Display) have all had differing amounts of critics. Lexus’s approach is to have a touch screen display which takes car of lots of features. The main functions still get their own buttons, but subsequent functions are generally handled by the touch screen. Thankfully, the heating and radio functions are presented in the more traditional way. Finally, a number of other buttons are tucked away in a fold down flap on the right hand side of the steering wheel. This includes boot and petrol cap releases, side mirror controls, and various other buttons. The overall effect works well and the cabin looks uncluttered but still impressive. Again compared to the E60 5-series, in which I was recently struck by the budget feel as it now has far less buttons thanks to iDrive.

    The GS also features another controversial option – voice activation. At first I found the system frustrating as it predictably tried to find a location called heating down. However, if you learn the vocabulary the system is reasonable effective. My next problem was talking to the car without first depressing the steering wheel button to activate the system.

    Audio wise the car features a 14-speaker Mark Levinson premium surround system. The sound is very impressive and has clarity not found in most car stereos. Feature-wise you have a 6-disc dashboard auto-changer and also a tape player.

    The touch screen houses the satellite navigation which seems pretty good, offering most of the functions you’d expect and the ability to present information in a split screen mode. During the test we didn’t really test its effectiveness at guidance, especially not the Dynamic route Guidance (DRG) which features a traffic avoidance system.

    Within the on board computer system is trip information and the ability to alter the stereo and air conditioning systems. There is also a comprehensive ability to record the cars maintenance history – this was very extensive and features things like tyre rotations, and replacement dates for individual items of the car. Finally like the seats the computer and navigation settings can be saved into three memory positions, for instant recall.

    Eventually you tire of gadgets and remember why you actually got in the car – to drive it. All GS models feature the smart key entry system, this system works using a key fob which is recognised by the car when it is close enough (within 1 metre) allowing the doors to be locked and unlocked using the handle. Similarly, the system knows when the key fob is inside the car and if it is allows the car to be started using the dash mounted start button.

    As you’d expect the car is a very pleasant place to be on the move. Lexus raised the bar in terms of refinement and whilst this car is a little hard riding, the sound insulation is very good. In fact you get the impression the engine has been tuned to sound right from inside – without the throttle the car whisps along, with some throttle the V8 stirs and makes its presence know – albeit with subtlety.

    The windscreen on the car seems smaller than you’d expect for this size of car, but I suppose is more in keeping with the coupe-esque styling.

    I think that the size of this section really reflects the sheer volume of kit and gadgets that this car gets.

    On the move the car features an adaptive cruise control. This combines conventional cruise control with a millimetre-wave radar that detects vehicles in front of the car and automatically slows the car to prevent it hitting the other car. Unfortunately I was unable to test it. I am not sure if this is a reflection of my antisocial lifestyle but whenever I was in the position to try the system I ended up on my normal ‘nirvana’ of an empty road.

    When you finally reach your destination the car has at least one more trick up its sleeve. That is steering sensitive parking assist. Basically, the front and rear bumpers are covered in sonars. The information from these sonars is then used to build a picture of the cars surroundings. This in turn is used to display computer generated guidelines on the front dashboard screen, overlaying the actual images from the rear of the car, taken from a rear mounted camera. The effect is pretty impressive and the system can assist with both parallel parking and also parking in car park spaces. In practice, like most things, it takes some getting used to. Mainly because you are so used to looking over your shoulders or in the mirrors and so the whole concept of looking at a small TV screen in the dash seems odd. It’s all a little ‘playstation’ for me. The good thing about the system is that it reacts to the steering inputs and can warn you if you are turning too slowly or too sharply.

    If the parking blind is up when you reverse then it automatically retracts returning when you disengage reverse. All very helpful.

    At some point you'll want to get out. As you’d expect this is also something the car helps with. When you switch the car off the steering wheel raises and retracts and the cabin is bathed in mood lighting. Lexus have used LEDs for all the interior lights and this means they have them in the front and rear footwells, at the top of each door handle and over the dash.

     
     

    Ride, Handling & Steering

      I have driven the GS430 before during a SMMT day at Millbrook. The Lexus was one of eleven saloons that I drove during the day using a combination of the hill course and the high speed bowl. On this short drive the Lexus felt very similar to the Mercedes CLS 500 in that it rode a lot softer than most of the other cars BMW, Jaguar, Audi etc. On the hill course it didn’t feel particularly at home. However on the road makes the GS makes a lot of sense.

     


    Slightly hard for a Lexus - but pretty sporty as a result
    In general, when driven in isolation, the car rides harder than I was expecting. It is by no means harsh but it is not as compliant as Lexus’s reputation would suggest.

    There are two settings for the suspension normal and sport. The effect of this is not as straightforward as just firming up the dampers. In fact three different electronic systems are involved. Selecting sport mode increases the difference between the inner and outer shock absorber damping through corners to further reduce roll. At the same time, VGRS (variable gear ratio steering) reduces the steering ratio and EPS (electronic power steering) increases the amount of steering assist torque. Together these measures minimise body roll, sharpen handling and produce greater steering feel for the driver.

    In practice sport is choppier and harder over bumps, definitely not traditional Lexus. However handling is improved and roll is definitely decreased. Alterations to the steering are a little harder to detect.

    While it is great that Lexus are addressing the sport market with the adoption of this system, I suspect most GS owners will leave the car in normal which gives far better ride and still reasonable handling.

    Steering in general is pretty good with a nice weighting and some feel.

     

    Engine, Gearbox and Performance

      The car features a 4.3-litre V8 that develops 279bhp at 5,600rpm and 308lb ft (417Nm) of torque at 3,500rpm. 0-62mph is dispatched in just 6.1seconds and the car continues onto a tethered top speed of 155mph.

     


    Smooth 4.3-litre V8 produces 280bhp and over 300lb ft of torque
    The engine uses the by-wire Electronic Throttle Control System (ECTS-I), which governs the throttle not only through the position of the pedal but also be vehicle speed and engine rpm data. It operates in conjunction with the engine’s variable valve timing intelligence (VVT-I) to optimise valve overlap at all engine speeds, maximising engine response in all driving conditions and ensuring unrivalled tractability and smoothness.

    Care has been taken to ensure the engine delivers near-silent running and this has meant reducing friction and aspects like the air filter and engine mounts.

    In practice the engine produces a nice muted growl under acceleration and is very quite at idle and constant speed cruising.



    In terms of performance the car is no slouch and almost matches my old ALPINA B10 3.3 which also had 280bhp with a figure of 16.7seconds to 100mph. Full results are here:

    Gearbox is good with smooth-clean changes; even in sport mode the changes are smooth if a little quicker.

    The car is fitted with very large brakes, especially at the front, which are 432mm in diameter. So as you expect braking is very good. Under very hard braking the electronics come into play again and Pre-Crash Safety system (PCS) works in conjunction with the Adaptive Variable Suspension (AVS) to ensure the nose doesn’t dive, in addition the seatbelts automatically pull tight to minimise impact in the event of an actual crash.

     

     

    Practicality

     

     

    Great Spacious cabin, small boot, 25mpg and group 18 insurance
    Front and Rear comfort is paramount and whilst the GS was a little harsher than we’d have expected it was still a spacious and comfortable place to be.

    Boot space is not massive at 430litres. This is smaller than most its rivals.

    Combined fuel economy for the GS430 is 24.8mpg, made up of an urban figure of 17.3mpg and an extra urban figure of 32.8mpg. Emissions wise the car has a rating of 269g/km. During our time with the car we mainly did short journeys and obviously explored the power of the car far more than would be considered normal. Our recorded figure was only 15mpg.

    The GS is well rated insurance wise at group 18E.

    On the safety side of things the Lexus has ensured the GS is well equipped. Euro NCAP awarded the car a best-in-class 5 star rating with 35 points. The car scored a maximum for side impacts and a top-in-class result for the frontal impact test with a score of 15 out of 16. Pedestrian protection is also best-in-class with a score of 18 points. It’s a good place for children too with a 4 star rating with 41 points awarded for child protection. The inclusion of 12 airbags, standard rear seatbelt pre-tensioners and adaptive headlights which move up to 15 degrees as the car is cornering all help make this car one of the safest in class.

     

    Conclusion

      The original GS model was introduced in the UK in 1994 and sales volumes peaked in 1998 when the second generation model made its debut. Lexus expects the new GS to achieve even stronger results. 1,750 sales were predicted for the remainder of 2005, and 2,500 sales targeted for 2006.

    It is easy to see why Lexus is confident about the third generation GS. It stacks up well on paper in terms of price and huge specification. On the road it makes a compelling case for itself being both fast and comfortable. The styling is still an acquired taste but it does look modern. The interior importantly is a very pleasant place to be and feels appropriate for a car of this stature.

    I was surprised by the car and really did enjoy driving it during the week. As I am far from being a typical Lexus buyer this reflects well on the completeness of the car. If it is enough to gain the car more market share is something that will be interesting to see. The cars major challenge is the emotiveness of the class in which it exists, with cars as good as the BMW 5 Series, Mercedes E Class and Audi A6, not to mention the ageing Jaguar S Type, it’s certainly got its work cut out. The move away from Saloons and the introduction of niche cars like the Mercedes CLS certainly will not help either. Although, in many ways the CLS owes something to the GS; it also added coupe lines to the saloon body and Lexus did this a long time before Mercedes.

    One thing is for sure - there can’t be many cars out there with more spec than the GS430.

     
    Neil
     
     
    Related Links:         
    Press release about the 3rd generation Lexus GS

    Full Set of Photos taken during the test


    Lexus's UK website

    Quick Section Links:         
    1. Background
    2. Exterior Styling
    3. Interior Styling
    4. Ride, Handling and Steering
    5. Engine, Gearbox and Performance
    6. Practicality
    7. Conclusion









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