No matter the fluctuations and trends of car buyers, there will always be room in the automobile market for a sport sedan. Luxury carmakers know that there is a loyal contingent of enthusiasts for those cars that handle well on the road with indomitable style and pack a punch under the hood while making it look easy. The GS series is Lexus's offering to this canon, and when it debuted, it was as a direct rival to Mercedes, BMW, Audi and Jaguar.
And guess what? Lexus beat all of those makers to win accolades throughout the late 90's. However, nothing gold can stay, and as the years have gone by, technology and luxury have made this a hard market to dominate. Lexus took this as an opportunity to reboot, and in 2016 launched a new generation, which pushed it back into competition with the big boys, offering power and style at a price tag you'd never find in a German showroom.
Anything new with the mechanics?
With the introduction of several different powertrains, the GS offers drivers a wealth of choices. The GS RWD has a 2.0-liter turbo four-cylinder engine with an 8 speed automatic and carries 241 hp and 258 lb-ft of torque. The 350 comes in AWD or RWD and has a 3.5 liter V-6 and options for a six or eight-speed automatic transmission that delivers 311 hp/280 lb-ft. The GS F is a beast with a 5 liter V-8 8 speed automatic, which pumps out an admirable 467 hp/289 lb-ft. For those whose heart beats green, the GS 450h has a 3.5 liter V-6 + electric -CVT that gets up to 338 hp combined and gives a respectable fuel economy in return. The base four-cylinder doesn't operate on direct injection, which is noticeable in operation, and it dims the performance enough to make the V-6 feel like a no-brainer.
How does it perform?
The variety of powertrain options put the GS in contention against some of the pricier sport sedans on the market, but the driving experience differs pretty significantly based on what you've got cooking under the hood. Across the board, the GS excels in handling, with precision power steering that optimizes power assist coupled with lightweight front and rear suspensions and a stiff upper body. The result is a communicative vehicle that drivers can harness without feeling like it's driving them instead of vice versa. There's a real agility that comes with the design, and it gives the GS a feeling above its price range. However, the four-cylinder engine lags behind competitors and downshifts with even minimal pressure on the throttle. The V-6 provides a much better driving experience and even defies the traditional Lexus ethos of a silent cabin by pumping some of that engine noise back into the interior, which feels about right in a performance vehicle. The hybrid is another story, and while it's a reliable go-getter that retains the hushed atmosphere of a classic sedan, the brakes are mushy, and the transition from electric to gas is noticeable, which is not a big deal but does take away from the 'performance' aspect of a performance sedan.
What about the safety score?
The 2017 model GS came equipped with the Safety System + package, which consists of adaptive cruise control, forward collision warnings with automatic emergency braking, automatic high beam warnings and lane departure warnings with active lane control. The 2018 package gets an updated adaptive cruise control system, and models come with 10 airbags including rear side and front knee protection, a rearview camera, parking sensors and blind spot monitors with rear cross traffic alerts. For 2018, Lexus offers its Enform Safety Connect subscription for 10 years, free of charge, and this includes features like emergency services and roadside assistance, as well as a stolen vehicle locator. Owners can also monitor their car's health via smartphone, and the optional Lexus Enform Remote has a 'guest driver monitor' that can be used as a teen driver monitor, or just when you leave your car at the valet and feel sure that they'll go out joyriding with it. As part of the Toyota family, Lexus takes safety seriously and considers it a basic right for all new vehicles. Let's hope this promising trend takes hold of the industry and safety features become standard on all new cars.
Is it luxury all the way in the interior?
It's a Lexus, after all- there are plenty of bells and whistles in the standard package such as 10-way power seating, lots of leather options in tons of colors, satellite radio and iPod/smartphone connectivity, Bluetooth capability and the Lexus Remote Touch infotainment system with a massive 12 inch screen and apps like OpenTable, Pandora, and MovieTickets.com. However, the GS feels more spartan than much of the Lexus family, and it's streamlined approach to the dash focuses both driver and passenger on the ride ahead, albeit from the comfort of some pretty posh seating. The backseat is another story entirely, with a smaller than average total space that sacrifices legroom for aerodynamics, and you'd struggle to fit three in the backseat. So while it is still a Lexus, after all, there is a noticeable difference to passengers that makes it clearly a sport sedan, and that's not a bad thing. Those looking for space over speed will find plenty of other options in the Lexus family, and those looking for speed over space will be happy to make the slight sacrifice of a smaller backseat.
What's new for the exterior design?
Perhaps in response to their inclusion in more than a few hip-hop rhymes, Lexus has gradually developed an exterior that makes it look more aggressive, a bit showier, and a lot more sporty. The large spindle grille is audacious and does not aim for subtlety, but it winds up looking smart and sure of itself. The meatier GS F is appropriately menacing, with more intricate fascia and deep-set LED lights that suggest a car that's pretty fast, and slightly furious. The 192 inches are among the shortest in its class, but there's a surprisingly large 98 cubic feet of space inside. All told, the GS is the leaner, meaner muscle machine of the family and while it may fall short of 'enfant terrible' status, its value for money, and updated powertrain makes the Lexus a force to be reckoned with.