2001 Lexus GS 300 Expert Review:New Car Test Drive
New Car Test Drive
More powerful V8 makes this sports sedan a blast to drive.
While the Lexus GS series isn't new, the GS 430 is. The 2001 model gets a new 4.3-liter 300-horsepower V8 engine with increased torque (now 325 foot-pounds). This extra boost propels the GS 430 to 60 mph in less than six seconds, and makes the V8-powered GS quicker than comparable models from Acura, Audi, BMW, and Mercedes-Benz.
The six-cylinder GS 300 is no slouch either. With 220-horsepower on tap, the GS 300 goes from 0 to 60 mph in just 7.8 seconds. Both GS models are a joy to drive and deliver impressive handling, supreme comfort, and typical Lexus build quality -- which is consistently ranked among the best in the industry.
Two models are available in the Lexus GS series: GS 300 ($38,555); GS 430 ($47,355).
GS 300 has a high-output 220-horsepower 3.0-liter inline-6. The 2001 model has steering wheel controls to manually shift the transmission. The wickedly fun GS 430 comes with a 4.3-liter double overhead-cam V8 that produces 300 horsepower. Both come with five-speed electronically controlled automatic transmissions.
Our GS 430 came with the Premium Package ($2,540), which includes a six-disc in-dash CD changer, power moonroof, and heated front seats.
The Lexus GS makes a statement from all angles. From the side, it presents a dramatically sloping nose with a cab-forward placement of the lower edge of the windshield. A thin, graceful roofline arches back to a stubby rear deck. A chrome strip surrounds the side windows and accents the shape of the glass. This strikes an interesting contrast with the flat black window posts. For engineering reasons, the rear side glass is divided into a third window, which breaks up an otherwise graceful sweep of glass.
Unique football-shaped headlamps sweep up and back into the fender. Large multi-lens taillights wrap around to the sides, making a strong design statement from the rear. Small, separate brake lights adorn the rear. The bottom of the rear fascia has a gentle race car-like curl between the twin tailpipes for improved aerodynamics. An optional rear spoiler heightens the car's appearance as a high-performance sedan. New six-spoke aluminum wheels that say this car means business. Changes for 2001 include redesigned front grille, and slightly restyled headlamps and taillamps. Some critics have charged that Lexus cars, though nearly flawless, are lacking in character. Clearly, this is not the case with the GS series.
Lots of leather, tasteful applications of wood, thick carpeting and a refined overall design provide a pleasant environment inside the GS 430. It manages to feel roomy and cozy at the same time. However, the combination of a high dashboard and low headliner made some of us feel a bit claustrophobic; keeping the sunshade for the moonroof drawn back lightens and brightens the cabin substantially. The GS 430 instrument panel and dashboard is a refreshing departure from other designs from Japan. Turn on the ignition and a black panel illuminates to reveal gauges with black markings on white faces lighted from the rear. The intensity of the backlighting automatically varies with ambient light. The gauges are a handsome, creative design and are easy to read. Plus, the rear-view mirror has a compass -- a nice touch.
The remote releases for the fuel tank and trunk, located low on the left side of the dash, are initially hard to find. Plus, the center armrest obscured the seat heart buttons.
Audio and climate controls are logically laid out and easy to use with separate heating and cooling controls for driver and passenger. A hydrocarbon air pollution sensor automatically switches to the recirculation mode when contamination is detected.
An optional navigation touch-screen fills the center of the dash, moving stereo and climate controls to the top and bottom of an information screen. The Navigation System Package ($4,540) includes everything in the aforementioned Premium Package, and adds the Lexus navigation system, which is now DVD-based.
Also new for 2001 is the availability of a Mark Levinson sound system ($3,790). The standard audio system in the GS is actually quite good, but the eight-speaker, ultra powerful Mark Levinson system is a must if you are a music lover. Plus, it comes with an in-dash six CD changer which is much more convenient than fiddling with the six-CD magazine that mounts in the glove box. The Mark Levinson system can be bundled together with the Navigation System and save you over $2,500 if these options are ordered separately.
Opening and closing power windows and moonroof are a one-touch operation. A sensor stops the window or moonroof and warns the driver when anything -- such as the head of a child or pet -- is blocking its path. The supplied keyless remote can be used to operate the windows and moonroof automatically, depending on the season. A hidden electric garage door opener can be programmed for nearly all frequencies.
The view out the front of the GS 430 is excellent, but the rear view is restricted somewhat by the rear headrests and wide C-pillars. Lexus GS models come standard with seat-mounted side-impact airbags; new for 2001 are standard side curtain airbags for the front passengers.
The trunk lid raises a full 90 degrees and the lift-over height is low for easier loading and unloading. At 14.8 cubic feet, the cargo capacity is comparable to other cars this size.
The GS 430 can accelerate from 0 to 60 mph in less than 6 seconds, putting it in a league with some of the world's best sports cars and sports sedans. It offers comparable acceleration performance to the BMW 540i with its 282-horsepower V8; both cars stomp the comparably sized Mercedes-Benz E320 with a 221-horsepower V6.
Lexus redesigned its 4.3-liter V8 engine before dropping it into the GS 430. It boasts four camshafts (dohc) and 32 valves. Variable valve timing allows the engine to deliver strong torque at low engine speeds, while providing healthy horsepower at higher speeds -- often mutually exclusive benefits. The engine produces 300 horsepower and 325 foot-pounds of torque (15 more than last year). This extra torque gives the GS 430 lots of around town cruising power and allowing it to sprint away from intersections. In spite of its impressive acceleration performance, the GS 430 nets an EPA-rated 24 mpg on the highway.
Lexus GS 300 uses a 3.0-liter, 220-horsepower inline 6-cylinder engine. It can make the run to 60 mph in a quick 7.8 seconds, which is quicker than the E320. Yet the GS 300 boasts a 25-mpg EPA highway rating. Its top speed is electronically governed at 144 mph, while the GS 430 is governed at 149 mph. The GS 300 doesn't have all the features of the GS 430 and it certainly isn't as fast, but its price is $8,800 less.
All Lexus GS sedans come with a five-speed electronically controlled automatic transmission with a console shifter. The transmission is designed to be shifted manually as well. The top half of the shift gate has the familiar PRND markings. To the left of Drive is M for manual. Pulling the shifter toward the left permits manually downshifting and upshifting using the shift lever. The GS 300 can also be shifted by using the Formula 1 racing-inspired buttons on the front and back of the steering wheel. Pushing the button on the front of the steering wheel downshifts one gear. Pushing the button behind the wheel upshifts one gear. A readout at the bottom of the speedometer displays the selected gear. Electronics prevent downshifting above the engine's redline.
Like all true high-performance cars, the Lexus GS is rear-wheel drive. With all that horsepower, right-foot gratification is instantaneous and substantial -- especially with the new V8 (does Lexus make a bad engine?). In fact, drivers inexperienced with high horsepower ratings may find themselves intimidated the first few times they apply full throttle. The GS 430 practically leaps off the road when given full throttle, and the engine seems to have unlimited power when it comes to passing other vehicles on the highway. There is very subtle engine noise, but it is a high-tech mechanical sound rather than the angry racket of a Corvette's V8. However, the force pushing the driver back into the seat is very Corvette like.
Under normal driving conditions, however, the GS 430 is a perfect gentleman. It is sedate and effortless with just the right amount of steering effort to instill a firm feeling of control often missing in luxury cars. The ride quality more like a BMW than a Cadillac -- firm, but not harsh. The suspension absorbs road variations, while providing reassurance in tight turns and fast sweepers.
Stellar acceleration performance is backed up by big high-performance brakes. The GS 430 stops quickly and without drama. Anti-lock brakes (ABS) with electronic traction control and Vehicle Skid Control (VSC) are standard. Also included is the Brake Assist system, which interprets a quick push of the brake pedal as emergency braking and, if the driver has not stepped hard enough on the brake pedal, the system supplements the applied braking power. It's an excellent safety feature as many of us do not always full use the potential stopping power in an emergency situation. Vehicle Skid Control uses the brakes to bring the car back on course if it senses the car is going in a direction not consistent with the steering wheel po.
Buyers considering a BMW 5 Series or Mercedes E Class should look closely at a GS 430. The Lexus GS 430 delivers awe-inspiring performance and a head-turning exterior design. There are very few sports sedans on the road today that can run with this V8-powered Lexus.
GS 300 ($38,555); GS 430 ($47,355).
Options As Tested
Rear spoiler ($440); Premium Package ($2,540) includes in-dash 6-disc CD changer, power moonroof, heated front seats; trunk mat ($66); wheel locks ($52).
GS 430 ($47,355).
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