2004 Lexus GS 300 Expert Review:New Car Test Drive
New Car Test Drive
Lexus luxury in a big sports sedan.
The Lexus GS 300 and GS 430 combine the sharp driving dynamics of a sports sedan with the luxury, refinement and quality we've come to expect from Toyota's luxury division. Rear-wheel drive, a four-wheel double-wishbone independent suspension, and a luxurious cabin are the key ingredients to this formula.
With its 300-horsepower V8 engine, the GS 430 is an exciting sports sedan that gobbles real estate and clings to the road in high-speed sweepers. The GS 300, meanwhile, purrs along with one of the smoothest six-cylinder engines in the class. Both are big, sophisticated luxury sedans that whisk four people along in leather-and-wood-trimmed comfort.
They offer a nice balance between smooth ride and responsive handling and are perhaps the smoothest cars in their class. The steering is light for easy maneuverability when parking, but provides the driver with reassuring feedback on the highway. Fast and comfortable, these are great cars for long trips and for commuting on harsh, busy highways.
The Lexus GS sedans have no peers for interior luxury and smooth ride. The interiors are wonderful, warm and pleasant in ambieance with light hues of buttery leather and rich wood. The controls are a study in ergonomic excellence, elegantly designed and easy to understand and operate. The back seats are among the most comfortable in the class.
Lexus continues to deliver some of the best quality in the industry and its GS sedans are no exception. The GS 300 and GS 430 were ranked first in their class, the mid-size luxury segment, in the May 2003 Initial Quality Study by J.D. Power and Associates.
The Lexus GS series comes in two versions: the six-cylinder GS 300 ($38,725) and the V8-powered GS 430 ($47,825).
GS 300 is powered by a high-output, 220-horsepower 3.0-liter inline-6. GS 300 comes standard with cloth upholstery and automatic climate control with filtration and deodorization. Leather upholstery is optional ($1,660) and comes with a memory system.
GS 430 comes with a 4.3-liter double overhead-cam V8 that produces 300 horsepower. GS 430 also comes standard with perforated leather upholstery; memory for the driver's seat, outside mirrors and steering column; and high-intensity discharge headlights.
Both models are equipped with a five-speed electronically controlled automatic transmission, but the GS 300 also features E-Shift manual controls on the spokes of the steering wheel.
Options include a navigation package ($2,000) and a superb Mark Levinson audio system ($1,250).
Safety features that come standard for both models include Vehicle Stability Control, anti-lock brakes with Brake Assist, traction control, dual frontal airbags, seat-mounted side-impact airbags for driver and front-seat passenger, and seat belts with pretensioners and force limiters.The GS models also come standard with side curtain airbags for the driver and front passenger, very important because curtain airbags can provide protection for the head and upper body in side impacts.
The Lexus GS models make a strong visual statement. The design of the current, second-generation models is now in its sixth year, but it still has arresting looks. It's a classier design than that of its rival from Japan, the Infiniti M45.
Most noticeable are the unique football-shaped headlamps that sweep up and back into the fenders. A separate set of inner front lights serve as the high beams and give the GS a distinctive look.
This look is echoed at the rear of the car with large multi-lens taillights that wrap around to the sides with a separate set of inner lamps that serve as tail lamps and brake lamps. Dual exhaust exiting from the rear bumper gives the GS models sports appeal; the rear bumper curves out at the bottom for aerodynamic ground-effects. An available rear spoiler adds to the racy look, but we think the car looks better without it and it probably doesn't improve the handling of what's essentially an understeering car.
In profile, the GS presents a dramatically sloping nose, with the lower edge of the windshield pushed well forward. Its graceful roofline arches back to a stubby rear deck, giving it what one magazine describes as a hunchback look. 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 door glass is divided into two panes, with a separate fixed pane in the rear, a compromise that breaks up the graceful sweep of glass.
Lots of leather, tasteful applications of wood, thick carpeting and a refined overall design provide a pleasant environment inside the Lexus GS 300 and GS 430. It manages to feel roomy and cozy at the same time. The view out the front of the GS is excellent, but the rear view is restricted somewhat by the rear headrests and wide C-pillars.
The GS 430 instrument panel 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, all lit from the rear. The intensity of the backlighting automatically varies with ambient light. The gauges are handsome, creatively designed and easy to read. There's a useful compass in the rear-view mirror.
Audio and climate controls are logically laid out and easy to use, with separate heating and cooling settings for driver and passenger. A smog sensor automatically switches to the system into recirculation mode, blocking contaminated air from entering the cabin. An air filtration and deodorization system takes care of the rest, nice when pulling up behind a city bus. The remote releases for the fuel tank and trunk, located low on the left side of the dash, are initially hard to find, and the center armrest obscures the seat-heater buttons.
An optional touch-screen DVD-based navigation system calculates routes quickly. The LCD fills the center of the dash and handles audio and climate control functions as well as the trip computer.
The standard audio setup in the GS is very good. But if you love music, you owe it to yourself to order the Mark Levinson stereo, a 10-speaker system with a discrete amplifier with ultra-low crossover distortion that delivers outstanding audio quality no matter where you're sitting.
Opening and closing the power windows and moonroof is accomplished with one-touch operation. A sensor stops the window or roof panel and warns the driver when anything (such as a child or pet) is blocking its path. The supplied keyless remote can be used to operate the windows and/or moonroof automatically. A hidden electric garage-door opener can be programmed for nearly all frequencies.
The trunk lid raises a full 90 degrees, and the lift-over height is low for easy loading and unloading. At 14.8 cubic feet, cargo capacity is comparable to that of other cars of its size.
The Lexus GS sedans offer a nice balance between performance and luxury, leaning more to the luxury side of the equation than their competitors from Germany. They are an excellent choice for the driver who values a smooth ride, a quiet cabin, and hassle-free operation over sharp handling and racetrack performance. Yet they still respond well to being driven in a spirited manner.
Choosing between the GS 300 and GS 430 largely comes down to the value you place on performance. Speed costs money, how fast do you want to go? In this case, shaving two seconds off your 0-60 times costs approximately $9,100. That is a big difference in dollars, but it's also a huge difference in performance. Equipped with a V8 engine, the GS 430 accelerates much more quickly than the GS 300. Plus the GS 430 comes with a higher level of equipment than the GS 300.
Like BMW, Lexus uses an inline-6 for the GS 300, and enthusiasts tend to prefer inline six-cylinder engines over the more popular V6 configuration (which costs less to build and takes up less space). The inline-6 used in the GS 300 is a wonderful engine. It purrs like a kitten and we think it's smoother than the six-cylinder engines from BMW and Mercedes. The 3.0-liter engine produces 220 horsepower and Lexus claims it can propel the GS 300 from 0 to 60 mph in 7.8 seconds and through the quarter mile in 18.8 seconds. That's brisk performance, but don't expect to win many drag races. It earns an 18/23 mpg City/Highway rating from the EPA, which is average for the class.
The GS 430 can accelerate from 0 to 60 mph in 5.8 seconds, according to Lexus, putting it in a league with some of the world's best sport sedans. The GS 430 practically leaps off the road when you floor it, and surges with seemingly unlimited power as it passes other vehicles on the highway. Yet its sound is very subtle, a high-tech mechanical note rather than the angry racket of a Corvette's V8. The 4.3-liter V8 produces 300 horsepower and 325 foot-pounds of torque. Strong low-rpm torque gives the GS 430 plenty of around-town cruising power, and allows it to sprint away from intersections. Lexus says it can turn the quarter mile in 14.2 seconds. It's a sophisticated engine with four camshafts (dohc), 32 valves, and variable valve timing, which allows it to deliver strong torque at low engine speeds, while providing healthy horsepower at higher speeds. In spite of its impressive acceleration, the GS 430 nets an EPA-rated 23 mpg on the highway and is certified as an Ultra Low Emissions Vehicle (ULEV).
All Lexus GS sedans come with a five-speed electronically controlled automatic transmission and a console shifter. It's a smooth and responsive transmission. The GS 300 can also be shifted by using a set of 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 uses rear-wheel drive. Under normal driving conditions, the GS is smooth and effortless. This is no marshmallow, but the ride quality is smooth. The suspension absorbs road variations, while providing reassurance in tight turns and fast sweepers. The steering requires enough effort to instill that firm feeling of control often missing in luxury cars.
Big, high-performance brakes bring the GS to a halt quickly and without drama. Anti-lock brakes (ABS) with Brake Assist, electronic traction control, and Vehicle Skid Control (VSC) are standard. Brake Assist interprets a quick push on the pedal as emergency braking and automatically ensures full braking power, even when drivers inappropriately relax pressure on the brake pedal. It's an excellent safety feature, as research has shown that many of us do not push the.
The Lexus GS 430 delivers inspiring performance and a head-turning exterior design. The six-cylinder GS 300 offers the same refined chassis with a superb six-cylinder engine. Both offer Lexus quality, a rich, comfortable interior with excellent ergonomics, and a smooth ride.
Lexus GS 300 ($38,725); GS 430 ($47,825).
Options As Tested
Mark Levinson audio w navigation system ($3,250).
Lexus GS 430 ($47,825).
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