2008 Lexus GS 450h
    MSRP
    $55,800
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    2008 Lexus GS 450h Expert Review:New Car Test Drive

    New engine, revised styling for luxury sports sedans.

    Introduction

    The 2008 Lexus GS makes its mark with sense as well as speed, restraint as well as luxury. Although it's easy to think of it as an alternative to an Audi, BMW or Mercedes-Benz, the Lexus GS embraces an entirely different set of values. 

    Lexus itself has promoted the phrase 'L-finesse' to define its way of crafting an automobile, an example of market-speak that gets right to the heart of the 2008 Lexus GS. This sport sedan is meant to be dynamic, yet free of gimmicks. It is meant to combine precision with lavish, luxurious appointments. It is meant to deliver a high standard of automotive performance, yet be easily intuitive to drive. Amazing examples of automotive technology are included as standard equipment, yet the driver is never aware of them. The Lexus GS does everything you ask, and yet it always feels effortless. 

    The third-generation Lexus GS came to market for 2006, a showcase of Toyota's most advanced technology. It arrived with more computing power than some third-world countries and a standard of luxury usually enjoyed only in the best zip codes. The GS was further improved for 2007. For 2008, it gets a new, much-improved V8 engine. 

    The 2008 GS 460 replaces the previous GS 430. The new V8 is a 4.6-liter that makes 342 horsepower, 52 more than last year's 4.3-liter V8. It is also now mated to an eight-speed automatic transmission that replaces a six-speed. For added performance, the transmission includes a sport mode that enables you to manually make sequential shifts with the console-mounted gear lever. 

    There's also a hybrid: The GS 450h combines the 3.5-liter V6 with an electric motor for improved power and fuel economy. 

    The 2008 GS 350 features a 303-hp, 3.5-liter V6 and six-speed automatic with manual shift gate. All-wheel drive is available. 

    Other 2008 changes include a revised front fascia, a new chrome grille surround, the addition of side-mirror turn signals, and new wheels designs. On the inside, all GS models get a revised instrument panel, a brushed aluminum shift plate surround, and wood trim door switch plates. 

    Rear-wheel drive is what makes the GS a driver's car. Front-wheel drive is never as sporting. All-wheel drive is also available and is beneficial in foul weather. The all-wheel-drive models feature a fast-acting, clutch-type center differential that sends 70 percent of the power to the rear wheels under normal circumstances to help foster the dynamics of a rear-wheel-drive car. When wheel sensors detect slippery road conditions, as much as 50 percent of engine power is diverted to the front wheels to increase the car's overall traction on the road. 

    Any version of the GS is a luxurious car with a strong engine and surprisingly capable handling. Also surprising is the fact that ride quality suffers with the available 18-inch wheels; Lexuses are usually pillow soft. Tall drivers might want to avoid the GS and so will those who need to haul cargo on a regular basis. But, if you're in the market for a midsize luxury/sport sedan, the GS is a fine choice and the hybrid model offers unique combination of performance and fuel economy. 

    Lineup

    The 2008 Lexus GS sedan is available in three models. The GS 350 ($44,150) sports a 303-hp 3.5-liter V6. The GS 350 AWD ($46,100) adds all-wheel drive to the package. Both GS 350 models have a six-speed automatic transmission with a manual shiftgate. 

    Standard equipment on the GS 350 includes thick, regency-style leather upholstery and a choice of wood trim in either bird's-eye maple (brown, black, or gray) or walnut; dual-zone automatic climate control; interior air filter; power tilt/telescoping wood and leather-wrapped steering wheel with audio controls; cruise control; heated 10-way power-adjustable front seats; memory for the driver's seat; mirrors and steering wheel; trunk pass-through; heated auto-dimming power exterior mirrors with tilt-down back-up aid; power windows; power locks; Lexus' SmartAccess keyless access and starting; sunroof; remote engine starting; 10-speaker AM/FM/cassette stereo with six-disc CD changer; auxiliary audio input jack; vehicle information system with a seven-inch touch screen; Bluetooth wireless cell phone link; auto-dimming rearview mirror; universal garage door opener; power trunk closer; automatic xenon headlights; theft-deterrent system; fog lights; and P225/50WR17 tires on alloy wheels. The GS 350 AWD has P225/50R17 run-flat tires. 

    The GS 460 ($52,620) has a 342-hp V8 and an eight-speed automatic transmission. The GS 450h ($54,900) features a hybrid powertrain that combines the 3.5-liter V6 with an electric motor. It has a continuously variable automatic transmission with six preset gear ratios for the manual shiftgate. 

    The GS 460 adds heated and ventilated front seats, adaptive headlights, an adaptive variable suspension with sport and normal modes, and P245/40ZR18 tires. The GS450h gets front and rear park assist, rearview camera, rain-sensing wipers, power rear sunshade, and headlight washers. It loses the trunk pass-through. 

    Options include a navigation system with voice recognition ($1850) which includes a rear backup camera; front and rear park assist ($500); Mark Levinson 330-watt audio system with 7.1 surround sound and DVD Audio playback ($1780); active vehicle stabilizer system ($3000); pre-collision braking system with radar-type cruise control ($2850); Lexus Link road assistance ($900); rain-sensing wipers with headlight washers; power rear sunshade ($210); ventilated front seats ($200); all-season run-flat tires ($320); rear spoiler ($200); and XM satellite radio ($486). 

    Safety features that come standard include dual front air bags, front and rear side airbags, driver and front passenger knee airbags, curtain-type head-protection air bags both and front and rear, and a tire-pressure monitor. Front and rear park assist and a rearview camera are standard on the GS 450h and optional on the other models. Active safety features that come standard include anti-lock brakes with electronic brake-force distribution and brake assist, traction control, and electronic stability control (ESC). The GS 460 comes with Vehicle Dynamics Integrated Management, an ESC system that processes steering angle, yaw rate, deceleration, brake pressure and wheel speed, and then uses the car's entire range of electronic controls for the engine, brake, and steering controls to help the driver control the car in an emergency handling situation. In contrast to conventional ESC systems, which react to a car's loss of control, VDIM has been developed to anticipate a dangerous situation, and then by making certain corrections, allow the driver to continue without even realizing the system is at work. The available Lexus pre-collision system uses a radar sensor to detect the onset of a collision and will automatically optimize chassis calibration for quick steering response, retract the front seatbelts, initialize brake assist and even decelerate the car at 0.3 g if the driver fails to take avoiding action. 

    Walkaround

    The face of Lexus has evolved cautiously since Toyota launched the luxury division in 1990, but it's now determined to inject more passion into its styling language. The GS led the way when this third-generation model was introduced for 2006. 

    The new styling language as seen on the GS features a low, stretched shape with a long hood, a set-back greenhouse and short rear deck. 

    The GS expresses simplicity, yet the car is thoroughly sculpted throughout its length. The design is perhaps a little predictable, yet the combination of this sleek shape and careful work to reduce aerodynamic turbulence beneath the car has produced a remarkably low 0.27 coefficient of aerodynamic drag, and this promotes a quieter interior and fuel efficiency. 

    For 2008, the front fascia is reworked with a new front bumper, a slightly revised lower air intake, and a chrome grille surround. The side mirrors get turn signals, and the wheel designs are new. 

    The GS has high-intensity-discharge headlights with an available system that automatically compensates headlight aim for different passenger loads. The power-adjustable mirrors have defogging heat elements and tilt down when the car is in reverse. The available variable intermittent windshield wipers actuate automatically when raindrops are sensed. Fast-acting LEDs are used in the rear brake lights. Big 18-inch wheels are available. 

    Interior

    The Lexus GS is very well appointed. Open the door and you're greeted by stainless-steel scuff plates, the scent of leather and cut-pile carpeting, and the gleam of highly burnished hardwood trim. 

    The tilt/telescoping steering wheel is handsomely trimmed in wood and leather. In the traditional Lexus style, the instrumentation is set deep within the dash to promote easy focus by older drivers and also features electroluminescent instrument needles for heightened visibility. Across the dash panel, each gauge, button, knob, lever and wheel is clearly identified by easily read words or symbols, so you can intuitively grasp the meaning. There's soft-touch electronic actuation for virtually every control, from the window switches to the trunk release. 

    Dominating the center stack is a seven-inch electronic screen with touch-screen controls. Two banks of menu buttons flank the screen. The driver uses this screen to operate the audio system, climate control, and optional navigation system with backup camera, though many functions are duplicated with nearby buttons on the dashboard. Navigating through the submenus doesn't take too much brainpower, but like most multi-tasking electronic systems, a day spent with the owner's manual on a quiet side street is the best way to figure out the way to work everything properly. 

    Lexus has made a quality audio system a key component of its brand identity, so it's no surprise that the GS sedan has a premium system. The standard 134-watt system features an AM/FM tuner with cassette tape and an in-dash, six-disc CD changer. It plays through a 10-speaker sound system. MP3 capability isn't offered, but an auxiliary audio input jack is provided. Audiophiles can opt for the Mark Levinson Premium Surround Sound system, developed especially for the GS interior. Utilizing 5.1 surround sound playback via a 7.1-channel speaker topology, its 330-watt amplifier sends the vibes through 14 speakers via 11 channels of amplification. 

    The DVD-based navigation system has information for more than 6 million points of interest, while route searching is conducted at ten times the speed of previous-generation systems. The screen has excellent resolution and the map images have three-dimensional shading to aid recognition. Voice recognition makes the system a hands-free experience for the experienced user. 

    The Bluetooth-compatible telephone system can be operated by voice command or through the seven-inch touch screen. 

    Intuitive Park Assist considers steering angle input as well as the usual distance-warning sensors to offer contact avoidance advice through graphics in the dashboard-mounted information screen. This advice also is displayed in the lower center of the speedometer, an area that is also used to show information from the trip computer, radar cruise status, distance monitoring and various warning messages. This system is the last word in ding prevention in the supermarket parking lot. 

    The combination of the 10-way power-adjustable driver's seat and a thick-rimmed steering wheel with an electrical tilt/telescopic control helps you find a comfortable driving position. The driver's seat itself is sculpted with an extensive set of bolsters that support you, though they are not so restrictive that they encumber easy ingress and egress. Despite the multiple controls, one of our test drivers didn't like the seating position because the front of the seat bottom doesn't tilt upward. And tall drivers might not like the GS at all, because head room is limited. 

    The same goes for the back seat. Both head and leg room will be tight for anyone over 6 feet, 2 inches, and the front seats have little toe room if the front seat is at its lowest point. The seat is comfortable, however, and a center armrest folds down to reveal the pass-through. That pass-through is handy, but not as handy as a split-folding rear seat, which the GS doesn't offer. 

    The trunk is rel. 

    Driving Impression

    Lexus is known for smooth ride and luxury appointments, and the GS has accomplished road manners. Its fundamental sense of balance makes driving enjoyable. Even during a morning commute, you can seize a few moments of driving enjoyment. 

    The available 18-inch tires can make the ride a bit harsh, however. In our test of a GS 460 on Chicago streets, the suspension reacted harshly to sharp potholes, sending the types of sounds into the cabin that make you feel like you're in danger of popping a tire or doing suspension damage. 

    The GS can rip down the road if you like. Wide tires furnish plenty of cornering grip: P245/40ZR18 tires are standard equipment for both the GS 450h and GS 460, while the GS 350 carries P225/50WR17 tires. 

    The base suspension geometry provides good handling, while gas-charged dampers and coil springs promote a resilient, long-legged ride. The GS 450h and GS 460 both have two-position, electronically adjustable damping control to help the car adapt to driving conditions, as well as available Power Active Vehicle Stabilizer, which minimizes body roll during fast driving and further enhances the sensation of effortless speed. 

    The high-tech electric power steering is exceptionally sophisticated. Its Variable Gear Ratio Steering reduces the amount of steering lock (not just steering effort) at very low speeds and accelerates the steering effect as the wheel approaches full lock. The system matches wheel angle to the speed at which the driver is turning the steering wheel in order to offset any delay in the car's response to steering input. This works especially well on winding roads. A correction feature offsets the effects of crosswinds, making small steering adjustments automatically. 

    The steering system makes it possible to manage a powerful, rear-wheel-drive car in all kinds of driving and (more important) all kinds of weather. But we felt that both the electric power steering and electric brake system occasionally deliver an unnatural feel through the controls. During ordinary driving, we adapted quickly, but the combination of these electric systems with VDIM proved faintly distracting during enthusiastic driving. In fact, the hybrid GS 450h actually annoyed us because the transition from conventional friction braking to hybrid-style regenerative electrical braking frequently proved clumsy and unpredictable. 

    Overall, the heavy, 4134-pound GS 450h is the quickest of the GS sedans, getting to 60 mph in 5.2 seconds, though it's capable of just 131 mph. The 3945-pound GS 460 launches to 60 mph in 5.4 seconds on the way to a top speed of 149 mph, and the 3795-pound GS 350 sprints to 60 mph in an impressive 5.7 seconds (5.8 seconds for AWD) on its way to a top speed of 143 mph. 

    Fuel economy for the GS 450h is rated 22/25 mpg City/Highway on the government's EPA cycle. The GS 460 is rated 17/24 mpg, the GS 350 gets 19/27 and the GS 350 AWD is rated at 18/25. 

    In our opinion, the GS 350 is more enjoyable to drive than its up-market siblings. The V6 is responsive and just plain fast. The gear changes of both the six-speed automatic transmission are virtually undetectable. The GS is not the sort of car that encourages manual shifting, but it is a performance car, and the feeling of acceleration is a large part of its appeal. 

    Conventional steering and braking helps the GS 350 feel more natural than the more-expensive models with all their drive-by-wire technology. The 17-inch wheels provide the best ride quality and the 18-inch tires are available to provide more cornering grip for drivers who feel they need it. In particular, the all-wheel-drive model feels surprisingly alert and maneuverable thanks to its rear-biased power delivery. 

    The GS 350 gives up some dynamic control at the outer limits of its performance envelope compared to the GS 450h and GS 460, but it's more enjoyable to drive at conventional speed. The all-wheel-drive version of the GS 350 copes with a wid. 

    Summary

    The Lexus approach to high performance isn't grasped by everyone, so it's easy to overlook the genuinely rewarding road manners of the Lexus GS sedan. This car has the calm, intuitive personality we associate with the Lexus brand, though ride quality can get firm with the large tires. Passenger room is good but not generous and cargo room is limited. All versions of the GS have capability to get you to your destination as quickly as you dare, and the GS 450h's combination of power and fuel economy is unique among midsize luxury/sport sedans. 

    New Car Test Drive correspondent Kirk Bell contributed to this report from Chicago. 

    Model Lineup

    Lexus GS 350 ($44,150); GS 350 AWD ($46,100); GS 460 ($52,620); GS 450h ($54,900). 

    Assembled In

    Tahara, Japan. 

    Options As Tested

    all-season run-flat tires ($320), rain-sensing wipers with headlight cleaners ($100), rear sunshade ($210), Mark Levinson 330-watt audio/navigation system with surround sound and rearview camera ($3630), rear spoiler ($200), Lexus Link ($900), intuitive front and rear park assist ($500). 

    Model Tested

    Lexus GS 460 ($52,620). 

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