In a market dominated by German marques, Lexus has always shone as an alternative choice, one for those more concerned with comfort, convenience and unparalleled reliability than aggressive badging, Ultimate Driving Machines and Vorsprung durch Technik.
With the latest GS, Lexus has kept all the cars traditional virtues, but improved the style, driving dynamics and cabin ambience. Lexus reckons sixty percent of the models sales will be to customers whod previously have driven one of its German rivals – so does the new GS have what it takes?
The GS adopts what Lexus calls its L Finesse design language. First seen on the compact CT 200h, L Finesse is all about sharp creases, smooth sides and the distinctive chrome-highlighted spindle grille design. Whatever trim level you choose it looks far more eye-catching than the previous GS (which, unless you already own one, youre now Googling to remember what it looks like) but it works particularly well in F Sport trim.
F Sport models replace the slatted front grille with a black mesh, gain three-element LED headlights, and ride on larger 19-inch alloy wheels. Theres also a subtle lip spoiler on the bootlid, but overall the tiny details add up to an attractive whole. Its not up there with Jaguars XF in the beauty stakes, but it edges ahead of the slightly bland BMW 5-Series.
Other notable points? Youll be able to determine the petrol GS 250 from the hybrid GS 450h by the badging, as all Lexus hybrid models gain a blue glow around the L motifs front and back. Keep your eye out for silver cars too, as they use a new paint technique thats said to give a deep, 3D-style appearance. We couldnt really notice
There have been improvements made inside too. Without much effort, this is the best cabin Lexus has put in a car. Theres a hint of Jaguar XF about the wide central panel running across the dash, though the cabin is largely dominated by the huge central infotainment screen, the largest in any current production car. The materials are pleasant to poke and prod (if youre inclined to do that with every car you sit in) and being a Lexus, everything will probably last a million years.
Getting comfortable isnt an issue. In the Luxury and F Sport models we drove, the drivers seat was 16-way electrically adjustable, with everything from the typical fore and aft controls to two levels of lumbar support and an option to adjust the side bolsters to a more figure-hugging setting.
With some playing around, we quickly found a nigh-on perfect driving position, which remained comfortable over long periods of driving. Throw in the whisper-quiet cabin and useful head-up display showing speed and sat-nav directions, and the GS is an incredibly relaxing car to drive.
Theres good news for back seat passengers too, who now get more leg- and head-room than they did in the old model. The boot is over 50 percent larger too in the hybrid model, thanks to a re-positioning of the battery pack.
In a class with renowned drivers cars like the BMW 5-Series and Jaguar XF, the GS has a job on its hands to offer the same mix of precision, ride comfort and fun. While our drive confirmed that its still not as fun as the Jaguar, thats more a mark of how high the standards now are in the class – as the Lexus is still a top bit of kit.
Even on the large 19-inch wheels of the F Sport, the ride is never anything less than incredibly comfortable. Larger bumps, though noticeable, are still dealt with silently and the car never feels fazed by the road surface. On models with smaller wheels, this improves further.
Handling is much improved. Few GS drivers are likely to mind that the steering doesnt transmit every message the tarmac sends, as its still accurate and quick. Thats particularly true of the GS 450h F Sport, which has uprated suspension, variable-ratio steering and a four-wheel steering system.
Manoeuvrability at all speeds is improved, and its more stable at motorway speeds too. Both GS 250 and GS 450h were happy well into triple figures on the German autobahns of our test, and scything through twisty alpine roads in Austria. We cant fault the cars grip either – youll rarely approach its limits on the road.
We tested two models, the 2.5-liter, V6-engined GS 250, and the 3.5-liter, hybrid-assisted GS 450h. The former comes as standard with a six-speed torque converter automatic, the latter a continuously variable transmission.
This results in two cars with surprisingly different driving characteristics. The GS 250 is a simple beast, producing 207 horsepower at 6,400 rpm. Itll get to 60 mph in 8.6 seconds and top 143 mph, and youve got the option of leaving it in auto, or using the now-obligatory shift paddles to change the gears yourself.
Its quiet at low speeds but more vocal at higher revs. Its not an unpleasant sound, but was noticeable at higher speeds on the autobahn where the hybrid remained much quieter. Its also a sign of the times that the GS 250 didnt feel particularly quick, especially at motorway speeds – thank an abundance of muscular turbodiesels in the class for that.
The GS 450h is much more becoming of the class in every discernible area. Its more responsive than the GS 250 right across the rev range – and with 341 bhp available between engine and electric motor, youd hope so – quieter, torquier, and as well see in the next section, more economical.
As is typical from CVTs, it can get a little noisy at full throttle, but youll rarely be there for long since the hybrid gathers pace so effectively. For most intents and purposes its silent, and when running on electric power alone, even more so.
Value for money
Though the GS 450h is significantly more expensive than the GS 250 – 44,995 plays 35,995 in Luxury trim, the chasm even greater if you specify GS 250-only SE trim at 32,995 – the hybrid models kill the non-hybrids in terms of running costs.
Official combined fuel consumption for the GS 250 is only 31.7 mpg, which looks a little out-of-step for the times – a 35,000 BMW 520i M Sport auto is quicker, but still manages a combined 42.2mpg. The hybrid is much more competitive, with combined economy of 46.3 despite its much higher power output.
That, combined with the lower band E road tax rating, will likely make the GS 450h the company car of choice, while private owners with lower annual mileages choose the cheaper-to-buy GS 250.
What became clear when driving the cars is that the official figures arent unattainable goals, either. After mainly high-speed autobahn driving, we managed around 33 mpg in the GS 250 – not bad, considering the amount of time we spent on the naughty side of 100mph.
The GS 450h was even more impressive. At motorway speeds it achieved a similar mid-30s mpg figure, but in a mix of 30-60mph town and country driving and a blast through the Alps in Sport mode, the car still returned 44 mpg. On your daily commute, which likely doesnt take in any mountain passes, wed expect even more is possible.
As ever, its also worth mentioning that youd have to achieve significantly more in a diesel equivalent to offset the extra fuel cost. Lexus also claims that no other car in the class – diesel or hybrid – offers the same performance per gram of CO2, so if you want to have fun with a clean conscience, the GS 450h may be the car for you. Even so, its hard not to note that if youre not as concerned with performance, there are cheaper diesel rivals available.
Several options can be specified, from a Mark Levinson Premium Sound system on Luxury and F Sport lines at 1,000 (standard on Premier models), to metallic or mica paint at 610 on all trim lines.
The reality of the Premium E segment is that most buyers will choose a car based on badge allegiance – i.e. a BMW buyer will always buy BMWs, an Audi buyer will always buy Audis, and so-on. That makes Lexuss wish for sixty percent conquest sales a highly ambitious target, but we could fully understand any buyer wishing to make the switch.
It may miss out on the last few percent of fun (and beauty) of something like a Jaguar XF, but in all measureable areas the GS has improved on its predecessor – and in several subjective ones too. The cabin is an exceedingly pleasant place to spend time, the real-world economy of the hybrid was very good indeed in our hands, and the GS can hack it in the twisty stuff too.
The GS 250 is less talented than the GS 450h, but still a worthy choice for a select few buyers. Wed likely pick one of its petrol rivals instead (or spend the same on an even more economical diesel), but the GS 450h would genuinely make us think twice about a diesel Jaguar, BMW, Mecedes or Audi at the same price point.
What the press think
Opinions are mixed on the GS. All appreciate the sharper new styling, improved interior and high levels of standard equipment, but some are a little hesitant to recommend it as a drivers car.
All agree that the GS 450h is a better car than the GS 250, but there are occasional complaints about the continuously-variable transmission and question marks over real-world economy. Our suggestion? Try before you buy.