New Car/Review

The Lexus GS 400, The Pursuit of Perfection has succeeded

by Larry Weitzman

Lexus
Lexus Full Line factory footage (10:11) 28.8, 56k, or 200k

It took less than six seconds to fall in love with the new Lexus GS 400. You will understand that statement later, but first some history. The Lexus GS series started life about six years ago as a GS 300 designed by ITAL Design's Giugiaro. It was powered by an inline six of 220 hp and had a rather subdued character. I spent several days in the original and was impressed with its competence and comfort. But it lacked power considering its competition. 0-60 times were in the low nines, but the midrange felt like it had more snap. I remarked on more than one occasion that an engine transplant of the Lexus V-8 would make this a very desirable automobile.

Jumping forward to August of last year, my prayers were answered. It was in Monterey when I saw a car that resembled the old GS but my view of the rear said GS 400. It was painted in vivid Mica Blue and stood out like a Pamela Lee at a conference of nuclear physicists.

Closer inspection revealed a completely different car from the previous GS. Instead of looking to ITAL Design, this new iteration was done in house by Akihiro Nagaya. It was shorter with a more rounded shape. The big headlights formed part of the front fenders and the rear deck had a truncated look with a spoiler mounted on top. The body shape is softer and the wheel wells received blisters which add to its very aggressive shape. It took me some time to appreciate its beauty with all its subtle nuances, but I have grown to love its new look, never mind the newfound performance.

The new design is six inches shorter than the old GS, but interior room has grown. The wheelbase is a long 110.2 relative to the short 189.2 inch overall length. Passenger volume is an even 100 cubic feet. Although the trunk looks short, capacity is nearly 15 cubic feet. The GS 400 exterior dimensions are very close to its competition, but because of the very short front hood, it excels in interior room.

But the piece d' resistance of the new GS 400 is the new 4.0L V-8 with 300 hp at 6000 rpm and 310 pounds of torque at 4,000 rpm. Based on the LS 400 engine (which now produces 290 hp), the GS motor has dual overhead camshafts and 32 valves. But it comes with Lexus's new VVT-i. The new variable valve timing with intelligence utilizes a special cam pulley, which can seamlessly vary the intake timing to improve overall engine breathing and performance. In conjunction with VVT-i, it uses electronic computerized engine management systems. Side benefits include improved fuel economy and emissions.

The Lexus motor is also about the smoothest engine I have ever encountered. Motor is a good word because it feels electric smooth. There is no noise or strain even near redline. My only complaint (nitpick) would be to see a higher redline (currently 6,350 rpm) so I could hold it longer in each gear.

The transmission is an incredibly smooth five speed electronically controlled automatic. But gear selection can be unique. Besides the regular drive position, it can be manually shifted through the gates or manually shifted with buttons located on the steering wheel. The downshift buttons are located on the front of the steering wheel, with the upshift buttons located on the rear, a la Formula 1. The gear indicator is located in the dash pod to let you know whether your in full automatic (D), manual automatic (M, button shifting) or whether the shift lever is first, second or third gear.

How does this all work? Wonderfully would be an understatement. I averaged 6 seconds flat to 60 mph, with one run at 5.74. It flew from 50-70 mph in a scant 3.5 seconds. Going up a 6% grade only slows that time to 4.3 seconds. And the GS does it without ruffling a feather or intruding on the Mozart coming from the fabulous sound system. The only thing you feel is the surge of power and the smile on your face. This may be the fastest sedan in the world (BMW fans and supercharged Jaguar folks may disagree).

Part of the reason for such absolute quiet is the super rigid Fort Knox like body. Lexus goes to great lengths with things like foam rubber body noise isolation inserts in doors and the roof areas. The suspension is state of the art independent double wishbone, front and rear. The result is a supple ride with superb motion control. Ponderosa Road was about as smooth as I have ever encountered and the car was composed and rock solid stable in the corners.

In traversing other twisty roads, such as Green Valley, Bass Lake and Carson, the GS 400 simply demonstrates its awesome cornering power. Driving becomes beyond effortless; it becomes downright fun powering from apex to apex. The steering is speed sensing progressive power rack and pinion. It contributes to the confidence and security this vehicle imparts to the lucky driver. The GS is composed in any driving regime at any time.

I recently had a chance to do a few laps in the GS 400 at Willow Springs Raceway 2.5 mile, 9 turn road race course. I found the car very benign in the corners with no vices. 450 foot radius turns were handled at 70 plus mph with no steering adjustments. It held its line perfectly with a little throttle application. On the two short straight-aways, I was able to accelerate from about 85 mph to about 110 mph in the quarter mile or so before having to brake for the next turn. It has remarkable performance, tenacious grip, superb balance and marvelous brakes.

At night, the Lexus high intensity discharge headlights ($500) illuminate up the road like no other lights I have ever seen. They cut off evenly and have a very wide pattern. They stay on even when the high beams are used. It enhances driving safety, especially when driving the country roads of El Dorado County with its abundant wildlife that still refuses to use cross walks.

Contributing to the stable, accurate handling are the optional ($215) 8 x 17 alloys fitted with Bridgestone Potenza 235/45ZR tires. Although the tires are rated for speeds beyond 149 mph, the car is electronically governed to 149, even though it has a theoretical top speed of about 180 with a drag coefficient of a lowly .29 (down from .31).

Matching the engine performance is the braking system. Four wheel discs (ventilated in the front) with four channel ABS are very powerful. The feel is natural. The standard VSC (vehicle skid control) couples with the traction control to keep the GS 400 where it is pointed. VSC uses the sensors, actuators and computers of the antilock and traction control to continuously monitor the vehicle's direction and steering input to make sure the GS stays on course.

All this performance comes with little mileage penalty. With an EPA fuel economy rating of 17/24 city/highway and a 20 gallon fuel tank, 500 hundred miles would be in the cards if you can restrain yourself. I averaged about 20 mpg in mostly short trips with a heavy right foot (Maybe a visit to the podiatrist is in order). Highway mileage should exceed the predicted 24 mpg by at least a couple.

The GS 400 also goes down the highway like a luxury cruiser. No harshness, noise, bump intrusion or tar strips. The engine turns a lazy 2250 at 70 mph and is inaudible. The interior has yards of soft leather, on the seats, door panels, steering wheel and shifter. The seats are 10-way power with a two-position memory. They are sublimely comfortable with great support for doing the twisties. The rear seats are sumptuous for two and not too bad for three. The rear headrests are moveable to provide nice support for the head and neck.

Even though this is a midsize car, the room in the rear, hip head and legroom are very adequate. The rear passenger windows are unusually large allowing for superb visibility for the rear seaters.

The door paneling is thick, soft padded leather with beautiful wood trim.

The dash is gorgeous. The driver gets a pod with three large holes. The center hole has a 160 mph speedo with warning lights below. To the left is a large tach and flanking right is the temp and fuel gauge split by the gearshift indicator. The lighting is Lexus unique. It is called Optitron and is backlit in a cool bluish/white color. It is legible under all conditions including direct sunlight. It is trick.

The center of the dash, which extends into the center console, contains the electronic HVAC system panel. There are separate controls for the driver and passenger and they are soft touch with superb feel. Ditto for the marvelous standard sound system located underneath the HVAC panel. The sound is concert hall quality, and the controls have a luxurious quality and feel. Everything is in easy reach of the driver and located intuitively.

Is there anything to nit-pick. At low speeds, the steering effort may be too high for some drivers' liking. The styling may not be for everyone, although it seems to be gaining favor.

Maybe most important to what this Lexus is all about is the exceptional fit and finish, the build quality and the use of the highest quality materials everywhere. There are no cutting corners in this automobile. It exudes quality in every aspect, from its state of the art design to its execution. Yes, some cars may have more glitz and glitter (don't think the Lexus doesn't have any), but there is an overall elegance to this car that is separate from its wonderful sporting nature.

The bad news is that this kind of quality and performance is not cheap. My vehicle had a list price of $45,505. It came with only five options: wheels locks ($42), a trunk mat ($49), rear deck spoiler ($440), 17 inch alloys and Z rated tires (a bargain at $215, I'll bet you didn't think there were any Lexus bargains) and a premium package, which combines an in dash (glove box) 6 disc CD changer, moon roof, heated front seats and high intensity discharge headlamps ($3055). With destination the total package tips the scales at $49,801.

But there is a GS 300 that could be had comparably equipped for about $43,000. The main difference is the engine. Instead of the 4.0L V-8, it comes with a 225 hp inline DOHC 6. It too has the trick VVT-i and will scoot from 0-60 in about 7.5 seconds with a reported top speed of about 144 mph. I had a chance to sample a GS 300 and thought it did about everything the 400 did except it did not quite make the same shock waves under hard acceleration. Only minor neighborhood window rattling. It too is a great car with the ride, luxury and handling of the 400 with slightly less superfluous performance. I could learn to love GS 300 just as easily. It would take about a nanno second.

SPECIFICATIONS

Price                             $45,505 to about $50,000

Layout

Front longitudinal engine
rear wheel drive

Engine

4.0L DOHC V-8 with VVT-i
32 valves                         300 hp @ 6,000 rpm
                                  310 lb-ft of torque @ 4,000 rpm

Transmission

5 speed electronically
controlled automatic with
manual button shifting

Dimensions

Wheelbase                         110.2  inches
Length                            189.2  inches
Width                             70.9   inches
Height                            56.7   inches
Weight                            3693   pounds
Fuel Capacity                     19.8   gallons


Performance
                 
0-60 mph                         6.0    seconds
50-70                            3.5    seconds
50-70 uphill                     4.3    seconds
Top Speed                        Not advisable to even try
                                 Please trust me when I report
                                 a governor limited 149 (because of
                                 the standard V rated tires)
Fuel Economy                     EPA 17/24 city/highway.  My estimate
                                 is 20 in El Dorado County and 24-27
                                 highway at legal speeds (65-70)

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