SEE ALSO: Lexus Buyer's Guide
Prior to the introduction of the second-generation Lexus GS in 1998, the luxury-performance class was the exclusive province of European manufacturers. The 1998 GS models served notice that Lexus was serious about carving a place in that class, much as the LS400 had made its presence in the premium luxury category.
The 1998 through 2000 GS models made their mark, but Lexus has upped the ante for 2001. Although the six-cylinder version is still the GS300, the V8 version has become the GS430, thanks to a slightly larger-capacity engine. Both have a five-speed automatic transmission, but the "E-Shift" steering wheel-mounted shift buttons of the GS400 have migrated to the GS300. Styling changes are limited to new wheels and slightly revised taillights, with high-intensity discharge (HID) headlights standard on the GS430 and available for the GS300. Standard front side curtain airbags are new.
I've just finished a week with a 2001 GS430. It's a unique luxury sedan, as civilized as expected of a Lexus, with plenty of comfort and convenience, but it also offers the sort of performance once associated only with sports cars. Consider it as a land-bound executive jet.
APPEARANCE: There have been no major changes to the GS's angularly rounded style since the introduction of the second generation, and none are needed. It is distinctive, with its four-eyed face descended from the original Lexus SC400 coupe and a shape, with its long, prominent passenger cabin, relatively short front and rear deck, and short overhangs, very different from the sports or luxury sedan norm. The gently-rounded near-fastback design of the car is complimented by sharp character lines, and looks more like a coupe than a sedan. Discreet chrome trim gives a contemporary luxury look, while the bright reflective surfaces of the headlights give it an interesting character.
COMFORT: The passenger room promised by the GS's unique body style is no illusion. In design, materials, and appointment, the GS slots perfectly between the entry-luxury ES300 and the premium LS430, but it is closer to the larger LS in interior room. Interior style is pure Lexus, with a two-tone dark-over-light design featuring leather upholstery and walnut trim. The seats are firmly comfortable, like those of competing European sports-luxury sedans, with power adjustment and memory. It is a driver's car, with a power-adjustable steering wheel allowing the perfect driving position, and a well-placed shift lever for drivers who wish to over- ride the automatic transmission's computer. "Optitron" backlit analog gauges are easily visible in all circumstances. But passengers are not ignored. Don't be fooled by the coupe-like body style - no coupe ever had the rear seat room and comfort found in the GS. The optional CD changer is mounted conveniently in the glove box (which is still much larger in capacity than expected) for easy use by the front passenger. If that's not enough audio power, the same audiophile-quality Mark Levinson system as is featured for the LS is available. And, for the gadget-obsessed, a DVD-based navigation system is offered. Back to practicality, the trunk is larger than expected from the outside, and underneath it is a real, full-sized, spare tire.
SAFETY: All 2001 Lexus GS models have front and rear crumple zones, a strong passenger compartment, three-point safety belts for all occupants, dual front and front side airbags, and front side curtain airbags. The Brake Assist system engages the four-wheel antilock disc brakes more fully in emergency stops, and the Vehicle Skid Control (VSC) stability system aids control in difficult situations.
ROADABILITY: The GS430 is set up for American real world sport-luxury driving conditions. If its four-wheel independent double wishbone suspension is calibrated more softly than some European sport sedans, it still allows for sport-oriented driving as well as long-distance comfort, even on roads that are not exactly well-paved. There is enough feedback through the steering and suspension so that while the driver and other occupants are insulated from major road shocks, they are not isolated from the driving experience. Even with the optional 235/45 ZR17 tires, the GS430 is never harsh or tiring for the driver or passengers.
PERFORMANCE: It has been said that while horsepower is what you brag about, torque is what you feel. The 2001 GS430 certainly demonstrates the truth in that saying, with improved acceleration despite no increase in horsepower from last year's GS400- not that 300 horsepower is exactly anemic. Torque is up from 310 lb-ft to 325. As importantly, power and torque peaks are at lower rpms, for faster response. The "VVT-i" variable valve timing system ensures a broad torque curve for great power characteristics in all conditions. The five-speed automatic transmission shifts smoothly on its own. Even though the button-on-the-steering-wheel "E- Shift" is gone, the GS430's transmission can be easily shifted manually for more sport-oriented driving. But the engine is muscular enough to lessen the need for shifting.
CONCLUSIONS: The 2001 Lexus GS430 offers comfort, performance, and prestige.
SPECIFICATIONS 2001 Lexus GS430 Base Price $ 47,355 Price As Tested $ 51,213 Engine Type dual overhead cam 32-valve V8 with VVT-i variable valve timing Engine Size 4.3 liters / 242 cu. in. Horsepower 300 @ 5600 rpm Torque (lb-ft) 325 @ 3400 rpm Transmission 5-speed electronically-controlled automatic Wheelbase / Length 110.2 in. / 189.2 in. Curb Weight 3,707 lbs. Pounds Per Horsepower 12.4 Fuel Capacity 19.8 gal. Fuel Requirement 91 octane premium unleaded gasoline Tires P235/45 ZR17 Bridgestone Potenza RER030 (optional) Brakes, front/rear vented disc / solid disc, antilock and brake assist standard Suspension, front/rear four-wheel independent double wishbone with coil springs Drivetrain front engine, rear-wheel drive PERFORMANCE EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon city / highway / observed 18 / 23 / 19 0 to 60 mph 5.8 sec (mfg) 1/4 mile (E.T.) 14.3 sec (mfg) Coefficient of Drag (cd) 0.30 OPTIONS AND CHARGES Premium package - includes: 6CD in-dash auto changer, power tilt and slide moonroof, heated front seats $ 2,540 Rear spoiler $ 440 17-inch summer tires with aluminum wheels $ 215 Trunk mat $ 66 Wheel locks $ 52 Destination charge $ 545