2009 Lexus GS 460 Review
WITH CAREY RUSS
2009 Lexus GS 460Luxury meets performance meets high tech in the Lexus GS 460, the Japanese manufacturer's entry at the premium end of the mid-luxury segment. That's a part of the automotive marketplace dominated by the Germans, and the GS meets them on equal ground for ability while offering its own character.
The V8 choice in the GS lineup has been "460" since last year, denoting a larger engine. The former 4.3-liter, 300-horsepower powerplant was exchanged for one of 4.6 liters and 342 horsepower, now matched to the eight-speed automatic transmission first seen in Lexus's premium LS. That combination not only increases performance, it also improves fuel economy. The EPA highway rating is 24 mpg; during my test week I regularly saw that -- in real highway driving at real highway speeds, not a simulated 50 mph on a dyno -- and often saw more. That's with first-class acceleration, braking, and handling abilities on top of the expected -- and delivered -- Lexus-class interior comforts.
Technology, both electronic and mechanical, for performance, handling, and safety, is an integral part of the GS's character. Adaptive variable suspension (AVS) allows the driver a choice between a more American soft luxury ride or Euro-oriented firmness -- or the car will select damping it considers appropriate, with a comfort orientation that can quickly be firmed up for optimum response if a quick maneuver is initiated. The Vehicle Dynamics Integrated Management System (VDIM) integrates sensor input from and control of various steering, braking, and engine systems for enhanced safety, and adaptive front lighting points the 460's headlights in the direction of travel in corners for improved driver vision. Options including active stabilizers, the Pre-Collision System (PCS), Intuitive Park Assist (IPA), and a backup camera included with the navigation system add further control and safety. And then there is the available Mark Levinson audio system... Mechanically, the eight-speed automatic allows both performance and economy.
My week with the GS 460 involved more than the usual amount of highway driving, but that was no problem. The GS is ideal for covering distance, in comfort. As a bonus, traffic on the main road meant a detour via the old road through the mountains, a pleasure in this car. It has the quiet and comfort expected of a Lexus, with the power and handling expected of any luxury sports sedan. It also returned 25mpg on that tank of premium unleaded, with little care on my part for fuel conservation. An impressive performance, in all parameters.
APPEARANCE: Mid-product cycle changes are a fact of life in the auto industry, and the GS is a good example. Look closely. Lexus didn't want to damage anything -- after all, the current GS is the progenitor of the "L-Finesse" look -- but a little freshening was in order. So the front got a new bumper, flatter for better aerodynamics, and the grille gets new chrome trim. The outside mirrors now incorporate auxiliary turn signals, and the standard wheel designs have been changed. The muscular but not muscle-bound shape shows continuity with all of its predecessors, and is distinctive and immediately recognizable, something all too rare in today's automotive styling.
COMFORT: There has been some minor change of detail inside as well as out, with revisions to the instrument panel, brushed aluminum trim around the shift lever, and new wood trim materials. One of those is dark-stained bird's-eye maple, with light gray leather, and that was the interior combination in my test car. With darker material on the top of the dash and doors, it's a classic Lexus interior, bright, open, and spacious-looking. That look is no illusion, as both front and rear passengers have plenty of room. Appointments are to the expected high level, meaning power everything, "Smart Access" keyless push-button access and starting, excellent seat comfort, with the fronts both heated and cooled, and simple, easy-to-use cabin systems. With the optional Mark Levinson audio and navigation system, climate, information, and AM/FM/optional satellite radio/6CD/auxiliary/cassette(!) audio systems are all controlled through the touch screen in the center stack. No worries, it's simple and intuitive in a manner that has so far escaped the German competition. The outboard rear seats offer good leg and head room, with plenty of width for two. A high central tunnel and matching central seat cushion mean that position is best-suited for smaller people and short distances. Trunk space is adequate if not generous.
SAFETY: To all of the expected passive safety devices, including front, side, knee, and side curtain airbags, and active safety enhanced by VDIM, the Lexus GS adds its ``Omni Directional Compatibility Body Structure'' (ODBCS) that surrounds occupants with controlled-crushable front, rear, and side zones. The optional ``Pre-Collision System'' (PCS) uses a radar sensor to detect obstacles in front of the car and computerized systems to quicken the car's reflexes if a collision is deemed imminent.
RIDE AND HANDLING: Performance driving requires firm spring and shock settings to minimize weight transfer from acceleration, deceleration, and cornering. A luxury ride requires softer settings for comfort. In the GS 460, both requirements are met. The suspension design incorporates both anti-lift and anti-squat geometry to handle fore-and-aft weight transfer. The driver can select ``normal'' or ``sport'' modes for the AVS variable-damping shocks. ``Sport'' is a touch firmer, and still quite comfortable. Electric power steering uses a DC motor, not hydraulics, to assist steering. It eliminates an engine-driven hydraulic pump, saving fuel, and is integrated with the Variable Gear Ratio Steering (VGRS) system, which varies steering ratio depending on vehicle speed and speed of steering input. The steering effort is moderately light, but never too light, and the brakes are first-rate. Braking is electronically-controlled -- pedal pressure is translated to digital signals to the VDIM system, then back to pressure on the brake cylinders, with anti-lock, brake assist, and electronic brake-force distribution functions.
PERFORMANCE: Improvements to both the engine and transmission have made a very good car a great car. The V8 GS started life with a 4.0-liter, 300-horsepower engine, later upgraded to 4.3 liters with the same horsepower but a little more torque. The recent increase to 4.6 liters improves horsepower to 342 (at 6200 rpm), and torque to 339 lb-ft at 3600 rpm. VVT-i variable cam phasing on both intake and exhaust camshafts and combination direct and port fuel injection expand the range of power, and helps reduce emissions to ULEV-II levels. Similarly, the original five-speed automatic transmission became a six-speed, and now an eight-speed, with overdrive in seventh and eighth and a high 2.937:1 rear axle ratio for relaxed and fuel-efficient highway cruising. Combine them, and the result is impressive power and acceleration -- 0-60 in 5.4 seconds if desired, so even the shortest highway on-ramp is no problem -- and impressive fuel economy in daily driving.
CONCLUSIONS: The 2009 Lexus GS 460 is a high-tech luxury/performance masterpiece.
SPECIFICATIONS: 2009 Lexus GS 460
Base Price $ 53,320 Price As Tested $ 58,785 Engine Type dual overhead cam 32-valve aluminum alloy V8 with VVT-i variable cam phasing Engine Size 4.6 liters / 281 cu. in. Horsepower 342 @ 6200 rpm Torque (lb-ft) 339 @ 3600 rpm Transmission 8-speed automatic Wheelbase / Length 112.2 in. / 190.0 in. Curb Weight 3,945 lbs. Pounds Per Horsepower 11.5 Fuel Capacity 18.8 gal. Fuel Requirement 91 octane unleaded premium gasoline Tires 245/40R18 93V Dunlop SP Sport 5000 m+s Brakes, front/rear vented disc / solid disc, ABS, BA, VSC standard Suspension, front/rear independent double wishbone / independent multi-link Drivetrain longitudinal front engine, rear-wheel drive PERFORMANCE EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon city / highway / observed 17 / 24 / 25 0 to 60 mph 5.4 sec OPTIONS AND CHARGES Mark Levinson Audio/Navigation System Package includes: Levinson audio, voice-activated DVD navigation system with backup camera, intuitive parking assist, power rear sunshade, rear spoiler, rain-sensing wipers and headlight cleaners $ 4,640 Destination Charge $ 825