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New Car Review

1998 LEXUS GS400

by Tom Hagin


SEE ALSO: Lexus Rover Buyer's Guide


Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price              $ 44,800
Price As Tested                                    $ 50,732
Engine Type              DOHC 4V VVT-i 4.0 Liter V8 w/SMFI*
Engine Size                                 242 cid/3969 cc
Horsepower                                   300 @ 6000 RPM
Torque (lb-ft)                               310 @ 4000 RPM
Wheelbase/Width/Length                    110.2"/70.9"/189"
Transmission                           Five-speed automatic
Curb Weight                                     3727 pounds
Fuel Capacity                                  19.8 gallons
Tires  (F/R)                                     235/45ZR17
Brakes (F/R)                          Disc (ABS)/disc (ABS)
Drive Train                   Front-engine/rear-wheel-drive
Vehicle Type                       Five-passenger/four-door
Domestic Content                                        N/A
Coefficient of Drag (Cd.)                              0.29


EPA Economy, miles per gallon
   city/highway/average                            17/23/21
0-60 MPH                                        6.0 seconds
1/4 Mile (E.T.)                       15 seconds @ 97.5 mph
Top speed                                           149 mph
     * Sequential multi-point fuel injection

Lexus has always provided personal transportation that focuses on a quiet, smooth and luxurious ride, choosing these qualities over all-out performance. But for 1998, one model changes that generalization.

The GS 400 is the new Lexus hotrod, complete with race-type wheels and tires and blistering V8 performance - but luxury is still the key.

OUTSIDE - With its sleek and assertive styling, it's obvious that the GS 400 has the luxury sport sedan market in its sights. The front end features a pair of optional high intensity, self-aiming headlights that flank another set of round driving lights. Fog lamps are set low in the front air dam, which has a slim, wide opening. That theme carries to the tail end, where two smaller lights have been located between the two main tail lamps. A .029 drag coefficient is evident from the flowing profile and it contributes to the car's low wind noise and increased fuel mileage. Our tester wore an optional set of 17-inch five-spoke polished alloy wheels and massive 235/45ZR17 high performance tires. The standard GS400 tires are sized 225/55R16.

INSIDE - Plenty of glass gives good outward vision, and highly adjustable bucket seats provided excellent over-the-dash vision for our five-foot test driver. A tasteful amount of wood trim wraps the leather- covered interior and there's plenty of head and legroom for four passengers. However, squeezing a fifth person into the middle rear position is a tight fit. Deeply recessed gauges are backlit by what Lexus calls Optitron, a lime-green light that doesn't wash out in direct sunlight. As an option, GS models can be had with a center-dash touch-screen video monitor which operates a navigation system, and the audio and ventilation controls. Power windows, door locks, outside mirrors, front seats, auto-dimming rearview mirrors and an electrically adjustable steering column are standard features, while our tester had an optional in-dash, six-disc CD changer located just under the glove box door. It also had a power tilt and slide moon roof with one-touch opening and electric releases for the fuel filler door and trunk lid.

ON THE ROAD - To make the hot GS 400 sport sedan, Lexus borrowed from its top-line LS 400. Its updated 4.0 liter V8 uses a new camshaft system, called VVT-i, to allow infinite valve timing adjustments to increase power and efficiency. Unlike other variable camshaft timing systems that increase power abruptly, the Lexus version uses a progressive rate camshaft pulley which gives unnoticeable increases across a wide RPM range. This explains the new engine's 300 horsepower and 310 lb-ft of torque. Also new is a 5-speed "E-shift" automatic transmission, which uses a console-mounted shift lever with the standard shift pattern. But when the lever is pulled into the "M" slot, the driver can use a set of "Up" or "Down" buttons to change gears. The driver can push one on either side of the steering wheel's face for a downshift, or another set on its backside for an upshift.

BEHIND THE WHEEL - The GS body is 32 percent stiffer in torsional (twisting) rigidity, and has 25 percent more bending resistance. This allowed Lexus engineers to soften the suspension to soak up bumps and potholes, even with the low profile tires, but its cornering prowess is unflappable. A newly designed double wishbone rear suspension not only gives better handling characteristics, but its compactness allows for more trunk space. The GS 400 also incorporates Toyota's Vehicle Skid Control, or VSC. This device works in conjunction with the traction control (which reduces power-induced wheelspin) and anti-lock braking system (ABS) to keep the car from sliding sideways on slippery surfaces. This system too, is unnoticeable, but can be de-activated via a button on the center console. Four-wheel disc brakes and four-channel ABS work together to provide stellar braking performance.

SAFETY - Dual airbags in the dash, along with two more side-impact airbags in the seat. ABS, VSC, traction control, and side-impact beams.

OPTIONS - The moonroof adds $1,020, larger tires are $1,915. The six-disc CD changer is $1,050 and heated front seats are $420 each. The high-intensity headlamps are $500 while destination charge is $495.