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Lexus GS 430 (2001)

SEE ALSO: Lexus Rover Buyer's Guide

by Laura Heilig

The Dress
In my mind, the term Lexus is synonymous with the word luxury. Every one of these vehicles that I have driven since the line's inception has been the epitome of comfort and class. I was pleased that my expectations were met yet again during my latest Lexus test drive, the GS 430.

The 430 has taken the success of the GS series and kicked it up a notch with its refined look and improved luxury features. Unlike most American models, which favor the elongated front and back ends, the GS 430 is sculpted with an aerodynamic hood and square trunk, giving it a sleek silhouette as it cruises on the highways. Different on this model from the GS 400, its predecessor, are a classy new grille design, and unique new headlamp and taillamp designs, all of which further increase this car's slick styling. With this type of design, young professionals can achieve the status of a luxury sedan without sacrificing their desire for a sporty-looking car. The GS series now includes Black Cherry Pearl, Blue Onyx Pearl, and Midnight Pine Pearl as exterior colors.

While the exterior portrays a smaller image than most sedans, the interior is unbelievably roomy, with 100 cubic feet of passenger volume and 14.8 cubic feet of trunk storage. Simply translated, this is the type of car that a family of five large people could take on vacation and still have room for their luggage. Unless, of course, they pack like me, then they would have to leave three people at home. In all seriousness, this car was comfortable enough to drive all the way from Pennsylvania to California and still want to drive back.

The Accessories
When you are driving in a high-class vehicle, you expect to be lavished with every bell and whistle invented. The GS 430 does not disappoint in this area. There are so many convenience features on this machine, I honestly believe (sans bathrooms) that I could live in this car for weeks! With the amount of option packages available on this car, I don't doubt that soon the bathroom will be offered as part of a premium package, too.

Some of the more notable features on the GS 430 include its dual-zone climate control with "smog" sensor that automatically detects and adjusts air quality inside the car, UV-absorbing tinted glass, and water-repellent glass on the front side windows. Driving adjustments were easy with the 10-way power front seats, the power tilt/telescope steering wheel that tilted automatically when the vehicle was shut off, and auto-dimming adjustable rearview and driver's side mirrors, all of which could be recorded in the driver's seat memory system. Both side mirrors are also heated.

Trimmed with real walnut wood and thoughtfully crafted, all gauges are easy to read thanks to Lexus' signature Optitron lighting that adjusts automatically to interior conditions. Front and rear passengers can read as well with individual reading lamps for each of these seats. The Lexus remote keyless entry system is also nicely designed, allowing you to control the windows and moonroof as well, all from an in-key package. The trunk and fuel door have electric releases, and a Homelink programmable garage door opener is also standard.

Lexus was fortunate to form a new partnership this year with Mark Levinson, noted home stereo system designer, to offer higher quality sound systems in both of its GS models. This eight speaker audio option allows all passengers to enjoy optimal sound quality. Standard on both models is a seven-speaker system. All audio components are accessible from the controls mounted on the standard leather-wrapped steering wheel.

While audio and luxury items can be upgraded beyond belief in the GS series, safety is not optional. Lexus holds true to this formula and supports it by increasing the air bag barrier of safety around the driver and front passenger. New this year are a standard set of side-curtain airbags, located above the front doors to cover the side windows during a severe side-impact accident. These airbags have been designed to assist the front seat-mounted side airbags for the driver and passenger. An immobilizer anti-theft system is also standard to make you feel safe when you leave your car.

The Shoes
It is very difficult to write several paragraphs about a vehicle whose performance makes you want to utter one word, "Wow." If I were not being paid to turn in a thorough review, this is all I would type; however, the purpose of this column is not to drool and gush, but to give an unbiased report, so I will elaborate.

I didn't realize how fluid this car was until a weekend excursion to my sister's home, a four-hour drive. On the frantic highways around Washington, DC, I was able to maintain a worry-free, comfortable and consistently fast highway speed without feeling any hesitation from the car. One reason I could maintain these unmentionable speeds was due to the new 4.3 liter V8 engine Lexus has installed under the hood, which has increased the torque from last year's 4.0 liter V8 and allowed for a slightly faster acceleration capability. Although it has a larger engine, the GS 430 still meets federal requirements as an Ultra Low Emissions Vehicle while demanding no additional fuel and without sacrificing gas mileage (24 mpg average.)

This engine, combined with rear-wheel drive and double wishbone front and rear suspension, provided us with one of the smoothest trips we have ever taken between the states. The only rough time we had was when I inadvertently decided to test out the electronically controlled 5-speed automatic with intelligence, or E-shift, a gadget somewhat new to my driving experiences. When activated properly, E-shift is a great way for performance junkies to gain more power and control from their transmission. Lexus' unique design allows the driver to switch gears easily by pressing either the downshift button on the front of the steering wheel, or the upshift button directly behind it. I like this design much better than tapping the gearshift as in some cars, unfortunately, I pressed the downshift button going quite fast on the highway not knowing the button's purpose. I highly recommend nobody tries to do this in their car! In defense of the GS 430, it took very little time to recover from this driver error, and the button's placement on the wheel was not at fault. I'm sure if the car had hands, I would have been smacked in the back of the head, but this is why we read our manuals before driving a new car, right?

Continuing with safety efforts designed in the 400 model, the GS 430 is equipped with the Brake Assist feature. In the event that the driver has pressed hard on the brake pedal, but not hard enough to activate ABS, Brake Assist will supply the additional pressure needed to safely slow down the car. This car is also equipped with a Vehicle Skid Control System (VSC), which is traction control that detects and applies braking to the wheels that need it, so no control is lost. Together, Brake Assist and VSC almost eliminate driver error in dangerous braking situations, a very comforting notion to have while driving.

The Purse
A standardly equipped GS 430 has a starting price of $47, 950, with option packages ranging from $2, 540 to $5, 790. For consumers willing and able to afford models in the luxury class, this vehicle's performance and styling will definitely make you feel your investment was worthwhile.