By Jim Bray
Lexus, and to a lesser extent Infiniti, really set the car world on their
ears when they first burst onto the market about 15 years ago. Since then,
the premium Japanese brands have been serious contenders for the dollars of
the reasonably well heeled.
Over the course of that decade and a half, Lexus has changed its marketing
from relentlessly pursuing perfection to passionately pursuing perfection.
And they continue to make excellent cars that are often considered to be as
perfect as a car can be.
The latest in their stable are the 2006 GS 300 and GS 430, the third generation
of the sporty sedan that sits below the LS 430 flagship and above the ES 330
and IS 300 entry level sedans. Sporty and entry level being relative terms,
The third generation looks sharp in fact to these eyes its easily
the most attractive of the GS series to date. I liked the Italian-styled original,
but the second generation kind of left me cold. This new one is a work of art,
though, sleek and beautiful and reeks state-of-the-art. It's gorgeous.
The GS has always been rear wheel drive, which is great, but the new generation
GS 300 is also available with an optional all wheel drive system and thats
the version I got to try. My tester listed at approximately $78,000 Canadian
and, as one might expect, it is a really nice car.
The new engine in the lower end GS is a 3 liter V6 that puts out
245 horsepower at 6200 rpm. Torque is rated at 230 lb. ft. @ 3600 rpm. Decent
figures, but not earth shattering. Lexus bandies around such descriptors as Sequential
Multiport Fuel Injection (SFI), Acoustic Control Induction System (ACIS) and
Electronic Throttle Control System with intelligence (ETCS-i), technical
jargon that translates into smoothness, grace and competence, though not cheek
The GS 6-speed automatic transmission shifts like silk and has a pretend
manual setting, as it should. Alas, that pretend manual setting is really pretend
and didnt add a lot of joy to this drivers life. Surprisingly,
I found myself preferring the fully automatic setting. I imagine a six-speed
manual would be a blast, but I wouldnt hold my breath waiting for one.
The GS features a sport-tuned double wishbone suspension that could be a tad
stiffer but which is definitely no wallower. And to add a little more satisfaction
for the driver, you can switch the car between default, snow and power settings.
The latter was obviously my favorite, but the snow setting proved very capable
and handy during my test drive when we got a hefty dump of springtime snow.
The 17 inch wheels look great and of course theyre equipped with disc
brakes with ABS. Theres also traction and stability control, and all
this stuff combined to work very well on the snowy streets; the GS could be
driven confidently and comfortably regardless of how lousy it was outside.
I liked the GS lighting system, too. Its High Intensity Discharge (HID)
headlights are bright and cover a good area. Lexus says they also last ten
times longer and provide three times more power than conventional halogen,
while using 30 percent less power. An automatic mode turns the low beams on
or off according to the ambient light outside. On one particularly dreary day,
the lights would come on and the instruments change to their night look, when
we drove under overpasses. It was kind of neat.
Ease yourself into the drivers seat and you're at home virtually immediately.
The leather front seats feel great. They're comfortable, heated and
air conditioned and they adjust every way except into the fourth dimension.
The cars instrumentation is also wonderful, well laid out, easy to read
and attractive to boot. Everything you need to touch in the car is at hand
and for the most part quite straightforward. The California walnut trim is
Driver and front passenger seats each come with three memory settings, so
many that you could forget which one you've programmed your seat positions
The GS also has a really neat system of keyless operation. You can leave the
fob in your pocket because you can unlock the car without it, and once you're
inside you start the Lexus with a button on the dash. Likewise when you get
out, you can lock the car without using the fob. I loved this feature for no
particular reason other than it was really cool.
Theres a rain sensing setting on the windshield wipers, though the Lexus
and I agreed to disagree about when it should activate. We always seemed to
be second guessing each other. Regardless of when they come on, however, the
wipers and washers do an excellent job,.
Speaking of second guessing, the GS comes with a plethora of built in nannies.
Theres a parking assist that hollers at you (well, it doesn't really
holler; its much more pleasant sounding than that) if the car senses
its about to get dinged. And who can blame it? The LCD screen on the
instrument panel shows you the direction from which that ding is about to be
inflicted and indicates in which direction you should turn the steering wheel
to avoid the insurance claim. It's just like having your spouse in the passenger
seat, except that you can shut it off.
Since we had plenty of snow while I was making my neighbors jealous with the
Lexus, I discovered on a couple of occasions that the anti-crash nanny would
chime its warning every time the car stopped for a red light, as falling snowflakes
fooled it into thinking I was mowing down pedestrians. It was the perfect time
to use the shut off button, which is hidden with some other little used controls
in a neat little panel to the left of the steering wheel.
The weather also offered a wonderful opportunity to test the GS 300s
all wheel drive capability, which was great - the car was stable and secure
regardless of the road conditions.
Lexus positively piles on the safety equipment. The bounteous bevy of belts
and bags includes driver and passenger knee airbags, front seat mounted side
airbags, side curtain airbags, seatbelt pre-tensioners and force limiters,
3-Point belts for everyone, and plenty more. It also supposedly has a pre-crash
warning system that, when it senses a collision, tightens the seat belts and
gets ready for impact. This probably eliminates the need for the built-in nannies
to yell "We'll all be killed!"
But thats stuff you never want to have to think about as long as you
know its there. There are a lot more fun things to consider about a car
such as this.
The audio system, for example. My tester came with the famed Mark Levinson
option and its really deluxe. I was delighted to learn it plays about
every kind of disc you can imagine short of those old 12 inch laserdiscs or,
shudder, vinyl records. It handles 5.1 channel DVD-Audio and dts music discs
and, though I didnt have a chance to try it, Super Audio CD (SACD) discs
as well. This ups the ante on the system I tried in the Acura
TL, whose stereo blew me away at the time.
As with the TLs, the Lexus head unit automatically senses the different
types of disc, making it unnecessary for the driver to do anything except hit PLAY. And
thats exactly how it should be.
It's a wonderful system and it sounds great, positively thundering. Except
that for some reason on my tester the front center channel wouldnt work
on 5.1 discs. This meant that on The Whos Tommy, for example,
there were no lead vocals, making the Lexus cabin sound like karaoke
night for Who fans. This was a lot of fun when I was alone in the car, but
it wasnt what the system was designed for.
On the other hand, the navigation system is very good, quite easy to use,
and the LCD screen doubles as a touch screen for audio adjustment controls
and the like, and it even displays a rear view camera for when you're backing
Car companies (not just Lexus) need to do something about those damn lawyer
screens you have to click through, though. They're as annoying as having a
real lawyer in the car.
Well, maybe not quite.
Speaking of HVAC, the GS 300 has dual zone automatic climate control, of course,
and it kept us quite toasty. Once, okay twice, I tried the seat air conditioning
but since it was horrid outside it didnt take long to turn my butt into
a block of ice. I cur-tailed that part of the test because I didnt want
to put glacier-like scrapes on the leather upholstery.
As you've undoubtedly guessed by now, I really liked the Lexus GS 300 AWD.
Driving it didnt quicken my heartbeat as much as I thought it would.
While its easily one of the nicest vehicles I've driven, superbly designed
and executed and undoubtedly a most satisfying ride for many years to come,
it didnt make me want to head straight out to my favorite twisty bits.
The car is wonderfully smooth, competent and comfortable, but lacks that last
bit of performance that would raise the GS from Holy Cow, great car but
mortgage my soul to have it status.
I imagine the V8 powered GS 430 would up the fun to drive factor a lot, so
its probably just as well that I didnt get to drive it or I'd be
mortgaging my soul even as you read this
On the other hand, the V6 will be more economical to run which, considering
gas prices and that you have to fill the GS with premium gas, could add up
over the years.
I wonder how this car would have felt to drive if Lexus had slapped its logo
on the new 3.5 liter V6 in the just-released Toyota Avalon, which I drove the
week after I had the GS 300. It has more power and leaps to attention when
prodded by the right foot in a way this Lexus doesn't, quite. The engine seems
like overkill in the Avalon, but perhaps it could be just what the driving
doctor ordered for the GS 300.
Then again, theres always that V8
Bottom line? Other than my angst over the V6, a few nitpicks here and there
and an audio system problem that would be covered by warranty (and which most
people would never notice, since 5.1 discs arent popular yet), this car
does seem darn near perfect.
And I'm passionate about saying that.