The previous-generation Lexus GS wasn’t a favourite among South Africans, but Lexus would like to see this changed with its new range. It just might be the pick of the bunch in Lexus's local line-up. We drove it on some of the best roads in the Western Cape.

What’s new?

Apart from the engines, the entire car. According to Lexus, more engineers worked on the new GS than on the original LS400. And it shows.

The new GS looks more athletic, leaner, and dare I use the word, sportier. Apart from the seriously aggressive nose (especially with the F-Sport package on the 450h; this design will be seen on all Lexus models in future), the rear now resembles a mix between an IS and LS. Once on the move, it doesn’t resemble a huge car, as was sometimes the case with the previous model. Another design highlight that drew my attention was the vertical shutline of the rear doors. The line ebbs and flows from the C-pilar to the base; very tidy indeed.

Although the engine range is not entirely new, the engines have been updated to be more fuel efficient. The range consists of three models: GS 250 (a new addition), 350 and 450h. The F-Sport package is only available on the 450h. It includes an upgraded brake system, different bumper, grille and wheels, while the adaptive variable suspension (AVS) is offered along with a sport S+ mode. Enthusiastic drivers will also be interested in the four-wheel-steering system.

All the engines have been updated for the new GS. Although the 350 and 450h’s base engines are the same, the unit in the hybrid has been tuned for efficiency rather than outright power.

Interior

The interior is a remarkable step up from the previous model. There are fewer bits from Lexus’s parent company, Toyota, while even parts like the indicator stalks have been redesigned.

The facia has an impressive information screen and silver audio and (black) climate control buttons situated lower down. The transmission tunnel features a joystick, or as Lexus calls it, the remote-touch interface, to select your options on the screen. An analogue clock can now be found between the two centre air vents.

The instrument panel shows the largest difference between the 350 and 450h. Whereas the 350 displays a rev counter on the left, the 450h shows a charge/eco/power circular counter. However, turn the knob on the transmission tunnel to sport S or sport S+, and it changes to a rev counter.

The ventilated – for both heating and cooling – leather seats are comfortable and offer the necessary support. With the driver’s seat set for myself (height 1,87 metres), I jumped in the (supportive) rear seats and discovered that both head- and legroom were more than ample. My knees didn’t even touch the front seats.

On the road

Although Lexus would probably like us to focus on the hybrid model, the simpler 350 is the more enjoyable car to drive. The 450h (252 kW and 345 N.m + 275 N.m) does have more power and torque, with the latter the most noticable over the 350.

Up to 45 km/h, it is possible to drive on battery power alone in the hybrid. Press the accelerator, and the V6 kicks in. The CVT transmission then juggles power from both the batteries and the engine, depending on several factors such as the amount of throttle applied, the speed you are driving, etc.

Turning AVS to the sportier modes immediately firms up the ride. Fortunately, the suspension remains compliant. During its media presentation, Lexus put a lot of emphasis on the driving experience of the car. Although the hybrid will definitely appeal to a select audience, the 350’s balance between comfortable executive saloon as well as a car that you can hustle along is better executed. Rev it out to just over 6 000 r/min and the engine has an intense, eager sound. The damping (on both cars) keeps the cabin isolated from the road surface, but it also allows a good balance between comfort and body lean through corners. I would have like to have seen AVS as at least an option on the 350.

Summary

The executive-saloon segment is seriously competitive, but initial impressions show that Lexus has moved closer to its competition. A good specification level is a given, while the design, especially with the F-Sport pack, allows the GS to stand out. It will definitely find its place in our market.

Specifications:*

Model: GS 250 EX

Engine: 2,5-litre, V6, petrol

Power: 154 kW at 6 400 r/min

Torque: 253 N.m at 4 800 r/min

0-100 km/h: 8,8 seconds

Fuel consumption: 8,9 L/100 km

CO2: 215 g/km

Price: R494 400

Maintenance plan: Lexus’s Distance Plan Plus

Service intervals: 15 000 km

Model: GS 350 EX

Engine: 3,5-litre, V6, petrol

Power: 233 kW at 6 400 r/min

Torque: 378 N.m at 4 800 r/min

0-100 km/h: 6,3 seconds

Fuel consumption: 9,4 L/100 km

CO2: 223 g/km

Price: R564 900

Maintenance plan: Lexus’s Distance Plan Plus

Service intervals: 15 000 km

Model: GS 450h F-Sport

Engine: 3,5-litre, V6, petrol

Power: 213 kW at 6 000 r/min (total system output 252 kW)

Torque: 345 N.m at 4 600 r/min (electric motor: 275 N.m)

0-100 km/h: 6,1 seconds

Fuel consumption: 6,2 L/100 km

CO2: 139 g/km

Price: R753 700

Maintenance plan: Lexus’s Distance Plan Complete

Service intervals: 15 000 km

* According to the manufacturer.

Note: The GS 450h SE is available for R771 700.

Follow the author on Twitter.