05/17/05 — Lexus GS loaded with technology

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Lexus GS loaded with technology

Lexus GS 300 (2006)

The 2006 Lexus GS sports sedan is loaded with the latest in technological innovations, as you might expect with an all-new entry from Toyota’s premium brand.

The first all-new GS since 1998 features a myriad of alphabetical enhancements — VVT-i, VGRS, ECB, ECT, AFS, ABS, VSC, BA, ETCS-i, VDIM, IPA, to name but a few — designed to make the driving experience safer and more interesting.

Lexus GS 300, 2006

In addition to the smorgasbord of acronyms, it also comes with a Lexus-quiet interior and a pleasant ride.

And it features new styling that is less conservative than the pervious edition. It’s more rounded and with a high-beltline. The high beltline look seems to be the styling rage of mid-decade — think Chrysler 300 as the extreme example — and the GS effectively carries off the theme with a long hood, curved roofline and a short rear deck lid.

The sedan has a more planted look than its predecessor partly due to a two-inch longer wheelbase and a one-inch wider rear track.

While the GS may not win many best-in-class styling awards, it won’t turn any prospective customers away, either.

Lexus officials believe they have hit the styling nail squarely on the head.

“We think the new GS’ engaging, emotional design by itself will create strong desire for the car,” said Mike T. Wells, Lexus vice president of sales and dealer development, at a press event in Florida this spring.

The interior layout is more noteworthy to us than the exterior because Lexus has introduced a collection of features people have come to expect in a luxury car while keeping the switchgear relatively simple. Lexus engineers, who admittedly used the BMW 5-Series as a benchmark, apparently did not want to duplicate BMW’s perplexing and overwrought iDrive computer system.

Lexus has a better plan, and part of that plan is a small bin to the left of the steering wheel that flips open to reveal several controls that aren’t used every day and therefore can remain concealed and separate from those items operated regularly such as climate control and stereo.

The small bin contains, among other things, the outside mirror adjustments, the main cruise control switch, the trip odometer and switches for the gas lid opener and trunk opener.

Buttons along both sides of the navigation screen allow the driver to intuitively access various functions.

In other words, you can operate most of the equipment without the need to study the owner’s manual. You can drive off with the radio stations preset, the climate control dialed in at a pleasant 74 degrees and the mirrors properly adjusted after just a couple minutes of cabin familiarization.

And while you are becoming accustomed to the switchgear, you will notice that the interior is adorned with high-quality materials and sparkling fit and finish, just as Lexus owners have come to expect.

The GS comes in two trim levels, the V-6-powered 300 and the V-8-equipped 430.

We drove both versions in Florida and spent a week with a GS 300 on the roads and highways of eastern North Carolina.

And we came away with the perception that the 6-cylinder-equipped GS is a more balanced machine and actually more fun to drive on a daily commute than the GS 430. And the GS 300 can be purchased with all-wheel drive, a feature that should appeal to people in cold-weather climates. It’s the first Lexus sedan with all-wheel drive. It varies front-to-rear torque from 30-70 to 50-50 as needed.

The GS 300 comes with a new 3.0-liter V-6 replacing the straight six found in the previous sedan. The new engine with VVT-i (variable valve timing with intelligence) shares its block and a few other pieces with the Toyota Avalon and 4Runner, but gets its own heads and direct injection system.

The new engine develops 245 horsepower — 20 more than the previous engine — and 230 pound-feet of torque mated to a smooth-shifting six-speed Electronically Controlled automatic Transmission (ECT) with a sequential shift option.

The engine features ETCS-i (electronic throttle control system with intelligence).

It’s a spunky powertrain capable of 0 to 60 times under 7 seconds. The old straight six was almost a second slower. We found the new V-6 very entertaining with enough performance to induce smiles.

The GS 300 comes with such invisible safety features as Vehicle Stability Control (VSC), BrakeAssist (BA), antilock braking system (ABS) and traction control.

But the most advanced acronym in the arsenal comes only on the GS 430. The VDIM (Vehicle Dynamics Integrated Management) system is reserved for the V-8 model. VDIM manages a variety of the safety systems listed above to react to trouble before trouble can cause a problem. It uses a range of sensors including steering angle, yaw rate, deceleration, brake pressure, brake pedal stroke and wheel speed to keep the car tracking on a true course.

The 430 also exclusively gets Variable Gear Ratio Steering (VGRS) and electronically controlled brakes (ECB). The new electronic power steering is Lexus’ answer to BMW’s Active Steering system. It reduces the amount the driver must turn the wheel at slower speeds, and at higher speeds increases the steering amount to closely match conventional steering for precise on-center feel.

One of the gee-whiz attributes of electronic steering is “side wind correction.” If the driver encounters a sudden and strong side wind, the system provides subtle steering corrections without driver input.

This is not your father’s luxury car. He only wishes he had it so good.

In addition to the aforementioned systems, the GS 430 is equipped with a 4.3-liter V-8 developing 300 horsepower and 325 pound-feet of torque. In fact, it is the same engine used since 2001. But with some subtle massaging and mated to the new six-speed automatic, performance has been upgraded slightly. The new GS 430 is capable of climbing from 0 to 60 in 5.7 seconds and completing a quarter mile in 14.4 seconds at 98 miles per hour.

There’s about a 10 grand premium for the GS 430, however, and when you figure you can get most of the whiz-bang technology in the GS 300, it makes sense to save the cash.

Some of the good stuff on our test car included the incomparable Mark Levinson sound system with 5.1 multi-channel playback, 5.1 Dolby Digital, and DTS decoding of DVD video, DVD audio and DVD R-discs, 14 speakers and a total power output of 330 watts; a rear back-up camera; Intuitive Park Assist (IPA); and Adaptive Front Lighting System (AFS), which illuminates a curve as the driver steers into it.

The GS 300 starts at $43,550 for the rear-drive version and $45,500 for the all-wheel drive model. The options’ packages are many and tempting. Our test car, for instance, stickered out for $54,809.

The GS 430 starts at $51,775 and can easily eclipse 60 grand.

But if you desire a classy, well-made and sporty sedan, you will not be disappointed. We bet that a year from now you will say that it was money very well spent.

By Jim Meachen
Published in Car Reviews on May 17, 2005 3:12 PM