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Car reviews - Lexus - GS - GS300 sedan

Our Opinion

We like
Competitive pricing, individual style
Room for improvement
Airbags optional only (except Levant), road noise

16 May 2001

PEEEP, peeep, peeep, peeep.

Just as things get interesting in the GS300 - a tight fast corner, a fair bit of lean and a overloaded yaw rating - and the on-board nanny starts shrieking, indicating the vehicle stability control system has been activated.

This reigns in the car by throttling back or braking individual wheels but it is the last thing you want in a frantic moment, having your enjoyment abruptly interrupted by a piercing alarm.

The system can be turned off by a button on the centre console.

But at least now we know how a jet liner captain feels when trying to land a 747 in a storm and alarm bells suddenly erupt in the cockpit.

The concept of a pulse-racing moment in a Lexus is to be welcomed.

Enhanced performance and driver enjoyment are now added to refinement, quality and luxury, not to mention the enticing list of ownership benefits offered by Lexus, from boutique hotel bookings to preferential seats and parking at arts events round Australia.

GS300 is a mix of a smooth straight-six motor with rear wheel drive, aero-look body, comfortable interior and enough electric or electronic devices to obliterate a BMW options list.

Externally, the oversize headlamps and separate driving lamps provide instant recognition points. Like the E-class Benz, they are actually one unit, split by the front bumper into which they are mounted.

The lamps use gas-discharge technology which means a brilliant light spread while golf-ball sized retro-look indicator lamps snuggle cozily into the corner of the main lamp fairing.

The short overhang front end contrasts with the longer, tall boot, topped on our test car by a spoiler, part of the option pack which includes the electric sunroof. In our eyes the spoiler harms rather than enhances the overall balance of the exterior.

Twin chrome tailpipes at each side of the car are a tad pretentious for a straight-six engine, individual fog-lamps flanking the license plate seem to be design after-thoughts.

The five-spoke, 16-inch alloy wheels do not look big enough to dominate the wheel arches and the car does not hunker quite close enough to the road.

Open the bonnet to reveal a big six lurking in a space built for a bent eight (available in the US). The VVTi system produces two tall, proud cam covers but the small, glued on Lexus badge seems rather an afterthought, compared to the under bonnet dress-up efforts of BMW and Audi.

On the road is where the GS300 scores. The steering has decent weight, some feel and feedback. You get the impression noise vibration and harshness levels may have been purposely exaggerated from the Lexus norm, to more closely bond driver and car to the road.

Though the engine is smooth and quiet all the way to 4000rpm, beyond 5000rpm the note hardens and takes on a welcome raspiness.

It is no slacker off the line but needs to be stirred to provide performance that impresses. Thanks to the staggered gate on the transmission, the driver has some control over change points.

It also has a throttle that understands nuances of enthusiastic driving. It can differentiate between a call for an increase in speed and the desire to drop back a cog to slingshot past dawdling traffic.

The brakes are fine too while the suspension allows perhaps a little too much lean for a sports sedan but muffles most road surface imperfections.

The trade has been settled in favor of ride leaving the on-board electronic trickery to look after handling.

Excitement provided by the exterior styling and mechanicals has not seeped into the interior.

The leather seats are broad but flat, shiny not grippy and dolphinairium grey dominates the cabin. No cheery Euro two-tones here, only shades of grey.

The leather-wrapped steering wheel glides into place as the key is inserted and driver and front passenger are protected by a quartet of airbags.

Wood grain veneer surrounding the staggered gate transmission shifter and door slivers is restrained and tasteful. The gear shifter is topped by a knob that is part chrome, part wood and part leather. Indecisions, indecisions.

The dominant feature of the dash is the three pot speedo, rev counter and auxiliary gauge console. Back-lit luminous faces glare at the driver day and night. Tinted see-through gauge needles are a first, and quite funky.

Lexus has answered the call of enthusiastic drivers for a more communicative machine, one that stands out from the crowd and is comprehensively equipped. The GS300 delivers the goods.

- Automotive NetWorks 05/07/1999

The Road to Recovery podcast series

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