Las Vegas — Lexus has been working hard to revamp its image as a manufacturer of appliances and not desirable automobiles.
Sure, the company’s cars are virtually bulletproof and have great resale value, but where is the soul? Where is the passion other than the pursuit of perfection? I’m not asking these questions, mind you. I like the brand just fine, but most enthusiasts feel spunk needs to be injected.
That spunk came last year with the LFA, a $345,000 super car that proved this company can indeed do anything it wants. That type of think has trickled down to the GS series, once one of the hottest cars on the market. With the new redo, it just may be so again.
The fourth generation GS will not hit showrooms until February 2012 as a 2013 model. It’s been making the rounds at car shows and today was part of a regional introduction to about 40 automotive journalist.
The car has been reinvented from stem to stern. The chassis is still based on the Supra/SC400, but has been tweaked to bring it into this century, especially on the F sport version.
“From a design standpoint, The GS is the first car to wear the new face of Lexus,” said Mark Templin, Lexus group vice president and general manager. “It’s highlighted by the spindle grille, the symbol for the full scale change taking place at Lexus.
“When we launch the GS next February. . .with this car forward. . .there’s no going back,” Templin said. “This is the new Lexus.”
New indeed. The grille is much more aggressive and is the face of a wider and more creased sedan. The length is about the same as the outgoing car, but it’s two inches wider in the rear. This provides for greater rear seat room for three across seating. Even rear legroom is up a bit.
Behind the steering wheel is where you want to be. Said wheel differs depending on the model selected. I prefer the bamboo version offered in the hybrid GS450h. It’s only available in that setup but may find its way into other versions as years pass. It has a silky feel but is easy to grip.
All the models feature sharp styling, upscale interiors and a bevy of safety, convenience and optional features which include adaptive headlights, all wheel drive, six speed transmission, paddle shifters, drive mode select, dynamic rear steering, Lexus dynamic handling, adaptive variable suspension, heads-up display and intuitive parking assist. My favorite new tech is the system which measures the distance between your eyelids. If you get drowsy and your eyes start to close, the car gives off a warning. Neat. A bit over the top but certainly useful.
After a thorough product briefing Lexus allowed us to drive the cars on the Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Not on the oval, but a timed road course and handling setup.
There are 3 GS models, the 350, 450h hybrid and the F Sport. I sampled each on the handling course and my conclusions were about what you’d expect: the base model is fine, the hybrid leans a bit in the corners and the F Sport is well suited for the track.
Put it in Sport + mode and the car comes to life as it nimbly navigates cones, curves and straightaways. The F Sport is confidence inspiring, allowing a mediocre track person as myself to feel great behind the wheel. Braking, steering and handling are top notch. The F Sport trounced the Mercedes E350 on hand in steering feel and acceleration.
The 5-Series BMW was a tougher customer. It allows a more skilled driver to feel what the car is doing a be in more control. The F Sport is no slouch with its bevy of computerized handling enhancements, which will give that well established mark some competition. Neither is a bad thing, just different approaches to achieving the same goal.
Even on a highway setting each car shines. The 450h is eerily quiet until you step on the gas. The GS has an excellent blend of power and comfortable ride. The F Sport? It will make you grin on any surface.
How will the public respond to this new GS? Very well, I think. Lexus asked more than 1,000 GS and competitor owners about what they wanted in the next GS. Templin thinks the company has given them that and more. He expects the GS to give Lexus between 12 to 13 percent of the mid-luxury sedan market.
“We do see sales growth potential for this car, but, the GS plays a much more important role for Lexus,” Templin said. “The GS signifies the new, bolder and more confident direction the brand is taking.”
Prices and fuel economy have not been set but should be available next month. One Lexus official said that because of current economic conditions the car should have “happy pricing.”
Advertising starts Superbowl Sunday. Look for Lexus to use social media as well as taking the car on a “Consumer Performance Drive Tour.”