"The Lexus GS is a competent car but is up against very strong German rivals from Mercedes-Benz, Audi and BMW."
The new Lexus GS is a fresh start for Toyota's luxury brand. Not content with a reputation for luxurious, reliable and well-equipped cars, Lexus now wants to inject a bit of excitement into its brand and says all new models will look more stylish and be more fun to drive. So the BMW 5 Series rival gets a totally redesigned body with a sharp-looking front end that features LED daytime running lights and a neat grille. Under the skin, the totally new chassis features adaptive suspension and, on F Sport models, lots of gadgets aimed at improving the handling. As for engine choices, Lexus has updated the GS 450h flagship hybrid, and brought in a new entry-level 208bhp 2.5-litre V6 petrol called the GS 250. There is still no diesel, though – Lexus says it will try to compete with cars like the BMW 520d by offering an all-new small petrol hybrid later in the GS' life. In the meantime, the new GS goes on sale in summer 2012.
The old Lexus GS was very good at being a relaxing way to travel long distances. But it wasn't much fun to drive. With a new chassis featuring double wishbone suspension at the front, multi-link suspension at the rear and wider tracks, the new car is a bit more sporty and feels more stable. The electric power steering system has more weight while new adaptive dampers soak up bumps well. You can choose from Eco, Normal, Sport and Sport+ driving modes which alter the response of the engine, steering and suspension, but regardless of the mode you select, it's still not much fun and a BMW 5 Series is better to drive. The F Sport version has gizmos such as four-wheel steering and a variable ratio steering rack, as well as a bodykit and 19-inch wheels - but while it's more agile and very impressive, it costs £74,000. That's as much as a BMW M5. As for power, the 338bhp 3.5-litre V6 hybrid engine is very fast, doing 0-62mph in 5.9 seconds, and it's great at providing hushed progress on the motorway. However, ask for lots of acceleration and the CVT auto gearbox will keep the engine at high revs, sending a drone through the car as it shuffles through different ratios.
With adaptive suspension the GS 450h floats over bumps and cushions its occupants from rough roads like a luxury saloon should. Wind and road noise are very well insulated too, so this is an ideal car in which to travel long distances. Thanks to a completely new interior and a slight increase in size (the GS is 20mm wider and 30mm taller than before) there's now quite a lot more room inside – the driver can sit much lower and there's more headroom as a result. Rear seat passengers will be very comfortable too. Perhaps one of the biggest improvements is to the logic of the cabin layout. In the old car there were just too many buttons, which made it confusing to operate. In the new car, the layout is much simpler, with most of the car's functions controlled via the large eight-inch central display (12.3-inches as an option).
The Lexus GS is too new for there to be any associated problems with reliability but given its predecessor's reputation for not going wrong, we would be amazed if the new car didn't follow the same path. Should you be unfortunate to have a problem, our experience is that Lexus dealers are the best in the business when it comes to dealing with faults, always being courteous, solving issues extremely quickly and returning your car freshly cleaned and valeted. What's more, the new GS has made big steps in improving quality – all the materials in the cabin are of a very high standard (from soft leathers to machined metals to beautiful bamboo).
Lexus has made some huge leaps forward in this area. The old GS 450h suffered from a small boot as the hybrid batteries were located under the floor. They've now been moved to behind the rear seats and as a result, the luggage area is now vastly improved – up to 480-litres, a boost of some 60 percent. There is only one bodystyle, though – a simple saloon. So if you want a large estate, you're only choice is to go for an Audi A6 Avant, BMW 5 Series Touring or the Mercedes E-Class Estate.
Value for money
Lexus has always been extremely generous with its standard equipment and the latest GS is no different. Although the GS 450h starts from an estimated £50,000 (the GS 250 should cost around £35,000), it comes absolutely loaded with kit, such as one of the world's most advanced four-zone climate control systems, Bluetooth, leather upholstery, satellite navigation and MP3 player integration. Delve into the options list and you can add a 17-speaker Mark Levinson stereo (which sounds superb), adaptive front lighting and blind spot monitoring. In addition, the GS is also available with adaptive cruise control, lane departure warning and collision mitigation.
The jury is out when it comes to how much the GS will cost to keep going. Servicing and insurance are likely to require deep pockets, while residual values aren't likely to match in-demand high performance diesels from Audi, BMW and Mercedes. Another negative is that while Lexus claims the new GS 450h will return 47.8mpg (up from 36.7mpg), we have our doubts that it will get anywhere near that figure in regular driving; hybrids have a notorious habit of disappointing when it comes to fuel economy. However, the GS should be cheap to tax - CO2 emissions have been slashed from 179g/km to just 137g/km.