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Thursday, April 18, 2013

Lexus GS

The Lexus GS was the third sedan added to Toyota's luxury-car lineup, back in 1993. The rear-wheel-drive, mid-size sedan has changed over time to add hybrid and all-wheel-drive models, but it's still Lexus' challenger for the best-selling luxosedans from some big names: Mercedes-Benz and its E-Class, BMW and its 5-Series, Audi and its A6.

Over time, the Lexus GS has been configured with an array of eight- and six-cylinder engines to complement its handling-oriented layout. The current version is only offered with a six-cylinder, though it also has a hybrid companion model and a new F-Sport performance handling option.

The Lexus GS first bowed in 1993 with an evocative shape penned by the Italian design firm Giugiaro. Dubbed the Aristo in Japan, the first GS sedan had an independent suspension, an in-line six-cylinder engine or a twin-turbo version shared with the Toyota Supra (in Japan only), and an option for a V-8. The sleek sedan was paired with the new SC300 and SC400 coupes, and brought Lexus accolades for expressive design and performance. A Nakamichi sound system was among the high-dollar features installed in the GS, along with walnut trim.

In its second generation, the 1998-2005 Lexus GS added more performance options to its portfolio. Along with its six-cylinder and V-8 engines, it added four-wheel steering and a manual-shift mode for its automatic transmission, but four-wheel drive was not offered. Notable design features included egg-shaped headlamps that were echoed on the Mercedes-Benz E-Class, and Lexus' special "Optitron" white-lit gauges. Minor changes were made during this model's tenure, and sales dropped off as Lexus previewed the current GS range in a concept car at the 2005 Detroit auto show.

The third-generation Lexus GS went on sale as a 2006 model. Essentially unchanged to date, the current GS comes in V-6 and V-8 versions. The third generation GS is also the first model to feature Lexus' own L-finesse styling upon its introduction.

The GS 450h was introduced at the 2005 New York auto show. It teams the 3.5-liter V-6 from the GS 350 with batteries and motors and a continuously variable transmission for what Lexus calls a "performance hybrid." While it accelerates strongly, the hybrid version lacks steering feel, carries a price premium, and reduces trunk space--already a shortcoming of the GS. Fuel economy has also been a lightning rod for criticism; many test outlets haven't observed any gas-mileage increase with the hybrid.

This Lexus GS has been a slow seller, but still an attractive, well-balanced sport sedan. With either the 303-horsepower, 3.5-liter V-6 in the 2010 Lexus GS 350 or the 342-hp, 4.6-liter V-8 engine in the GS 460, these sedans move authoritatively. The six-cylinder is teamed with a six-speed automatic; the V-8 gets an eight-speed automatic shared with the larger LS. The GS 350 is additionally available in an all-wheel-drive version. Performance is strong, but headroom in front and all room in the back mar the driving experience. Refinement is a strong point, and the GS scores well in front-crash tests, though side-impact scores are not good.

Lexus skipped the 2012 model year with its mid-size sedan and hybrid. Then 2013 marked the introduction of a brand-new Lexus GS. With a 306-hp, 3.5-liter V-6, paddle-shifted six-speed automatic, and a somewhat sportier setup than ever--along with an updated wood- and leather-trimmed cabin--the latest 2013 GS 350 hit all the marks for performance and features, in a high-end sport sedan. A huge 12.3-inch wide-screen system was front and center, and could enable split-screen views for the nav system, or connectivity to apps like Pandora or Facebook.

The current Lexus GS has been a strong safety performer--it was named an IIHS Top Safety Pick--and has gained some handling recognition for its new GS 350 F Sport edition, which retunes the basics with enthusiasts in mind. It offers a performance suspension, 19-inch wheels, larger brakes, and other enhancements.

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