BREAKING into the luxury car market as a manufacturer is perhaps one of the most arduous tasks in the industry. The attempt by Toyota's luxury arm Lexus, which has been in SA since 1989, to upset the applecart of Audi, BMW and Mercedes-Benz, has been met with varying degrees of success.
I have driven numerous permutations from Lexus in recent years and, while many agree that the company certainly churns out solid, well appointed and modern designs, they somehow fail to lure away buyers of German equivalents. Badge snobbery perhaps? Maybe, but it is rather a pity when one weighs the odds.
As you read this, yet another player has entered the fray in the form of the Infiniti brand, the premium wing of Nissan, aiming to net a few of the segment's punters. However, the subject of this article is the recently launched Lexus GS model range and, in this instance, the GS350. Now the previous generation GS450h I drove a few years ago certainly impressed with its real world performance for a hybrid model. The GS300 in contrast was lacklustre, but remained the volume seller in the range.
As the pictures of the new model eloquently depict, the spindle grille that debuted with the CT200h endows the model with a n aggressive yet unique design. It had many a bystander and fellow motorist intrigued everywhere I drove.
The rear with those tapered lights and chromed exhaust give it a very neat look without being garish in its design. Then there was the interior, and here I feel that the designers were intent on making it one of the most ergonomic yet luxurious in the business, thanks to the judicious use of high quality materials and the large screen display - 12,3 inches wide - which is arguably the largest in the segment. The screen plays host to things like the navigation system and fuel consumption read out, and is accessible by the mouse type selector that is more intuitive than that found in the RX range.
Thankfully, the centre console has also been simplified with switchgear for the audio and climate control now more easily accessible than previously, when the touch screen was required in order to make the necessary adjustments. The small diameter steering wheel, similar to that of the rare LFA supercar, telegraphs a superb amount of feedback to the driver, particularly during bouts of spirited driving.
This brings me to the engine nestling below the bonnet, the 3,5l V6 powerplant is similar to that employed in the IS350 and pushes out 233kW and 378Nm via a six-speed automatic transmission.
Those figures may not necessarily blow your hair back, but in practice this is a very peppy engine that, even at our rarified reef altitudes, is eager to chase the rev limiter with gusto, much to the driver's delight. To complement the power on tap, the transmission has been tuned to be more responsive, much like the IS-F's eight-speed automatic, spurring the driver to use the paddle shifts behind the steering wheel.
Handling has fortunately been tuned to make the GS a sportier drive than its predecessor, with more than predictable dynamics that are certainly a cut above its other competitors, barring perhaps the BMW 5 Series. While the Beemer feels more composed when flung around some bends, the GS tends to lean a bit more, but this suspension set up ensures it swallows up the bumps in the road. Then there is the whisper quiet cabin that manages to filter out and dampen even the slightest road and wind noise. On that factor alone, I reckon the GS has the opposition thoroughly licked.
Unfortunately, the model has an insatiable appetite for fuel. Try as we may, the consumption figure hovered around the 13l /100km mark over the combined cycle during the test.
That aside, I feel that never has Lexus been this close to pulling the wool over its German rivals. The GS has managed to meld together all the qualities of each of its Teutonic rivals. Whether it is the refinement of the E-Class, the sportiness of the 5 Series, or the cabin ambience of the A6, the Japanese firm's designers have made a concerted effort to not only make sure it matches its rivals, but that it ultimately surpasses them. Save for the fuel consumption issue, what we have here is nothing short of a class act for the Germans to take note of.
So, once all is said and done is the GS what its designers set out for it to be - a challenge to the Germans? Simply put, I feel that the brief has been successfully met, unequivocally so.
WE LIKE: Styling, pricing, refinement, features
WE DISLIKE: Fuel consumption
VERDICT: The Germans ought to take note
Type: V6 VVT-i petrol
Power: 233kW at 6400r/min
Torque: 378Nm at 4800r/min
Type: Continuously variable transmission (CVT) with paddle shift
Type: Rear-wheel drive
Type: Ventilated discs
Traction Aids: ABS, EBD, BAS and VSA.
0-100km/h: 6,3 seconds
Top Speed: 235km/h
Fuel Consumption: 9,4l /100km
Multi-function steering wheel, 18-inch alloy wheels, electric front seats with heating and cooling, AM/FM/CD audio system with MP3, USB and aux connectivity, climate control, Bluetooth connectivity, cruise control, electric windows, retractable electric side mirrors, park assist with rear view camera, auto headlights, rain sensing windscreen wipers, headlamp washers, dual front, side and curtain airbags, central locking and alarm.
COST OF OWNERSHIP
Maintenance Plan: Four-year/100000km
Lease*: R12423 per month at 11,5% interest over 60 months, no deposit