Exterior Design *****
Although there are pistonheads who worship the deeply dippy SC, the GS300 is Lexus s coolest ever (first cool?) car. Working within Japan s emerging "car as designer refrigerator" aesthetic, its sensual shape and hunkered stance project power and athleticism. The rear end is a disgrace: a less effective attempt to resolve dramatic tension than the Dynasty episode where aliens abduct Fallon.
The Lexus GS300 s 3.0-liter six is a whiny, badly geared, torque deficient, thoroughly reluctant powerplant. Ever gone up a steep hill, squeezed the accelerator to no appreciable effect, squeezed it further with still no effect, and squeezed it again; waiting for the inevitable vicious kickdown? And then, when it finally arrives, you get lots of sound and not nearly enough fury? Like that. If a big ass Honda Odyssey can have a quick, quiet, buttery V6, why not a Lexus?
Plenty of power, lots of electronic cavalry waiting in the wings, minimal feel.
Not only does the GS300 crash over large surface imperfections, it crashes over small ones too. And the ones it doesn t crash over, you feel in your tuches. (A sensitive driver could probably traverse a coin and tell you the denomination.) For a luxury car, for a Lexus, being shaken and stirred is completely unacceptable. And that s without considering our test car s groaning suspension.
The rear-wheel-drive GS remains flat and level in the most extreme cornering attitudes, and maintains a Bruno Samartino-like hold on the pavement — right until gentle understeer and/or the handling Nanny take over. That said, the GS s recalcitrant powerplant and its zero-G steering feel puts a big Why bother? sign over the whole enterprise. Besides, anyone who gives a Lexus a proper pasting is either acting out some weird class-based vendetta, being chased by the police (for white collar crimes) or needs a BMW.
The GS300 six-speed autobox has a truly nasty driveline shunt when pulling away from a standing start with any vigor whatsoever. The problem might have been a peculiar to our test car (the journo-thrashed 11k odometer reading should be translated into dog years), but it s an issue you wouldn t expect to encounter in a Toyota Avalon, never mind a $51k Lexus. And although the gearbox [eventually] slurs changes with admirable grace, the accompanying engine whine takes all the joy right out of it.
The Mark Levinson stereo is another disappointment: the higher frequencies are extremely grating and all the sound comes from the top of the dash. Surprisingly, there s no iPod connectivity or XM radiology. The GS s rear-view camera s image quality is startlingly good, and much appreciated by suburban dwellers.
The GS has this trick panel that drops down from the dash to handle all the mirror-positioning, trunk opening sorts of jobs. I didn t even know it was there until I scanned the jpegs. Meanwhile, the central touchscreen with flanking buttonology do all that voodoo that luxury cars do so well. I just wish it hadn t been set-up to show me a real-time sliding bar depiction of my mileage.
A large but strangely shaped affair: long, relatively shallow (especially compared to a Caddy s four body schlepper) and pinched in the middle.
[by Robert Farago]