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Mon 1 Jan 2007 12:00 AM

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A car for all seasons

Lexus really went to the blueprint hard to produce a car to give the rivals something serious to worry about. CEO Middle East slides effortlessly into the smooth leather interior of the Lexus GS430 to see if they hit the nail right on the head

The original Lexus GS was a massive hit across the Gulf, along with its well-known stable mate, the LS.

Throughout the region, everyone from expats to Nationals saw the chance to buy a luxury car loaded with options, without breaking the bank. Stepping directly on the toes of the entrenched favourites, BMW and Mercedes, was always going to be difficult, but Lexus fitted the market really well. Customers wanted reliability as well as a loaded interior, but also needed a car that coped well with high mileage at highway speeds. Fortunately for the Japanese, this was something that suited both the GS and LS perfectly.

Sliding into the line up under the LS, the GS proved to be a very popular luxury commuter and family highway charger. The ES was too close to the Camry, making most people dismiss it outright. So the GS became the entry level car for a brand taking on the Germans with Japanese reliability and economy. With a smooth interior and understated, yet elegant looks, the car appealed to customers looking for a solid and luxurious addition to the successful household.

After some slight updates, the original rounded shape has now been replaced with a sleek new body, which retains the earlier car’s good looks, but brings the GS bang up to date.

At first glance, the exterior is rather odd, as it looks badly out of proportion when looked at individually.

The window line is extremely high and the lines from the headlights to the doors are awkward. The bonnet doesn’t seem to fit the wings and the rear is cut off too steeply. However, when you step back and look at it as a whole it all starts to come together. The design is both elegant and aggressive at the same time, and is actually a very nice looking car from almost any angle. The headlights are neatly split into two, as per the original model. This design, along with the vertically cut grill, gives the front of the GS a great looking face. The five-spoke alloy wheels are perfectly matched to the body with an outward curved arm design. From the side the car has a sleek, if somewhat fat stance. But with the bulk of the bodywork lower down, it sits sportily on the road.

At the back, the design is fairly bland and has suffered a design link since the launch of the new Camry. The rear is the weak point of the car’s exterior and gives anyone following you a very anonymous view.

On the inside, Lexus comes into its own. The seats on any model in the Lexus range are always incredible and the GS is no exception. They’re supportive and firm, without being too hard and unforgiving. You really could spend hours at the wheel of the GS without becoming uncomfortable or tired. Even the wood-trimmed steering wheel is nice to hold and easy to grip.

The dash itself is clear and easy to read, although is quite bland and basic. In the centre of the car, the console housing all the climate controls, stereo and on-board information is neat and tidy, but again slightly boring with too much grey plastic on display. The information screen in the centre is clear and easy to use, but does suffer from sunlight glare at certain angles.

The use of two tone plastic for the main dash and wood for the centre inlays and doors doesn’t work as well as in the Range Rover, for example. However, everything feels very solid and reliable, which is a major failing of many other luxury interiors.

In the back, the rear seats are as comfortable as the front and have plenty of leg room. Driver vision is also excellent with no bad blind spots or particularly thick pillars to block your view.

Under the hood, the Lexus 4.3 V8 quietly gets things done rapidly and efficiently. The engine delivers 279 BHP, which is easily enough for a car of this size. Understated is the name of the game here, with a low engine note and smooth delivery. Even at high speed the engine is whisper quiet, yet powerful enough to have something saved in reserve. Standing starts are rapid but controlled, whilst mid-range acceleration is acceptable and hassle free. With the engine at idle you tend to find yourself checking that the car is actually switched on.

The GS basically does everything very well, without being fantastic or astounding at anything. And to be honest, that’s the key to this car’s success. Mercedes are flamboyant, whilst BMW’s are brash and edgy.

Whilst they are busy doing that, the Lexus just gets on with being a very competent luxury saloon. It achieves all the things that customers in this crowded sector want. Lexus will struggle to drag buyers across from the big two German brands, but as new customers enter the segment, the GS is a real contender for their signature on the dotted line. If you want a car that does what it says on the tin, the Lexus GS430 is that and so much more.

Verdict:

The GS sits perfectly in the slot that Lexus does so well. With the LS battling the big Mercs and BMWs, Lexus slipped the GS into the world without anyone noticing. And to be honest, it’s quietly better than most of its rivals.

Engine:

4.3 V8

0-100 kmph:

5.9 secs

Top speed:

250 kmph

BHP:

279

ME price:

US$57,000 (AED210,500)

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