Lexus GS review
The Lexus GS is a serious alternative to German executive saloons, and top-spec hybrids offer great performance
The Lexus GS is a sporty new beginning for Toyota's luxury division. Lexus wants to build on the last GS's reputation for refinement and generous equipment, as well as the maker's dealer service, with cars that are genuinely good-looking and fun to drive. We think the BMW 5 Series is still a better car to drive, but the GS is now a much better all-rounder and is well worthy of consideration as it is just so efficient. While its main rivals offer diesel power as the path to low running costs, the GS can be had with an efficient petrol-electric hybrid drivetrain, which in top-spec guise delivers strong performance.
Joining the six-cylinder GS 450h in an all-hybrid line-up, the four-cylinder GS 300h gives Lexus a tax-friendly executive saloon to take on company car favourites like the BMW 518d and new Audi A6 Ultra.
Our choice: GS 300h Luxury
Lexus hasn’t taken any risks with the looks of the GS. The bold shapes around the grille contrast with the bland rear end and side profile, although Luxury models get smart 18-inch wheels, xenon lights and LED running lamps. Some customers no doubt like the low-key Lexus approach, but the sober-suited executive saloon lacks the eye-catching kerb appeal of the rival Audi A6.
Spend an extra £4,250 and you can step up to the more aggressively styled F Sport, but whichever model you choose you won’t be disappointed with the quality of the cabin. Everything is beautifully put together and there’s no faulting the high standard of the leather and trim. The knurled audio dials look impressive and feel like they are from a high-end home sound system.
Yet, as with the exterior, the design looks a little dated and lacks simplicity. The upper section of the dash is focused around the wide colour screen, but Lexus’ computer mouse-inspired Remote Touch Interface is slightly over-sensitive and not very intuitive to use.
There are two engines to choose from: an entry-level 206bhp 2.5-litre V6 for the GS 250 and a 338bhp 3.5-litre hybrid V6 for the GS 450h, while a lower powered hybrid is also on the cards. The GS 450h is our pick, as it's very gutsy. Lexus quotes a 0-62mph time of 5.9 seconds, and it feels every bit as fast.
The GS 300h gets the same 2.5-litre four-cylinder petrol engine and electric hybrid drivetrain as the smaller IS 300h, meaning performance is surprisingly strong.
Accessing maximum performance doesn’t play to the Lexus’ strengths, though - the CVT gearbox sends the revs racing and holds them high until you back off. Even then the GS 300h takes a moment to settle back down.
Using the Lexus’ wheel-mounted paddles is a waste of time, too, because the transmission reacts too slowly and they have little effect in controlling the revs, which is infuriating. The driving experience unravels even more when you get to a corner. Firstly, the regenerative braking set-up results in an uneven and grabby pedal response, making it impossible to brake progressively up to a bend. Once into the corner, the Lexus then struggles to control roll and the light steering lacks feel.
It’s not all bad news, though. The GS is at its best when driving gently on a part throttle, and at low speed around town the switch from silent EV to the petrol engine is pretty seamless. However, you’ll only be able to run on the battery alone for very short periods with gentle acceleration, otherwise the internal combustion engine fires into life.
The GS is happiest when cruising on the motorway, where the cabin free of road and wind noise. Sadly, despite a soft set-up, the suspension doesn’t iron out imperfections and the ride can be brittle over poor surfaces.
The GS has always been a very well made and safe car, and standard kit is generous. You get 10 airbags in the GS 300h, while Luxury spec cars feature blind-spot warning, too.
Lexus finished fourth in our Driver Power 2014 survey, but the GS didn’t feature in our list of the Top 150 cars to own. Still, Lexus’ overall reputation for reliability means you can confidently expect the GS to be near faultless. And the company has plenty of experience in hybrid technology.
Should you have any problems, the brand’s dealers have a stellar reputation for customer care, although it’s a shame Lexus’ three-year, 60,000-mile warranty doesn’t match up to sister company Toyota’s five-year guarantee.
The GS has a 451-litre boot, but thanks to the packaging of the hybrid batteries, it's short and you can’t fold the rear seats down.
In the back, there’s lots of room for two tall passengers, with plenty of leg and headroom. Fitting three adults in the rear would be a squeeze due to the wide and tall transmission tunnel.
Up front, you get 10-way adjustable electric, heated and ventilated seats as standard. Navigation, parking sensors and a reversing camera are all included. Although, even with a centre armrest cubby, there isn’t quite as much cabin stowage as its rivals.
Lexus doesn't build a diesel GS, but the petrol-electric hybrid is a decent alternative. The GS 450h has made some huge improvements, claiming 45.6mpg (up from 36.7mpg in the old car) while CO2 emissions have been slashed, dropping from 179g/km to only 141g/km.
The GS 250 isn't as impressive, though, only posting 31.7mpg and 207g/km. A new lower-powered hybrid will fill the gap in the range and allow the GS to mix it with rivals like the Audi A6 2.0 TDI and BMW 520d.
Taking into account tax breaks for petrol engines over diesels, the 113g/km Luxury spec GS 300h sits in the 15 per cent tax bracket, meaning a higher band earner will pay £224 a year less in tax compared to the Audi A6 Ultra. Opt for the £6,000 cheaper 109g/km SE spec car and company car savings are even bigger.
However, private buyers will be concerned by predicted residuals of 38.9 per cent, which could mean £4,817 more depreciation than the Audi over three years. The GS 300h will need servicing every 10,000 miles, but a fixed-price three-year deal makes it easier to budget for costs. Our quotes suggest it will still cost more than the A6 to service.
During our time with the Lexus, we averaged a disappointing 30.4mpg, considerably worse than the A6, although fuel bills will vary depending on how much you can drive in EV mode. Spend a lot of time in the city and the GS makes a bit more sense.