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. The GS is also beautifully built and exceptionally refined.
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 takes a Russian doll approach to the design of the GS. As a result, it shares many of its styling cues with the IS compact exec and LS luxury limousine. You get the same swept-back headlamps and bold ‘spindle’ grille treatment, plus a similarly sleek profile.
And while its slightly bulbous rear looks a little awkward, the big Lexus is fairly imposing. All versions get 18-inch alloy wheels as standard, while the range-topping Premier cars are identified by their distinctive LED foglamps. Step up to F-Sport trim and the GS gets more aggressive styling and sportier alloy wheels.
Lexus has gone its own way with the GS’s interior. The slickly designed dashboard is dominated by a vast, centrally mounted 12.3-inch TFT screen, while the wide centre console houses the brand’s slightly fiddly, computer mouse-influenced Remote Touch controller for the infotainment and sat-nav systems.
Happily, the smart design is accompanied by top-notch fit and finish. Quality materials are used throughout, while the beautifully damped switchgear looks and feels upmarket. Other highlights include the neatly stitched, leather-effect dash, metal-finish stereo controls and the classy analogue clock.
As you’d expect, the GS comes overflowing with standard kit, including three-zone climate control, sat-nav, heated and ventilated front seats and a 17-speaker Mark Levinson hi-fi set-up. The Lexus’ centre rear armrest folds down to reveal remote controls for the stereo, air-conditioning and heated rear bench.
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.
Lexus has forged an enviable reputation for building reliable cars, and this is reflected in its impressive fourth-place finish in our Driver Power 2014 satisfaction survey. Plus, in the unlikely event something does go wrong with your car, you’ll be guaranteed first-class service from the brand’s dealers, which took overall honours in our poll.
The GS hasn’t been tested by Euro NCAP, but there shouldn’t be any concerns about safety. All models get 10 airbags, stability control, blind spot monitoring and rear cross traffic alert, which warns the driver of approaching cars when reversing out of a space. However, adaptive cruise control and lane keep assist will set you back £3,350.
While the Lexus doesn't quite have the same amounts of room in the rear as its rivals, it never feels especially cramped in the back seats. The rear bench can be heated, too, while the front passenger seat has a 'chauffeur' function. This allows rear occupants to remotely slide the chair forward to create more space.
Opening the standard powered tailgate reveals a 451-litre boot. There’s significant wheelarch intrusion, while the installation of the hybrid running gear means there’s no folding rear bench or even a handy ski-hatch.
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.