Lexus GS

There's been a boom in a raft of new models in the mid-sized executive sector - and that means the current Lexus GS300 and GS430 are starting to look and feel long-in-the-tooth.

Lexus hopes to more than double sales with the new GS, which arrives here in spring 2005. If it keeps prices similar to those of the current car, and ensures generous spec levels, there's no reason why it shouldn't be a success. But the competition is better than ever, and Lexus will have to ensure its newcomer is exceptional to guarantee strong sales.

There's been a boom in a raft of new models in the mid-sized executive sector - and that means the current Lexus GS300 and GS430 are starting to look and feel long-in-the-tooth.

The Japanese maker sold only 1,000 GS models in the UK last year, and the downward spiral looks set to continue. But while that's bad news for the current GS, Lexus has high hopes for its replacement - and has taken the unprecedented step of showing the newcomer to the public more than a year before it goes on sale in Europe.

It certainly looked the part on the Lexus stand at the Geneva Motor Show, but how does the 2005 GS fare under scrutiny? And does it have what it takes to do battle with such illustrious rivals as the BMW 5-Series, Mercedes E-Class and new Audi A6? We grabbed an exclusive preview to find out.

The firm certainly can't afford to get it wrong. The next GS is by far the most important Lexus since the original LS400 arrived in 1990, as it marks a number of milestones for the company. It will be the first car to be designed, developed and launched entirely separately from parent Toyota, and will spark the initial phase in separating the two marques into entirely different entities.

Currently, Lexus doesn't exist in Toyota's domestic market in Japan. It was created in the late Eighties to give the models a more upmarket identity in the US and Europe. The formula has been so successful that Lexus is now about to hit Japan - ironically, with an American-designed car.

Because the newcomer must satisfy notoriously meticulous Japanese engineers, it's set to be the most advanced and well built Lexus yet. And given the firm's already solid reputation, that will be quite an achievement! The launch GS will have two engines: an all-new 245bhp 3.0-litre V6 in place of the 201bhp straight-six, or a 290bhp 4.3 V8, which will be a revised version of the GS430 unit. A new six-speed auto will be offered on both models, and promises one of the quickest gearshifts in its class. There is still no diesel - at least for now - but a 3.3-litre hybrid is expected, using the engine and 4WD from the 400h RX Hybrid. Inside, the GS gets improvements that will put it on a par with most of its rivals. Engineers have addressed some of the issues that have affected previous models from the firm, and the newcomer does away with the plasticky column stalks and poor ergonomic layout of the current GS. Add in Lexus's reputation for superb refinement, and the GS looks set to become a desirable executive offering.

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