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Entries in Las Vegas Motor Speedway (1)

Friday
Dec092011

First Drive - 2013 Lexus GS: Ready To Take On Germany's Best

When Lexus first brought the GS to market it was targeted as the “sporty sedan” where the LS was the “luxury sedan”, but somewhere along road, the GS became soft, and the idea of it be comparable to a BMW 5 Series was tossed aside.  With the latest iteration of the GS, Lexus are looking to change that conversation.

Right off the bat, Lexus are saying that they had the BMW 5 Series and Mercedes E-Class directly in their crosshairs as they developed the new GS.  A part of going after the Germans with the GS is the debut of the new Lexus design language in the front end.  Like it, love it, or hate it, get used to it, because this IS the new face of Lexus.  

Part of philosophy with the new GS was set forth by Akio Toyoda himself when he said this car must have emotion in the styling, and emotion in the driving.  He wanted the car to be able to stand out, and stand on it’s own, not just blend into the background.  It is this point of view which Lexus believe that they will be able to achieve a 50% conquest rate with new buyers to the Lexus GS.

 

There will be three distinct versions of the GS, a Luxury, a Hybrid, and the F-Sport.  We will focus on the Hybrid first.  The idea with the Hybrid was more a focus on “Performance Hybrid” rather than “Economy Hybrid”.  Think of the Hybrid as a V8 replacement, rather than say the CT200h which is focused on economy.  The Hybrid is also the only GS model that will have LED headlamps available.

The Luxury level is firmly targeted at the E-Class Mercedes.  The ride is tuned a little softer, there will be a special leather used, a three zone climate control system (two front, one back), 18 way power adjust seats and the driving dynamics are focused on a well controlled ride, rather than a “plush” ride.

The F-Sport is exactly what you’d think it would be.  It is going after the 5 Series BMW and M-Sport trimmed 5 Series (not M5) with is multi level suspension settings, active rear steering, and electronic engine and steering controls that greatly sharpen everything when you go into Sport and Sport+ modes.

Power for the GS will be a 3.5 liter V6 that features both Direct Injection and Port Injection, it will provide 306 horsepower and 277 torques, backed up by a six speed automatic transmission.  When asked why a six speed automatic and not an eight speed auto which has become de rigueur in the last twelve months, Lexus responded, that they did not believe they could get the driving dynamics they wanted with an eight speed.  They felt it would “always be hunting for the right gear”.

The Hybrid also uses the 3.5 liter V6 but converts it to an Atkinson Cycle engine, very common for hybrids, and couples it with a an electric motor to give it a combined power rating of 338 horsepower.  The reason for an Atkinson Cycle engine is that it is 35% more efficient and with the Hybrid system, it will return over 30MPG in the EPA combined cycle.  Though Lexus did not have the final EPA numbers at this press intro, they were very confident of the number.

 

Lexus have also worked on the packaging of the batteries for the Hybrid system, allowing a much larger trunk for the GS then in the previous generation.  There is some intrusion in space over the non-Hybrid versions of the GS, but it is far less then before.

There was also a focus on aero and NVH tuning so as to make the Hybrid a quiet as possible when driving on the highways.

The quality of materials in the two cars we spent time with at the launch, the F-Sport and the Hybrid were excellent.  We really like the way the Hybrid was trimmed out with a bamboo trim that felt very substantial.  Most wood trim on cars today is little more then a very thin vernier, in the Lexus it looked and felt more like solid chucks of wood.  This was most apparent in the steering wheel. Again, most wood trimmed wheels have an almost a plastic feel to them, with the GS it felt as though it was a sold piece of bamboo that you were holding on to.

We also drove the Hybrid on the short and tight infield road course at Las Vegas Motor Speedway and it did not disappoint. The car felt very composed around the track which contained both long sweeping corners and areas that put an emphasis on quick changes of direction.  While not a car that you are going to take out for lapping day at the track, it will feel very competent on twisty back roads should you choose to drive in a spirited manner.

The F-Sport is a bit of a revelation.  Driven back to back with a BMW 5 Series that was available for comparison around the race track, the GS was every bit as good, and in many ways BETTER then the BMW.  While the steering may not have felt quite as connected as the BMW, it was much more direct, and the GS had much less body roll!  

There is a noticeable change in the manor of ride, handling and throttle responsiveness with the different settings that are available.  In “normal” modes the F-Sport is more compliant, but as soon as you dial up either Sport or Sport+, things change for the better.

This does not mean that out on the open road the ride is harsh.  We took the F-Sport for a 30+ mile loop which included highway runs and surface streets.  On the day we were driving the GS, it also included 50+ MPH cross winds on the highway.  Lets touch on this last part first.  Number one, there was no way the car was not going to be moving around with winds that strong, however, there were no abrupt movements it felt more like a gentle push.  In contrast you could see the Semi-trucks on the road moving around quite a bit.  In addition the cabin remained very quiet.  You did not hear the sounds of the strong winds making it into the cabin, so Lexus should be commended for their work in the wind tunnel to make these thing possible.

Driving in Sport+ on the highway the ride felt firm and controlled without a hint of harshness.  If you enjoy more of the European firm and sporty ride, then you will enjoy this setting.  Set in standard mode, it smooths things out just a bit, and may be the better call if you have to drive on roads that aren’t in the best of shape.

Also out on the road we got to crank up the 830 watt Mark Levinson stereo system and tried it with some high quality music that we brought along.  If we have one gripe with the Levinson audio systems that Lexus use it’s that they lack a bit of bass.  We are not talking about obnoxious bass that you associate with too loud systems blasting hip hop, it’s more not hearing and feeling kick drums, bass guitar, or in the case of Jazz and Classical music, stand up bass or Cello missing power, feeling and emotion from the music.  That is purely a personal take on our part, but it’s something we noticed.

Out on the road we cranked up a little Allman Brothers Live At The Fillmore and lets just say, if you aren’t paying attention, you will be in triple digit speeds without knowing it.  In the middle of “Whipping Post” we looked down at to see the speedometer touching three digits and immediately got off the gas, even though it felt as we weren’t doing much over 70 on the freeway with a 75MPH limit.

 

On the inside of the car one thing that dominates the dash is the massive 12.3” LCD display.  Lexus have cleverly designed it so that it can be one large screen, or it can be broken up into three smaller ones if say you want audio information, an overall GPS man plus turn by turn directions all at the same time.

There has also been a large upgrade to the quality of feel in the mouse interface.  The new changes make it much more direct, and there is better haptic feedback as you get close to menu items.

 

Also included is the Lexus Enform system.  It will start with apps such as Facebook, Yelp, Pandora, MovieTix, iHeart Radio, bing and Open Table to start.  You will download the apps onto your iPhone, Android or BlackBerry, and then connect via USB to the car.  Enform will use your phones data plan to connect with the cloud and provide you with all the information, the Lexus Enform system in the car provides an nice interface in which to interact with it.

Overall we came away very impressed with the GS, and a quick informal poll of those in our wave for the drive and those who had just finished, were pretty much in agreement that if Lexus can get the word out on this car as it comes to market in mid February, it should have a hit on it’s hands.  The GS will come a surprise to many who view Lexus’ as nothing more than Sub Zero refrigerators, they are very nice refrigerators, but at the end of the day they are refrigerators.  The GS is likely to change that perception, and we look forward to having a chance to spend more time with the car in the near future.