Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Lexus GS460

LIKE the proverbial iron fist a velvet glove, the Lexus GS460 combines scintillating V8 performance and a world-first eight-speed automatic transmission with Japanese refinement and an extensive equipment list - at a sensible price. Large German V8 sedan buyers should overlook the fuel-efficient, rear-drive GS flagship at their own peril, because despite a couple of oversights, the Lexus answer to the likes of BMW's 5 Series, Audi's A6 and the Mercedes-Benz E-class puts up a persuasive argument.

Creamy V8 performance, fuel consumption, smooth and intuitive eight-speed auto, ride/handling, noise and refinement levels, standard equipment list, tight tuning circle, comfort/ergonomics, value for money

Foot parking brake, front and rear headroom, small boot opening, no one-touch indicators, no steering wheel gearshift controls, compromised centre rear seat

THE merits of a large V8 luxury sedan in a world of high fuel prices and a warming global climate may be more questionable than ever, but the flagship variants of their full-size model ranges still represent unrivalled status symbols for premium car-makers and the valued customers that purchase them.

But if you can afford to buy one and you don’t mind the social stigma that can sometimes attach itself to driving it, then chances are that you can probably afford to run one too.

Though it’s conspicuous by its absence of the petrol-electric hybrid technology that Lexus has so successfully trademarked as its own in the luxury sector, the facelifted GS460 remains a logical, if not compelling, alternative to its German V8 sedan rivals from BMW, Mercedes-Benz and Audi.

The epitome of an iron fist in a velvet glove, the GS460 borrows the state-of-the-art, quad-cam, all-alloy 4.6-litre V8 directly from the new LS460 limousine (launched here in October 2007), and also comes mated with that model’s world-first eight-speed automatic transmission.

In typical Lexus fashion, it’s a configuration that can’t be beaten on a bang-for-your-buck basis.

At $134,900, the GS460 may be $10,000 more expensive than the GS450h hybrid, with which it shares a similar power output of 255kW but which it out-muscles by a significant margin, with peak torque of 460Nm versus 368Nm for the 450.

But the 460 also hits the scales at a whole 200kg lighter than the hybrid at 1695kg, giving it a 0-100km/h sprint capability of a reasonably rapid 5.8 seconds – one-tenth quicker than the GS450.

What’s more, the 460 blasts to 400 metres in a claimed 13.9 seconds – a whole half-second sooner than the 450, which of course returns more frugal claimed average fuel consumption of just 7.9L/100km. That’s almost three litres better than the 460 (11.0L/100km) - and two litres better than even the GS300 (9.8L/100km).

It’s the same story with CO2 emissions, just 186 grams of which are produced by the GS450 each kilometre, compared to 232g/km for the GS300 and 258g/km for the GS460.

So it’s more powerful and quicker but not as clean or efficient as its less expensive hybrid stablemate, as well as 23 per cent more powerful and 10 per cent torquier than the 7.3 per cent smaller-capacity GS430 it replaces.

More importantly, the GS460 stacks up well against its German V8 rivals.

Its closest price rival is BMW’s 540i sedan ($136,700), which costs $1800 more but offers less performance (225kW/390Nm) from its 4.0-litre V8 - though remains lighter (1650kg) and more fuel-efficient (10.4L/100km).

Audi’s A6 4.2 quattro sedan ($149,900) is $15,000 more expensive and has a similar (1745kg) kerb weight and performance (246kW/420Nm) to the Lexus, but is slower and less economical than both the BMW and Lexus.

The E500 Elegance sedan is the least expensive Mercedes-Benz E-class V8 at $161,500 and offers sharp performance numbers (285kW/530Nm) from its 5.5-litre V8. It's lighter at 1690kg and returns the same 11.8L/100km consumption as the Audi, yet is the quickest of the bunch with a 5.5-second 0-100km/h claim.

Jaguar’s new XF V8 sedan looks attractive on paper, priced at just $130,500 ($4400 les sthan the GS) and powered by a 219kW/411Nm 4.2-litre V8 that returns 11.1L/100km, but at 1749kg is the slowest of the group with a 6.5-second sprint time.

Accord to Redbook, the GS460’s resale value after three years is on par with the A6, but well behind the other Germans, although the Japanese luxury brand’s reputation for customer service and class-leading four-year/100,000km warranty compensate for that somewhat.

So the rear-drive GS460 is relatively powerful, quick and economical – despite the fitment of an enviably array of luxury features as standard – and still has as much road presence as its rivals, with the exception, perhaps, of the brand-new XF.

Australia never saw the first-generation GS but the MkII version has been around since 2005 yet still looks fresh thanks to this year’s midlife facelift that presents a sharper new look for its hallmark quad-headlight design.

A prominent Lexus grille is flanked by a pair of bi-Xenon high-beams with washers, while wing mirror-mounted indicators, proper door-handles and a subtle rear decklid spoiler complete the discreet and understated look.

Step inside and there’s no doubting the GS460’s luxury car status, with swathes of tastefully finished woodgrain highlights gracing the centre console, door trims and steering wheel, and soft-touch textured dashboard and door materials contrasting nicely with the high-quality perforated leather seat trim.

There’s good vision in all directions despite a super-narrow rear screen, and the large white instrument markings are easily readable on their classy, brushed alloy-look backgrounds.

The large central speedo reads to 260km/h and contains a multi-function information display for all key trip computer functions, all of which is duplicated in the large central touch screen – another Lexus hallmark that’s super-easy to use.

Far easier to access than some other notoriously difficult cockpit management systems, the GS460 presents navigation, audio, climate, trip computer, telephone and even service functions on its large, central colour touch-screen.

It is complimented by a cracking Mark Levinson sound system that is one of the best in the business and even comprises a cassette deck, and the dual-zone climate-control system is impressively efficient and features twin rear outlets.

All four doors comprise storage compartments, the larger front units supplemented by fold-out sides, there are four overhead grabrails, a small but double-deck glovebox and the sizeable boot is fully lined and illuminated and features chromed cargo hooks and includes a warning triangle, first-aid kit and toolkit in the European tradition.

Unfortunately the boot loading aperture is fairly small and there's no split-folding rear seat, but at least there’s a full-size alloy spare under the flat load floor.

The fussy Benz-style foot-operated parking brake aside, user-friendly features abound - such as the keyless entry and starting system, fully electric seat adjustment that includes ventilation and memory functions for both front seats, plus automatic headlights, un/lock buttons on both front doors and the auto up/down buttons for all four side windows.

Audio, cruise, trip and phone functions can all be operated via the steering wheel but glaring omissions include a one-touch indicator function, steering wheel gearshift controls, a digital speedo display and automatic fuel flap unlocking.

There is an array of overhead light and sunroof controls, but no sunglasses holder, and the twin rear bucket seats severely compromise centre-rear seating strong points. In fact, while rear legroom is plentiful, headroom is not one of the GS460’s fortes – either front or back.

The fully electric steering wheel adjustment (for both height and reach) makes finding the right seating position a breeze, but for us both front seats were too high.

Despite that, the large Lexus remains a model of ergonomic success, with all major controls well placed and light to operate, making the GS460 feel immediately familiar and effortless to drive in all conditions.

The first and most lasting impression is its cabin serenity. The GS’s impressive noise suppression makes it quieter than its rivals, and ride quality is at least a match for its German opponents – even in the firmer of the two suspension damping settings (Sport).

The plush ride doesn’t come at any expense to road holding, with a taut-feeling chassis that steers with the precision and feedback of a true luxury car. The GS may not feel as substantial on the road as its rear-drive German rivals, but it’s certainly in the ballpark in terms of outright grip and handling and overall balance. A super-tight, 10.4-metre turning circle makes parking a cinch.

The GS460’s big drawcard, however, is its state-of-the-art V8, which produces its impressive torque peak at 4100rpm and enough useable power right across the rev-range to give you the impression the eight-speed auto is always in the right gear.

Gears can be changed manually via the traditional console shifter only, but the new transmission is surprisingly adaptive and, left to its own devices in drive, the GS460 transmission makes good use of the 4.6 V8’s long legs.

A formidable V8 growl is almost inaudible inside with the windows up, and the despite making full use of the broad and creamy torque curve, our GS returned a respectable 12.5L/100km fuel figure, running on E10 premium unleaded and book-ended by figures well under the 10L/100km mark on the highway and more than 15L/100km in stop-start city traffic.

Of course, with much lower fuel consumption and acceleration that’s almost as quick, the $10,000-cheaper GS450h is perhaps the GS460’s fiercest rival.

For some large luxury saloon buyers, however, only a V8 will do and the 4.6-litre Lexus V8 is as accomplished as the GS flagship’s level of ride/handling, refinement and high-tech features.

Throw in a unique Japanese flavour, a class-leading equipment list, attractive pricing and, with a couple of reservations, benchmark ergonomics, and the GS460 deserves a second look by those in the market for a luxury German V8.


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