October 3, 2006
October 3, 2006
Lexus’ current advertising message has to do with the nebulous concept of "moments." The TV ad shows moments in history, little moments in life, all kinds of things except for moments that you actually have with the car.
Which is interesting, because I had a moment with the silver GS430 you see here. It wasn’t some full-throttle blast up through the gears, or a particularly exciting corner, or anything like that. It was simply a moment as I walked up to the car and a little blue light in the bottom of the driver’s-side mirror lit up, illuminating my path to the car. Inside, the lights were fading on, and when I reached for the door handle, it was already unlocking.
How very thoughtful of it.
You get the feeling, with this car that it really wants to do everything for you. Load some packages into the trunk, shut the lid, and it’s cinched shut automatically. Get inside – you won’t need to take the keyfob from your pocket to start the engine – and the steering wheel swings down to meet your hands. The park assist system not only shows you how close you are to hitting that car in the next space, but shows you with a graphic on the dash display which way to turn in order to avoid an expensive crunch. Notice, too, that the mirrors tilt down when you shift into reverse so that you can see the lines on the pavement (or whether you’re about to scuff one of those smoked-chrome wheels), and that they dim automatically, too, for a better view at night. All in all, it’s a pretty calming experience; you, well, feel taken care of, insulated from the trials of the world outside.
For the most part, this is a good thing. The GS430 not only makes an excellent long-distance cruiser, with its transmission slurring the shifts between its gears beautifully and its engine humming unobtrusively away in front of you. The ride is typical of Lexus – composed and well-damped over rough stretches of pavement, but with a plushness that reminds you of a Cadillac. Wind and road noise are a far-away whisper, and the controls move with a liquid smoothness. The morning commute becomes serene in this car; you crank up the stereo and don’t worry that you’re going to be a few minutes late.
If, however, relaxing isn’t in your personality – and it often isn’t in people that have made sufficient cash to afford a $75,000 automobile – you may find the GS a bit wanting in the excitement department. Despite the rated 300 horsepower, the V8 always feels a little lazy in the way it delivers its power: speed builds as quickly as you want and need, but there’s no rush past a certain RPM level, no excitement as the engine comes on cam. The transmission has a manual-shift facility, but it’s not really manual shifting at all – the number showing in the gauge cluster only tells you how high the transmission is allowed to shift. If it reads "3", for instance, a swift kick to the gas pedal can still induce a downshift to second. The steering, which is to its credit very accurate and smooth, feels a bit slow, and there’s very little feel through the rim; the brakes are powerful time after time, but the pedal feels a bit soft under your foot.
So despite the big power ratings and rear-drive, this isn’t a hooligan sort of car in the way an Infiniti M45 or BMW 550i is. You cannot, for instance, fully turn off the Vehicle Dynamics Integrated Management (VDIM) stability-control system. Yes, it intervenes with incredible subtlety compared to other manufacturers’ systems, and yes, it slows you down far less, but it still reins you back from driving the GS as aggressively as you may like (and as hard as its big 18-inch tires can take). Indeed, as you come close to the limit where the system kicks in, the car starts beeping at you, telling you to slow down already. Boo.
Ah, well. Save for the tire-burning IS350 (which has the same VDIM system), Lexus has never really been about playing boy racer anyway. I mean, just check out the interior: decked out in buttery-soft leather and slabs of very convincing wood trim, it’s an elegant sitting room more than it is a race-car cockpit. The gauges are beautiful, with metal faces machined into a sun-ray pattern like an expensive watch; the dashboard is dominated by a touch-screen display that shows, variously, the trip computer, the audio controls, and the ventilation settings. The seats are superb – not sporty, with big side bolsters, but comfy like club chairs, with a layer of plushness over top of a firm base to keep you from getting fatigued on long drives. There’s plenty of room front and back to stretch out, too.
Still, given the thoughtfulness of the rest of the car, it’s surprising to note some inconvenient little missteps in the GS’ interior – mostly, one imagines, sacrifices for the sake of style. Many of the secondary controls (for the mirrors, the instrument dimming, and trunk release) live in a swing-down panel right by your left knee. The seat heater switches are hidden under the sliding armrest, and the stereo controls are split up into a pod of buttons and knobs at the bottom of the centre stack and the touch screen way above it.
Perhaps because of the styling (which I really like) and the power ratings (which are impressive, though less so now that the competition has upped the ante a bit), I was somehow expecting just a bit more from the GS430. But it’s a beautifully-made machine, and a thoughtful automotive companion.
At a glance: Lexus GS430
Price (base/as tested): $74,700/$77,100
Engine: 4.3-litre V8
Power: 300 hp
Torque: 325 lb-ft
Fuel consumption (city/highway/as tested): 12.7/8.5/13.0 L/100 km
Manufacturer’s web site
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