2006 Lexus GS 300 AWD
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Review and photos by Paul Williams

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Drive a gold Lexus GS 300 AWD that starts at $66,700 into a car wash in small-town Ontario, and the attendant just about salutes as you pull up beside him. Well, you’d want that, right? After all, this is supposed to be an impressive car, and after a restyle this year, it should make something of a statement.

That it does. Of course, it was likely the only clean car on the salty streets of Perth after the wash, but yes, it did glint provocatively in the winter sun, and inquisitive glances from the locals were duly detected. And to be accurate, it’s not gold, it’s Chardonnay Pearl.

As I say, the GS is restyled for 2006, and the result is a decidedly sporty, athletic look that blends well with the typically cultured Lexus demeanour. An obvious competitor for this car is the BMW 5 Series, which itself has undergone some styling revisions over the past couple of years (okay, a styling revolution would better describe the latest version).

2006 Lexus GS 300 AWD
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The GS 300 is clearly in the same family of midsized luxury vehicles, and when you look at it, this new version must have been influenced by the BMW’s radical surfaces and proportions.

The Lexus is obviously not as chiselled and angular — and therefore not as provocative — as the 5 Series, but it’s certainly not benign, either. Lexus calls its new design direction “L-Finesse.” It’s a look that’s apparently informed by Japanese cultural symbols and shapes, motifs found in Japanese art, and, as Lexus puts it, “the heritage of Japanese design.”

This is all good, in my view. For too long, Japanese cars, especially luxury ones, have been justly criticized for lacking the character of the country from which they emanate.

2006 Lexus GS 300 AWD
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L-Finesse is an attempt to embed Japanese design themes in the cars they create, and why not? In the case of the GS 300, a few may find some of the exterior surfaces somewhat round and soft, but others will like the unity of its design and execution (the panel gaps in this car are so small, sometimes you can hardly see where the fender ends and the door begins).

The shape of the four-door GS 300 is surely that of a coupe. If you mentally erase the rear doors while looking at the car from the side, I can’t see that the designers would need to change its silhouette at all. The lip spoiler on the short deck lid, part of the Touring Package added to my test car, finishes things with a discreet flourish that affirms the sporty side of the car’s personality.

2006 Lexus GS 300 AWD

2006 Lexus GS 300 AWD

2006 Lexus GS 300 AWD
Click image to enlarge

Inside, L-Finesse continues; not to detract from the exterior, but the new Lexus interiors are tasty in the extreme. Bold, arrow-shaped, genuine wood panels decorate the doors, the stitching on the leather seats is flawless, and the quality of the carpets and leathers is superb. Sitting in this lush environment is no less impressive, as the power memory seats truly do accomplish the twin goals of providing support and comfort.

Things begin to come undone on the dashboard and instrument panel. Most of the controls are managed through a centrally-located touch screen that often adds complication to minor tasks. Frankly, it requires too much attention to accomplish simple things like redirecting airflow, and in my opinion, you really shouldn’t be scanning a video screen at all when you’re driving. The sense of touch as it relates to switches, knobs and their function is something that manufacturers have completely forgotten when designing dashboards; instead, everything is visual.

It’s low-res visual, at that.

2006 Lexus GS 300 AWD
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These days, people are used to high-resolution displays at their desks or at home, and the icons and text on the Lexus view screen are not sharp and clean as you would expect from a luxury car manufacturer, especially a Japanese one. In short, I don’t think this display suits the character of the car.

The dash quibbles continue with the drop-down control panel to the left of the steering column. I understand that Lexus wants to tidy things up, but several of the controls in this panel are ones you use regularly, such as mirror adjustment. The major knock against this drop-down control panel, however, is that you can’t see it behind the steering wheel. And while I’m carping, the overall look of the dash is not impressive enough for me.

2006 Lexus GS 300 AWD
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Consider the aforementioned Touring Package. It adds perimeter sensors, rear window sunshade, the rear spoiler, adaptive front lighting, rear seat side airbags, heated and ventilated front seats, and rain-sensing wipers. It’s a good deal at $2,800, and brings the price of the GS 300 AWD up to $69,500.

But what it doesn’t include is the wood-trimmed steering wheel and centre stack trim that would complement the panels that come standard in the doors and on the centre console. The exclusion of this trim from any GS 300 dashboard sabotages the luxury image that Lexus is selling, and makes it plain and ordinary.

You can get the full wood-trim deal in the Premium Package, which adds many more items, including the Mark Levinson audio system, but that brings the price of the car up to $77,000.

2006 Lexus GS 300 AWD

2006 Lexus GS 300 AWD
Click image to enlarge

Nonetheless, the analog gauges are easy to read both during the day and night, and the leather-wrapped steering wheel features power adjustment for tilt and telescope. Many controls are duplicated for convenience on the steering wheel, which is a help.

Something that’s really useful is the standard keyless remote and keyless start that’s activated by a fob you keep in your pocket (Smart Key). Simply walk up to the car, touch the door handle, and the car unlocks. Press a button on the dash, and the engine starts. When leaving the car, place the transmission in Park, press the button to stop the engine, and press the button on the door handle to lock the car as you go. The GS will let you know if you leave the key fob in the car.

This is a technology that you quickly get used to. You’d think the clever engineers at Lexus could fit that key fob into a nice wristwatch, though. Assuming you wear a watch, you’d never have to worry about finding your car keys again! (This just in…Reader Jeff Takeshi Lee in Japan reports that just such a device is available there. Check out the SmartKey Integrated Watch and SmartKey Accessory Watch for the Toyota Crown and Estima. It’s in Japanese, but you get the idea.)

The optional Park Assist, part of the Touring Package, is also handy at times. I mainly used it to help when backing up. But it tends to beep unnecessarily when cars pull up beside or behind you at a stoplight, and in parking lots it’s a very nervous and vocal co-driver. I ended up shutting it off, and was grateful that it doesn’t talk.

2006 Lexus GS 300 AWD
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After you start the GS 300, the 3.0-litre, 245 hp V6 engine is a delight. Silent at idle and silky smooth under acceleration, it emits a muted, sporty growl when you put your foot down. The six-speed automatic transmission is equally refined, and almost imperceptibly selects gears as you increase or decrease speed.

On occasion, there was some lurching from standstill, though, perhaps caused by my selection of the “Power” setting for the electronic throttle control (ECT) system. The switch for that is on the centre console, along with “Normal” and “Snow” settings. The normally compliant transmission can occasionally become flustered if you accelerate briskly, then suddenly change your mind and back off. Otherwise, it’s very well-behaved.

2006 Lexus GS 300 AWD
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The all-wheel drive system was appreciated on the slippery roads endured during my test. The prevailing conditions were ice and snow, coupled with slick, salty asphalt, but the GS 300, with its Bridgestone Blizzak winter tires on standard 17-inch wheels was a match for all of it. Straight, confident starts and efficient stops were achieved without fuss. The car is also equipped with traction control and vehicle stability control, and while the latter doesn’t intrude as much as some systems, it’s nice to know it’s there. Hill-start assist is standard, which prevents the car from rolling back when starting on an incline.

The cabin is almost silent when underway, and although the steering is somewhat light at slow speeds, it tightens up nicely the faster you go. The ride, as you would expect, is Lexus-smooth while being sporty in the corners. The car doesn’t float or lean, but is less of a pure sports sedan and more of a sport-luxury cruiser.

I found the interior roomy enough; while this car has been criticized for being a little cramped inside, I didn’t find that. The trunk, however, is smallish; that coupe-like profile means that space has to be sacrificed somewhere. The trunk isn’t tiny by any means, but it doesn’t extend very far into the car.

Packed with standard features, the GS 300 has the classy looks, driving experience and interior appointments you’d expect from a Lexus sport-luxury car. The numerous technologies and controls described by its 600-page Owner’s Manual may be more than most consumers can absorb, however. In that sense, the driver interface is the car’s weak point and seems to be something of a design by committee. There’s also the price, which is definitely getting “up there.”

Technical Data: 2006 Lexus GS 300 AWD

Base price $66,700
Options $2,800 (Touring Package)
Freight $1,675
A/C tax $100
Price as tested $71,275 Click here for options, dealer invoice prices and factory incentives
Type 4-door, 5-passenger full-size sedan
Layout Front engine/all-wheel-drive
Engine 3.0-litre V6, DOHC, 24 valves
Horsepower 245 @ 6200 rpm
Torque 230 lb-ft @ 3600 rpm
Transmission 6-speed automatic with manual mode
Tires P225/50R17
Curb weight 1705 kg (3759 lbs)
Wheelbase 2850 mm (112.2 in.)
Length 4825 mm (190.0 in.)
Width 1820 mm (71.7 in.)
Height 1435 mm (56.6 in.)
Cargo capacity 360 litres (12.6 cu. ft.)
Fuel consumption City: 11.1 L/100 km (25 mpg Imp)
  Hwy: 7.8 L/100 km (36 mpg Imp)
Fuel type Premium unleaded
Warranty 4 yrs/80,000 km
Powertrain warranty 6 yrs/110,000 km

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