Review and photos by Russell Purcell

2006 Lexus GS 430
Click image to enlarge

Toyota’s Lexus division has totally reworked the GS line-up for 2006. Not that the original Giugiaro-penned design was lacking style or substance, but it was competing against a growing list of better-equipped automobiles in the swollen luxury sedan ranks.

Big muscle, refined ride

I was fortunate to book the more powerful GS 430 for my week long test, as I had yet to experience the renowned driveability of the new 4.3-litre DOHC VVT-i V8 engine.

Despite its luxurious trappings, the GS 430 is definitely a driver’s car. With 300 horsepower and 325 lb-ft of torque, the GS 430 will hold its own against arch rivals like BMW’s 545i, Audi’s new A6 4.2 or Infiniti’s M45. Lexus claims runs from 0-100 km/h will take a mere 5.7 seconds, a number that will embarrass a lot of so-called ‘sports’ cars.

An all-new 6-speed automatic gearbox (Super Electronically Controlled Transmission) with sequential manual shift capabilities is the only transmission offered, but even the enthusiast driver will enjoy this slush-box. Its operation is silky smooth as it goes about its business. If the driver wishes to select his own shift points, the ergonomic shift lever can be used as a manual with fore and aft activation.

The GS 430 builds momentum quickly and with authority as throttle response is immediate. The car ‘intelligently’ predicts what you plan to do based on the computer’s record of your inputs. The same can be said for the steering as the GS 430 comes equipped with VGRS active steering (Variable Gear Ratio Steering) which monitors both steering inputs and vehicle dynamics to assist the driver during cornering.

2006 Lexus GS 430

2006 Lexus GS 430

2006 Lexus GS 430
Click image to enlarge

But while acceleration is important for bragging rights, handling is the true measure of a well-engineered automobile. I found its handling exceptional for such a big car. Both the wheelbase and track have been lengthened, but the result is a new sense of stability. The double wishbone front suspension is partnered with a multi-link set-up in back, giving the car a much improved ride. While not as hard-edged as say the BMW or M45, the chassis still inspires confidence when the car is driven to its performance potential.

The suspension is so well engineered that even when equipped with big alloy wheels and low profile performance tires it never negatively interfered with comfort or traction, even when travelling on poorly maintained road surfaces. The adaptive variable shock set-up is superb. It allows the driver to customize the car’s ride (shock and spring rates) based on changing road conditions or intended use – read: well-dampened cruise to the opera, or hard-edged track day. At the touch of a button, the driver can choose from sport, normal or comfort modes.

2006 Lexus GS 430
Click image to enlarge

The ride is smooth and quiet as the refined chassis excellent insulation keep noise levels to a minimum. However, when you punch the gas pedal in anger, the 4.3-litre V8 growls like only a V8 can, generating a sporty exhaust note in your wake.

The GS 430 is rear-wheel drive so the driving experience is as pure as one can get in this day and age of front-wheel drive sedans and gargantuan sport utility vehicles.

Well aware that high fuel prices and traffic congestion often conspire to deter consumers from ordering a V8, Lexus also offers the GS 300. Under its hood you will find an all-new 3.0-litre V6, dishing out 245 hp and 230 lb-ft of torque. This car can be had with equipment levels similar to those found in the GS 430, but can also be ordered with all-wheel drive.


Safety

The GS 430 has been loaded with a host of electronic driver aids. These include adaptable variable shock absorbers (right from the LS 430’s parts bin), traction control, “hill start assist”, advanced anti-lock brakes with electronic brake force distribution and brake assist. All of these systems work together under the umbrella of something Lexus calls Vehicle Dynamics Integrated Management (VDIM), sort of an electronic lifeguard for when you may be getting in over your head. Unfortunately there is no switch to turn all these features off, so horseplay is out of the question.

2006 Lexus GS 430
Click image to enlarge

You’ve seen the ads, but until you experience Lexus’ Adaptive Front Lighting System, you won’t believe it makes that big a difference. As you turn the steering wheel your headlamps project their Xenon beams up to 15 degrees in the direction of travel. This proved invaluable on unfamiliar back roads where street lamps and lane markers tend to be afterthoughts.

Lexus offers an innovative emergency braking system which comes into play when using the radar-assisted cruise control. This system is called Pre-Collision System (PCS) and uses the radar to monitor the distance and closing speed of approaching cars. The PCS will quickly alter the suspension settings for optimum braking performance and automatically steps in with Brake Assist if the system’s computer determines that a collision is imminent and unavoidable. The seat belts of front occupants will also tighten before final impact. Sounds like a valuable option if utmost safety is your concern.

2006 Lexus GS 430
Click image to enlarge

In the event of a collision or roll-over, the GS 430 is equipped with a host of airbags, including next-generation units up front backed up by knee bags. Seat-mounted side units protect the front seat passengers while front and rear side curtain units deploy to protect all occupants.

Bumper-mounted sensors front and rear announce your proximity to other cars or obstacles when parking or navigating tight spots. Lexus also offers an optional rear view camera system which utilizes the driver information/navigation screen as a viewer. Visibility is excellent all around, but if you have kids the camera may be worth the extra bucks.

An electronic tire pressure monitor is standard fare on all GS models, and it actively monitors all four wheels, sending a warning message to the driver if any (or all) of the four tires are in need of service.


Comfort redefined.


2006 Lexus GS 430
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Leather seating surfaces are soft to the touch but the seats underneath offer excellent comfort and exceptional support. The driver and front passenger seats benefit from power adjustability and offer both heating and cooling capabilities.

The GS is a roomy automobile with seating for five adults. Passengers in all five positions will find abundant leg, hip and shoulder room, but taller passengers (say 6′ plus) might like a bit more space, especially in the rear compartment where the sloping roofline drops dramatically. I stand 6’2″ and often wear a hat, and at no time did I feel that I was in a pinch when it came to space. Run me through a cloning machine and fill the car however, and I might have reason to complain.

2006 Lexus GS 430

2006 Lexus GS 430
Click image to enlarge

The driver’s seat is infinitely adjustable so finding the perfect position with regards to visibility, reach and pedal travel (power adjustable of course) is a breeze. I found all the switchgear and controls easy to use and within easy reach, though the small retractable panel that houses the controls for some of the electric accessories (including the mirrors, park assist, rear window screen, and trunk and fuel release switches) was obstructed by my leg.

For such a large car the trunk has some interesting dynamics. It offers 430 litres of cargo room but is somewhat hampered by the intrusion of the rear wheel wells, which greatly narrows the compartment. The rear seats do not fold down, but there is a pass-through for skis or long items. All four doors offer storage cubbies, the front seat backs have pockets, and the centre console features a sizeable bin underneath the armrest.


Styling

While the 2006 GS 430 (and its little sister, the GS 300) are all-new, the car’s shape and styling cues reflect those of its forbearer. The car represents the brand’s first model to carry what Lexus calls L-Finesse design elements, a stylistic wave that will sweep through the company’s line-up and help Lexus stand out from its many rivals.

2006 Lexus GS 430

2006 Lexus GS 430
Click image to enlarge

The car is larger all around but so are many of its buyers, so the increased passenger and cargo space is good news. The new look is elegant but sporty, as the car’s aerodynamic form is a combination of wind-cheating curves and muscular bulges. Gone are the almost boy-racer elements of the previous car.

The car looks uncluttered but its wide stance, stretched wheelbase and big 18-inch wheels suggest this car is all business. The cabin stretches rearward with a slight taper at the rear, which when viewed from behind almost gives the car the appearance of being a hatchback design. While not svelte, the car does feel nimble when carving your way through the twisties.

Inside and out, fit and finish is impeccable, and the quality of the plastic, wood and metal interior pieces are equal to any in the automotive world.


Goodies


2006 Lexus GS 430
Click image to enlarge

The test unit I spent the week with was loaded as are most Lexus models, with the exception of the DVD-based navigation unit and the rear backup camera. Both these systems utilize the driver information screen which occupies the centre stack in all GS models. This touch screen also allows the user to quickly make adjustments to both the audio system as well as the dual zone climate control.

The GS comes equipped with a high-power 6-disc CD/AM/FM audio system complete with cassette. This top-notch system feeds ten perfectly-matched speakers to create an outstanding listening chamber. Secondary controls mounted to the steering wheel let you control the audio system without taking your hands off this luxurious ship’s rudder. Audiophiles can also order the stupendous Mark Levinson audio system with its fourteen speakers, a masterpiece of audio engineering that has trickled down from the LS 430.

The latest trend with high-end automobiles seems to be keyless operation. Lexus calls their system Smart Access. As you approach the vehicle the system’s computerized brain senses the remote fob you carry, automatically unlocking the door for speedy entry. The system will perform the opposite function upon exit, locking the doors and setting the security system.

2006 Lexus GS 430
Click image to enlarge


Conclusions

If you want to feel like you have arrived, I suggest you take a drive in the all-new GS 430. This totally redesigned luxury sport sedan offers a well-balanced blend of safety and performance in a very stylish wrapper, and when compared to its German rivals, is somewhat of a bargain.


Technical Data: 2006 Lexus GS 430

Base price $74,700
Options $2,400 (Touring package – rear sensor, rear sunshade, rear spoiler, rear seat side airbags, heated front seats with ventilation fans, rain sensing wipers
Freight $1,575
A/C tax $100
Price as tested $78,775 Click here for options, dealer invoice prices and factory incentives
Type 4-door, 5-pass. mid-sized luxury sedan
Layout longitudinal front engine/rear-wheel drive
Engine 4.3 litre V8, DOHC, 32-valves
Horsepower 300 @ 5,600 rpm
Torque 325 ft-lb @ 3,400 rpm
Transmission 6-speed automatic with manual shift mode
Tires
Curb weight 1700 kg (3748 lb.)
Wheelbase 2850 mm (112.2 in.)
Length 4825 mm (190.0 in.)
Width 1820 mm (71.7 in.)
Height 1425 mm (56.1 in.)
Cargo capacity 430 litres (15.2 cu-ft.)
Fuel consumption 12.8 L/100 km (22 mpg)
  Hwy 8.6 L/100 km (33 mpg)
Warranty 4 years/80,000 km
Powertrain warranty 6 years/110,000 km

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