2007 Lexus GS350
2007 Lexus GS350. Click image to enlarge

Review and photos by Chris Chase

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Photo Gallery: 2007 Lexus GS350

Ever invited someone over for dinner and then spent most of the evening waiting for them to leave after they’d overstayed their welcome?

You have to wonder if Audi, BMW and Mercedes-Benz are feeling that way these days about Lexus. After all, since Toyota launched its high-end division at the end of the 1980s, Lexus has been slowly picking away at the Germans’ domination of the luxury segment with increasingly cushy and capable cars.

Enter the third generation of Lexus’ GS sedan, first seen as a 2006 model. The original iteration of this car was powered exclusively by a 3.0-litre inline six-cylinder engine and was dubbed the GS300; the second-generation car used the 3.0-litre as well, and added an available V8 that, turned the car into the more powerful GS400 (and later, the GS430, when that engine’s displacement swelled slightly in 2001).

For 2007, the base model becomes the GS350 thanks to the use of Toyota’s new 3.5-litre V6. This motor turns just about anything it’s used in – whether it’s the workaday RAV4 SUV or the plain-Jane Camry – into a closet road rocket. The new GS is no exception. Here, the 3.5 is tuned to generate a healthy 303 horsepower, making the GS350 one fast car for its $59,750 starting price. Available options include a $2,800 Luxury package that adds a power rear sunshade, rear spoiler, adaptive headlights, rear-seat side airbags and rain sensing wipers. There’s also the Luxury with Navigation package, which adds to that a navigation system and a backup camera, for $6,800 over the base price; my test car was option-free.

2007 Lexus GS350
2007 Lexus GS350. Click image to enlarge

Of course, the GS350’s 303 horsepower creates something of an uncomfortable situation when you consider that the $71,300 GS430 – powered by the same 4.3-litre V8 that the 2006 version used boasts just 290 horsepower from its larger engine. Of course, the V8-powered GS gets more standard equipment for its inflated MSRP, but there’s no doubt that the GS350’s extra power creates a conundrum for some buyers.

It probably creates some concern in the Audi, BMW and Mercedes camps too. Audi’s A6 starts at $62,700 and gets a 255-horsepower V6 for that money. A 5-series Bimmer comes in at $58,600 but gets just 215 horsepower, while the $65,500 Mercedes-Benz E280 4MATIC has 228 horsepower to work with; the E350 4MATIC has 268 horses but costs $9,000 more.

So it’s right about now that the GS350 starts to look like a pretty good deal on paper. Get in and the GS greets you with a very nicely-appointed interior. The leather seats are very comfortable, and fit-and-finish in my test car was without fault, as we’ve come to expect from Lexus vehicles. While my tester’s black-and-beige interior was a nice relief from the dour mostly-black environments that many Audis and BMWs offer, the secondary controls didn’t offer the same kind of satisfying tactile quality found in German cars. At least the Lexus does without any kind of complicated one-button-controls-everything approach (think i-Drive) that the Germans have gone head-over-heels for lately.

2007 Lexus GS350
2007 Lexus GS350
2007 Lexus GS350
2007 Lexus GS350. Click image to enlarge

The main downfall of the GS interior, though, has to do with space. It’s not exactly huge inside, and in many respects, seems plain old cramped, particularly in the rear. Back-seat headroom is really tight, and one six-foot-tall passenger felt like he had two options: slouch, or let the headliner rearrange his hairdo.

It’s a little better up front, but even I found headroom on the tight side, even at my more modest height of five-foot-eight. Taller drivers might appreciate it if the standard power sunroof were a delete option, as that would free up another inch or two of headroom.

Legroom is in somewhat short supply too, front and rear. The GS’ rear-drive layout necessitates the wide transmission/driveshaft tunnel, which cuts into interior space significantly. The Germans can’t claim the roomiest interiors in the business either, but an A6 I drove a few months ago had more rear-seat legroom and felt more spacious overall. Trunk space is at a real premium in the GS, too. Its 360 litres of cargo capacity sounds reasonable, and the trunk is certainly deep enough to accept larger parcels, but the shape is what kills it. The rear wheel wells intrude prominently, creating a T-shaped trunk that’s far less practical than the almost perfectly square trunk in the A6. The Audi’s rear seats fold down, too, while the Lexus’ do not; all the GS offers is a pass-through for narrow objects, like skis.

Where the A6 also has the GS beat is in the driving experience. While the Lexus is extremely quick, thanks to its high-revving and very smooth V6, the A6 in particular is more engaging to drive. This isn’t to say that the GS isn’t a capable performer – it is.

2007 Lexus GS350
2007 Lexus GS350. Click image to enlarge

Its brakes are as strong as those found on any sport sedan, and the firm suspension serves up confident handling, but it all makes for a car that just doesn’t do much for the driver except get them to their destination a little more quickly. Road noise and vibrations are so well-muted that it’s next to impossible to get a feel for the road surface through the rim of the steering wheel. The Lexus moves almost silently at part throttle and keeps engine noise well in check even at full-throttle, and generally tries to convince its occupants that the car is being propelled by some kind of magical force instead of plain old mechanical machinations. The tachometer offers the only clues to what the engine’s up to.

The A6, on the other hand, serves up satisfying engine and gear noises from its quattro all-wheel drive system, all of which that remind you that this is still a car and not some Jetsons-esque personal transportation pod.

The GS350 is available with four driven wheels for an extra $5,500 or so over the rear-wheel drive version, but I think it would be a wise investment. A light snowfall turned my GS tester into a real handful, even with the standard traction and stability control systems active. In trying to exit a snowy driveway onto a busy street, a healthy jab at the throttle caused the traction nannies to cut power down to next to nothing, making pulling into traffic a very dicey proposition.

2007 Lexus GS350
2007 Lexus GS350. Click image to enlarge

Hitting the traction control cancel button on the console puts the traction control watchdog to sleep but leaves the stability program active to control skids. This allows wheelspin, which, believe it or not, is actually helpful in many low-traction situations. Hold that button down for a few seconds, however, and you’re on your own (a nice change from past Toyotas and Lexus models, which offered no such option). While this can be fun in controlled situations, it also turns the powerful GS into a tail-happy beast if the roads are the least bit damp.

There’s no denying that the GS350 is a terrific car for its reasonable price-tag, and Lexus’ reputation for reliability – a concept the Germans don’t appear to have mastered just yet – sweetens the deal even further. The trade-off is the less-involving driving experience. Drivers moving up from a non-luxury brand (say, former Toyota drivers who want more car but aren’t willing to leave the Toyota fold) will likely find the GS to be all the car they need, and maybe even too much, considering its base engine’s prodigious power output. Those who have owned German luxury cars in the past and are searching for something that offers a similar driving experience at a lower price, however, will likely be disappointed by the GS’ rather soulless attitude – kind of like that dinner guest you wish would just quit hanging around.

Pricing: 2007 Lexus GS350


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