2003 Lexus GS 430
2003 Lexus GS 430. Click image to enlarge

I’m going to try to read your mind. Describe a car to me and I’ll try and figure out which one you’re thinking of.

A little bit of luxury with a hint of sport – check. The styling stands out a little compared to other high-end sedans – got it. Engine choices are a V8 or an inline-six cylinder and the car is utterly reliable and trouble-free – check and check. Finally, its model run lasted from 1998 to 2005.

Alright, time to guess: second-generation Lexus GS 300/400? Am I right?

What gave it away, you ask? Well, the combination of luxury and sport could be many cars; German luxury is distinctive, but doesn’t necessarily stand out, and few other Japanese luxury cars from the late 1990s could be described as interesting to look at; BMW uses both V8s and inline sixes in its five series, but while they’re reasonably reliable, they’re hardly the be-all-and-end-all in bulletproof durability. And finally, the second-generation GS was indeed sold starting as a 1998 model and was recently replaced with an all-new design for 2006.

The rear-wheel-drive GS first appeared in the line-up of Toyota’s Lexus luxury division in 1993 as a rear-wheel-drive sedan that slotted in between the Camry-based ES 300 and the luxo-barge LS400. That original GS had a sleek profile with rounded edges and a high trunk that added a dash of sport to an otherwise stately and understated line-up of cars.

2003 Lexus GS 430
2003 Lexus GS 430. Click image to enlarge

The second-generation GS arrived in 1997 as a 1998 model with an updated take on the original’s looks: oblong quad headlights replaced the old model’s rectangles, and the taillights got a similar treatment. The new model was actually a little bit shorter than the outgoing one, but the overall effect of the styling was similar. More familiar was the 3.0 litre inline six under the hood, originally sourced from the wicked Toyota Supra, minus two turbos and about 100 horsepower. For 1998, though, power was no longer a problem as Lexus opted to make the 4.0 litre V8 used in the LS400 an option for the GS. Cars equipped with that engine got 17-inch wheels instead of 16s and a more aggressive body treatment that made the car look truly mean. In 2001, the V8 got a bump in displacement to 4.3 litres, prompting a name change (V8 models became the GS 430) and a small boost in torque (horsepower remained 300).

2002 Lexus GS 300
2002 Lexus GS 300. Click image to enlarge

A possible turn-off for some enthusiasts is that all second-generation GS models put their power down through a five-speed automatic. If you want a manual transmission in this class of car, BMW is probably your best bet, but it’s a good bet that nothing from Deutschland will provide as many trouble-free years of motoring as a Lexus will. That said, the GS doesn’t drive with the same connected-to-the-asphalt feel that the 5-series does, so corner carving will be more fun in the Fiver.

Check out Consumer Reports’ take on the GS: the magazine recommends every GS built between 1998 and 2004. Nothing from Germany can match that, and in fact, only the Lexus’ Japanese competition from Infiniti and Acura can come close to matching the GS’ bulletproof nature, and even they fall short in certain areas.

1998 Lexus GS 300
1998 Lexus GS 300. Click image to enlarge

Obviously, a six-cylinder model is the one to consider if fuel economy is a priority. The GS 300 can be expected to use between 12 and 13 L/100 km in the city and 8.7 L/100 km on the highway. Move up to the V8 model and city fuel consumption increases to 13.5 L/100 km while the bigger motor will use 9.3 L/100 km on the highway.

The U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration never crash-tested a second-generation GS, but the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) gave the GS its best pick rating in its frontal offset test and a marginal rating in rear impact testing.

1998 Lexus GS 400
1998 Lexus GS 400. Click image to enlarge

Price-wise, a used GS should be cheaper than a comparably equipped 5-series, for example. At the low end, a 1998 GS 300 is worth $15,400 according to Canadian Red Book, a little more than a quarter of its $58,900 M.S.R.P. Move all the way up to a nearly-new 2005 GS 430 and expect to pay $66,175, just a few grand off its M.S.R.P. of $69,500. For about $40,000, you could pick up a 2002 GS 430. If $30,000 is your budget, a 2001 GS 300 falls right around that price point, while a 1999 GS 400 is worth a little more than $20,000.

While the GS doesn’t offer the same driver-oriented experience as a BMW, the all-wheel-drive capability of an Audi A6 or the outright class of a Mercedes-Benz E-Class, it does offer unbeatable reliability and competent power in an attractive package and at a price that reinforces this car’s position as a terrific alternative to Teutonic touring.

On-line resources

www.clublexus.com – These guys live and breathe all things Lexus and in fact, the forum section dedicated to the GS is the busiest one on this site. Obviously, many of Club Lexus’ 37,000 members drive them. If you buy a used GS and want information on it from fellow owners, go here. You’re welcome.

www.toyotanation.com – this is the place to go for all things Toyota, of which Lexus is one. All Lexus models are lumped together in one forum, so information specific to the GS 300/400 may be difficult to find without a concerted search effort.

us.lexusownersclub.com – this is a North American offshoot of a UK-based Lexus website. Here you’ll find a forum dedicated to the GS in all of its forms. There’s also a heap of other topics to discuss here, like aftermarket modifications, audio/video, for sale/wanted and many others. A basic membership is free, and there’s an optional gold membership available for a subscription fee. This is home for more than 20,000 wired Lexus owners.

club.lexstacy.com – the front page at lexstacy.com is a Lexus aftermarket store, but a link at the top-left of the page takes you to the site’s forums, where you’ll find a GS discussion section. Registration is free.


Recalls

Transport Canada Recall Number: 1998079; Units affected: 617

1998: a defective yaw rate sensor may be affected by certain electromagnetic waves such as from a cellular phone. This could cause the vehicle stability control (VSC) to operate improperly and cause the brakes to apply unexpectedly, affecting steering and speed control (and hence vehicle stability) and may increase the risk of a vehicle crash. Correction: yaw rate sensor will be replaced on affected vehicles.

Transport Canada Recall Number: 1998085; Units affected: 466

1998: these vehicles may not comply with C.M.V.S.S. 1105 – evaporative emissions. The malfunction indicator light (MIL) may fail to illuminate in response to an evaporative system leak and/or may illuminate falsely in response to a signal from the transmission speed sensor during deceleration. Correction: a modified ECM will be installed on affected vehicles.

Used vehicle prices vary depending on factors such as general condition, odometer reading, usage history and options fitted. Always have a used vehicle checked by an experienced auto technician before you buy.

For information on recalls, see Transport Canada’s web-site, www.tc.gc.ca, or the U.S. National Highway Transportation Administration (NHTSA)web-site, www.nhtsa.dot.gov.

For information on vehicle service bulletins issued by the manufacturer, visit www.nhtsa.dot.gov.

For information on consumer complaints about specific models, see www.lemonaidcars.com.

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