Big car, small engine has rarely been a joyous combination. The Lexus GS250 attempts to demonstrate how this has changed. Jonathan Crouch reports.
Ten Second Review
The Lexus GS 250 is a handsome and beautifully built thing that's powered by a 206bhp petrol V6 mated to a very slick automatic gearbox. So far so good. Where it fails to challenge the class best is when it comes to efficiency, with emissions and economy some way adrift. It'll find it hard to claw back that deficit.
It's a bit weird when you pause to think about it. Of all the nations in the world, probably only the USA and Germany can level with the UK when it comes to obsessions with vehicular speed and power. Even Italians, purveyors of the world's most exotic supercars, are quite happy with an asthmatic 1100 as their daily driver. The Japanese have a performance culture, as do the Australians, but these nations are largely taxed and policed respectively into submission.
We've seen big cars with smallish engines before and they usually fail to make it past our national filter for bhp per tonne. Perhaps it's a hangover from a gentler time when being all show and no go spelt social death. Lexus clearly thinks that the time, and indeed the economy, is right to revisit big cars with modest engines and to that end the GS 250 presents its case.
This is the part akin to the lap time reveal on Top Gear TV when you pretend that you're not really interested in how much power the Lexus GS 250 has and how fast it gets to 60mph, but worry not, you're on safe ground. It was the first thing I looked for too. Just how underpowered is it? The answer is 'not very'. The GS 250 is powered by a 2.5-litre V6 petrol engine with D-4S direct port injection and Dual VVT-i intelligent valve timing. Maximum output is 206bhp at 6,400rpm and peak torque of 253Nm is delivered at 4,800rpm. This translate into a zero to sixty time of 8.4 seconds and a top speed of 142mph. Hardly gutless, then.
The engine deploys its power through Lexus's Super ECT-i six-speed automatic transmission, with a sequential manual shift function. The system has been developed to deliver faster shift speeds, earlier torque converter lock-up and downshift throttle blips, so it's a tad sportier than your everyday slushbox. The revised platform is much more rigid compared to the old GS and this, coupled with a track that's wider by 40mm at the front and 50mm at the rear, allows the revised suspension to offer better cornering performance. The front suspension features aluminium upper and lower control arms with larger bushings while the rear end gets an entirely redesigned subframe to house a lightweight multi-link setup. One benefit of the stiffer platform and lighter components is that the shock absorbers can use lighter viscosity oil, responding faster to subtle driver inputs.
Design and Build
The fourth generation GS is a more confident and assertive piece of design than any that have gone before it. While it's not quite swaggering, it's not hiding its light under a bushel. The front 'spindle' grille is a design touch that will feature on all new Lexus models and combines with deep-set headlights and L-shaped LED daytime running lights. The bulging wheel arches give the car a less slab-sided look than its predecessors and emphasis the muscularity of the design. A short front overhang also helps promote an impression of dynamism. Move round to the back and you'll find a bumper assembly that features a diffuser and aero fins to help control underbody airflow. Glass flake paintwork is also offered, with an almost high-definition look to its metallic finish.
The cabin looks even more special and unlike previous generations of the GS, suggests a real effort has gone into the styling which shares an equal billing with function rather than being ruled by it. The layout of the long, sculpted dash gives the driver and front passenger a sense of roominess through its clean centre stack and large high-resolution display screen. Most of the comfort and convenience controls such as audio and climate are relocated to provide a cleaner and more sophisticated dash layout. Redesigned seats and changes to the steering column give more space and better comfort as well as improved forward visibility to the driver. The door openings offer easier entry and exit and boot access is improved with a wider, deeper opening. Luggage capacity has been increased by almost 25 per cent, now measuring up to 566 litres.
Market and Model
It's a little early yet for Lexus to publish full specifications and UK pricing for the GS 250 but we do know that the company has plans to offer the aggressively styled F Sport trim level with this engine. There are also no plans to bring in a diesel model alongside, which means that the petrol-powered GS 250 will have to go up against the huge-selling Audi A6 2.0 TDI and the BMW 520d in order to eke out executive class sales. That's one heck of a task.
GS 250 owners won't feel short changed when it comes to equipment, with a DVD audio and video compatibility, MP3 sound enhancement, 5.1 Surround Sound, and a high-resolution eight-inch central control display centrally located high up in the instrument panel. Models fitted with the navigation system will have an industry-first 12.3-inch high-resolution multi-media screen, large enough to support simultaneous, split-screen viewing of a large map display, plus audio, climate or other vehicle information. Safety provisions include Lexus's Pre-Crash Safety system, combined with Vehicle Dynamics Integrated Management, and a series of other systems designed to reduce the risk of an accident, including Lane Keep Assist, Blind Spot Monitor and Lexus Night View.
Cost of Ownership
The executive car market is a mature sector and the key protagonists have developed to such a point that choosing between them is a subtle matter of nuance. That's what makes the GS 250's job so hard. Its basic figures don't look at all bad. Carbon dioxide emissions of 207g/km and a combined fuel economy figure of 31.7mpg aren't catastrophic for a big petrol-engined car. But this car isn't going to be compared exclusively with petrol engined cars. It will be measured against the 129g/km and 57.6mpg of the Audi A6 2.0 TDI. Its residuals will be measured against these cars. Okay, so maybe we're not comparing eggs with eggs. If you are one of the 10-15% of executive class buyers drawn to a petrol-engined car, you have cars like the BMW 520i at 157g/km and 41.5mpg. As you can probably tell, it's a tough task building a financial case for the GS 250.
So who is going to be the likely buyer? Its emissions will rule it out for the majority of business users, so perhaps low mileage private buyers can step into the breach. If you appreciate a well-built car that's packed with equipment and which rides well, the GS 250 has a shout. It's just that it's drowned out by a whole host of louder voices. We'll reserve full judgement until we see pricing, residual estimations and insurance groupings but it's off to a tough start.
The Lexus GS 250 is an interesting but, ultimately, frustrating car. The basics are so very right. It looks great, it's well equipped and it benefits from typically meticulous Lexus build quality and after sales care. There's no doubt it would be a satisfying ownership proposition. It's certainly quick enough for most and there aren't many cars you'd take over the GS for a relaxing long distance drive.
Is that enough? Not really. No matter what sort of spin I put on the subjective aspects of this car, the numbers just don't stack up. You would have to really want one in order to stomach the ongoing costs and is there this untapped legion of potential customers tapping their heels in anticipation for the next petrol-engined Lexus GS? This is a hard-fought corner of the market where the difference between the best and the also rans is often one percentage point or so. The same amount of fuel that would power the quicker BMW 520i for 100 miles would see the GS 250 spluttering onto the hard shoulder after 76 miles. Lexus dealers will have an uphill task with this one.