Mountain Wheels: Smaller engine doesn’t entirely undermine Lexus GS’s largesse (column)
September 3, 2016
GS, the Lexus I've often thought has the most real-world sexiness, being not too short, not one of those weirdly bulbous/angular newer RCs and not a gigantic SUV, is both enlivened and occasionally critically injured by the introduction of a small-but-high-output 2.0-liter turbo as an engine choice.
The GS still has the size, the hot looks and the graceful interior; that engine just seems at times to be not entirely befitting a 5-Series or nearly 7-Series grand touring machine, the world in which the GS lives and postures itself.
That 241-horsepower, 258 lb.-ft. of torque twin-scroll turbo inline-four is indeed a quantum leap in the new and strange direction all automakers have embarked, with fuel efficiency and ever-tightening government standards looming on the horizon.
The upside here was a healthy 27.5 MPG I generated with a lot of highway driving, admittedly on the Front Range's fearsome I-25 North corridor, and not repeatedly working my way up the passes.
In normal driving and calm and measured starts, the engine's torque is welcome, manageable and pleasant; the downside is lugging low-speed starts, with sometimes ominously belabored turbo lag. With the AC at full blast and the car's 3,800 pounds of curb weight, I felt like I could do a palpable one-two-omigod-three count before the power kicked in when I needed to, oh say, get out of the way of an oncoming train or a runaway steamroller.
Once the turbo kicked in, no problem – 241 horsepower can still be surprisingly effective in getting a big-ish car moving, allowing safe highway passes or powerful cruising. The laggy starts, however, were a bit scary.
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A possible remedy to this, and an option for those innumerable Summit County buyers of high-end sedans, might instead be either the GS350 or, still better, its all-wheel-drive variant, which offers a more old-fashioned but higher-output 3.5-liter V-6 with 311 horsepower, though you'll be seeing combined mileage in the 19 MPG range.
GS feels big and planted enough like it could even be a great spot for the 467-horsepower 5.0-liter V-8 found in the hot-shot RC-F, but that is sadly just wishful thinking, outside of one of those Monster Garage swap projects on TV. As it is, the ride is still smooth and comfortably sporty, certainly capable of handling more boost, but still pretty fun in its four- or six-cylinder realities; both cars top out at 143 mph, apparently, though the 0-60 run for the 2.0-liter turbo is a not-exactly blistering 7.2 seconds.
So, the choice is yours for efficiency or raw power; what does not change are the generally sexy overall looks and stance, with a modernized inclusion of those often jarring modern Lexus lines into the somewhat seasoned GS package.
I got to try a GS200t that had been outfitted, not inexpensively, with the F-Sport package, nearly $8,000 worth of upgrades, including an even more imposing front fascia and grille, a spoiler in the back, dark graphite wheels and a litany of badging and premium bits on the inside. That enhanced nose seems like it should be parked on a European fighter jet and always seems perilously close to being demolished by every curb at every parking spot around, but was magically high enough to avoid getting caught or cracked on all of my outings. Good care is necessary, however.
The new GS style regime, that includes a wide, leather-edged console channel in the front cabin, with its own unique blend of the jumble of fancy controls I've seen on a varied range of Lexus product this summer — more reports on those to follow — a back-and-forth sliding armrest/storage container lid that hides the rear window shade button, and the debatably useful joystick controller and leatherized palm rest pad to handle the car's information and entertainment systems.
In F-Sport, it's all outfitted in very stylish Naguri carbon-fiber-looking aluminum trim and other patches of piano black surfacing. Dash design is still clean and classic, not overly angular, with deeply shrouded displays and the unique, partially video instrument cluster modified from the RC.
Seating is almost Cadillac-worthy in its flatness, though pronounced edge bolstering makes it comfortable, and the curved lower seatbacks do provide some extra room (36.8 inches) for rear passenger comfort.
A slight shortcoming for those wisely choosing the GS to facilitate a move was a pass-through gate that's good for skis but not much else — no-fold-flat seats here — though the trunk is a healthy 16.2 cubic feet and can eat up a lot of gear.
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