- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 26, 2006

According to the iconic rockers the Rolling Stones: You can’t always get what you want, but if you try, sometimes you might find you get what you need. Giving you what you need is the mission of the GS 300.

At $43,550, the GS 300 isn’t inexpensive by most consumers’ standards, but it’s certainly more affordable than the $51,375 GS 430. While it may not harness the same amount of get-up-and-go as the 300-horsepower GS 430, the GS 300 puts plenty of power to the pavement while providing the same acutely nimble handling dynamics of its more expensive sibling. Sure, a few of the GS 430’s luxury features drop off the GS 300’s standard-equipment list, but they probably won’t be missed. When eight to 10 grand makes a difference in the purchase of a performance luxury sedan, the GS 300 is an excellent value/performance compromise.

Slugging it out with the likes of BMW’s 5-Series, Audi’s A6 and Mercedes-Benz’s E-Class, the GS is measured against some elite competitors. It certainly has the legs to stand up to any of them. Going toe-to-toe with the top-end sedans in the midsize luxury class falls to the GS 430. Targeting the lesser entries in the segment is the GS 300’s assignment. Included as part of this year’s redesign, the boost in GS 300 horsepower puts its pony count above the 530i and E 320, giving the BMW and Mercedes something to ponder.

Replacing a 220-horsepower 3.0-liter inline six, the new 3.0-liter V-6 musters 245 horsepower. Peak torque is also up from 220 foot-pounds to 230 foot-pounds. An aluminum block and cylinder heads help hold the line on tonnage. Continuous Variable Valve Timing with intelligence (VVT-i) provides more thrust during lower revs, which means much of the V-6’s power is available farther down in the rpm band. VVT-i not only enhances acceleration from a standing stop, but takes some of the adventure out of freeway merging.

An all-new six-speed driver-shiftable automatic transmission shepherds engine output to the wheels for both the GS 430 and GS 300.

Impressively efficient, the GS 300 leads its rivals in fuel economy. The Environmental Protection Agency rates its miles per gallon at 22 in the city and 30 on the highway.

A premium of $1,950 earns an owner the bragging rights to the first Lexus passenger car with all-wheel drive. Under normal conditions the new AWD system divides power in a 30/70 split between the front and rear wheels. As the system senses wheel slippage and adjusts, as much as 50 percent of engine power can be diverted to the front wheels.

For all its bells and whistles, the GS 430 must do without AWD. It’s a GS 300 exclusive.

Also all new for 2006, the four-wheel independent suspension successfully straddles the line between luxurious and agile. Ride quality is excellent, yet handling is taut and sporty. The vehicle-speed-sensitive power-assisted steering doesn’t overmodulate control, providing just the right amount of resistance and adequate feedback. The four-wheel antilock disc brake system provides the platform for the Vehicle Stability Control, Brake Assist and traction control. The disc brakes back up 17-inch alloy wheels and V-rated rubber.

When Lexus redesigned the GS, two inches were added to the wheelbase. Overall length, width and height each gained roughly an inch. Better defined, the 2006 exterior has sharper lines and a sleeker profile. While the front end is clearly from the Lexus playbook, the overall look of the GS is unique.

Oozing personality, the GS cabin is roomy and screwed together with precision. Leather, wood and chrome blend into a rich, well-appointed environment. The seats provide scads of lateral support and multiple power adjustments. Unlike some of its European counterparts, the GS doesn’t require a consultation of the owner’s manual to operate basic system. Everything works quite simply. Rather than an enigmatic system such as BMW’s IDrive to consolidate operations and reduce the clutter of buttons and switches on the instrument panel, the GS tidies things up by incorporating a hidden panel to the left of the steering wheel. It contains lesser-used controls for features such as the power outboard mirrors.

Standing out in the midsize luxury sedan arena isn’t easy. This is particularly true when forced to stand in the shadow of the GS 430.

However, when saving a few grand is worth giving up some horsepower and a few luxury amenities, the GS 300 will make you soon forget the compromise. It’s settling for less without feeling like you’ve settled.

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