- The Washington Times - Friday, April 18, 2008

Since it first entered the luxury arena with a 1990 model-year lineup that consisted of only two sedans — and one of those a thinly disguised brand engineered twin of a Toyota Camry — Lexus has used the intervening years to scatter gun entries into nearly every niche of the luxury landscape.

Planting the Lexus battle flag in the midsize luxury performance segment falls to the GS series. Going toe to toe with the likes of the BMW 5 Series and Mercedes-Benz E-Class, the V8 GS has been at a horsepower disadvantage. That remains true today; however, the 2008 GS 460 significantly closes the performance gap with its V8-powered German rivals. It still may trail in the pony count, but its new 4.6-liter V8 places it well in the hunt.

Lexus spruced up the GS for 2008 with a few subtle styling enhancements inside and out. The big news, however, is the introduction of a new, bigger 4.6-liter engine to replace last year’s 4.3-liter V8. Not only did the new V8 bring a 52-horsepower increase, but was responsible for getting the V8 GS promoted from the GS 430 to the GS 460. Its 342 horsepower rating is still 18 short of BMW’s 550i, but it’s good for a stop-to-60 mph acceleration time of about five and a half seconds.

As if the increase in engine firepower wasn’t enough, a new eight-speed driver-shiftable automatic transmission ushers the V8’s output to the rear wheels. Engine and transmission are exceptionally well suited to one another and together have earned the GS 460 an Environmental Protection Agency rating of 17 mpg in city driving and 24 mpg in highway cruising. These numbers may not look great when compared to those of the Toyota Prius, but are impressive for a V8-powered midsize luxury sedan.

Ride quality is the main focus of the fully independent suspension. Composed of a double-wishbone arrangement up front and a multi-link setup in the rear, it absorbs nearly every pavement inconsistency it encounters. Gas-pressurized shocks are part of the adaptive suspension that can be set for either Comfort or Sport. In the Sport mode, the damping is firmed up for improved handling.

But serious road warriors who attack the mountain twisties with the unrelenting gusto of Patton driving for the Rhine may find the GS less adept than its German peers. Plunking down an extra $3,000 beyond the GS 460’s $53,385 base sticker for the optional Active Stabilizer suspension will increase its athletic acumen considerably. For the rest of us with our day-to-day driving chores, the GS is a more than acceptable compromise between comfort and control.

Traction control, stability control, emergency braking assist and electronic brakeforce distribution are all functions of the four-wheel anti-lock disc brake system. Other safety features include front and rear seat-mounted side-impact airbags, front and rear seat side curtain airbags, and knee airbags for the driver and front-seat passenger.

Interior room is about the same as the BMW 550i. Long-legged passengers will be more comfortable with the extra two inches of front-seat legroom and nearly half an inch more rear legroom found in the GS. The BMW has a slightly larger trunk, but otherwise the numbers are very similar. Lexus says the GS will seat five and indeed it will; however three in the backseat should only be a last resort for quick hops for a work-day lunch or similar errands.

Lexus hasn’t cut any corners in the GS interior. Quality materials and meticulous workmanship are evident throughout.

Wide cushions and ample lateral support are the best features of the front bucket seats. The rear seat has better than average side support for the two outside seating positions. Leather, real wood accents and aluminum trim cover most surfaces.

The typical power accessories are standard, as are power tilt-telescopic steering wheel and reverse-tilt outboard mirrors. The standard audio system has ten speakers, an in-dash six-disc CD player and an auxiliary input for personal listening devices.

Ante up another $3,620 for the Mark Levinson Audio/Navigation System and you not only receive four additional speakers — including a subwoofer — but a DVD-based navigation system with its seven-inch display in the center stack.

The screen doubles as a DVD monitor when the GS is in park with the parking brake on, as well as the monitor for the rear-view camera also included in the package.

Run-flat tires will set you back another $320 to upgrade the set; while rain-sensing wipers will add another $100 to the bottom line.

The BMW 550i may still have a slight performance edge, but drivers who aren’t about flogging a car to its limits will be more than satisfied with the GS 460’s handling and certainly pleased with the added get-up-and-go the new V8 brings to the party.

Additionally, with a $6,000 or so price advantage over the 550i, the GS 460 has some extra appeal to the frugal-minded among luxury performance shoppers.

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