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QUEST FOR PERFECTION

This article is from our archives and has not been updated and integrated with our "new" site yet... Even so, it's still awesome - so keep reading!

Published on Tue, Jun 7, 2005

By: The LACar Editorial Staff

QUEST FOR PERFECTION

By JOHN GRAFMAN

It had to happen sooner or later. After many thousands of miles, in dozens of different cars, I finally came face-to-face with the arch nemesis of the highway: Road debris. While we all have those close calls, this one was more than just a close shave. Perfection or not, this Lexus GS is in for a date with destiny.

This first day with the GS starts out much like any other. I am taking the new GS from Newport Beach to the California Speedway in Fontana. The 55 freeway and the 91 are a little slice of heaven on this morning. Any day the freeway is moving along at a decent clip is a good day. Or so I thought. Just a few miles into the 91 freeway I encounter some flattened cardboard boxes sailing between the lanes. The traffic, which is not quite shoulder-to-shoulder, is still moving along unfazed.

The amply nimble 430 is poised to dodge any obstacle. When I think the all clear is sounded I breathe a bit easier. No harm, no foul. Surprise, the cardboard is but round one.

Tumbling in an erratic orbit is a section of metal roughly eight feet long, which is moving in a diagonal direction across the lanes in an end over end fashion. The random motion leaves me sucking air. With other vehicles in a somewhat close formation it leaves too little wiggle room. The Lexus is technically more than able to jog left, right, brake or leap forward in an evasive maneuver. As the metal (looking like a twisted section of roof gutter rail) is moving randomly, I have an impossible challenge of guesstimating the next direction the metal will fall. I am equally as likely to have the debris go right through the windshield as I do of missing it entirely. All the while the episode that seems to be happening in slow motion is all taking place in a matter of a couple seconds.

In spite of all the agility offered by the Lexus, the metal comes in low on the passenger side, just clipping the lower section of the grill and bumper. Fortunately, the tires and other vital parts escape injury. Control is never lost and the driver's seat remains dry. Both the front end of the vehicle and my ego are bruised, but that's it.

How does the aforementioned situation apply to the Lexus GS? The GS personifies the gap growing between what the machine is capable of and the limitations of man. It is us that are the weak link in the driving experience, not the machine. If James Cameron, the man behind the wildly popular Terminator movies, had his way we would be left on the sidelines as the cars become self-aware. Lexus is edging ever closer to perfection. It won't be long before Lexus will be in pursuit of new plateaus.

The damage done was enough to force us into another GS, so as to safely evaluate the drivability fairly. This rare circumstance allows us to look at two examples of the same model. The comparison reaffirmed some initial observations and questioned others.

No matter how you slice it or dice it, this is a damn good car. Not that we had any concern that Lexus would produce a bad apple, but these cars are refined above any of my preconceived expectations. This is a driver's car. As warm and fuzzy as it might seem from the passenger seats, the perforated leather driver's seat is where the fun resides. From the rumble of the exhaust to the logical layout of the control functions in the interior, all aspects have been created for the love of driving.

The shape of the sedan is as slippery as it gets. The exterior design creates a longer look to this mid-size (as classified by the EPA) car by pushing the rear quarter window rearward of the back seat. The illusion works wonders. While the shape is a tad conservative, I find it handsome overall even if it's not revolutionary. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, I think more than a few will be taken by its charms.

The interior also shares this clean purposeful look. The layout is wonderful as it is simple. Let me clarify that, simple as intuitive. There is no shortage of features here, but they integrate so nicely I find this to be one of the better attributes of this car. The hidden panel to the left of the steering wheel houses several items from the mirror controls to the trunk and gas tank release, as well as several other. The panel is able to reduce the clutter in the vehicle, yet the positioning of the panel so low it's out of the driver's peripheral vision that it inhibits operation of the functions while driving. It also needs to be shut closed to facilitate entry and exit. This is a damn good idea, but the execution could stand further refinement.

The instrumentation display, or as they call it, Electronic Chromatic Device (ECD), is pretty cool, easy to read, and just a bit disco - but not hokey in the least bit.

An instrument cluster display that can be toggled through does include a tire pressure monitoring system readout, which is always comforting for piece of mind especially if you have tendency of running over road debris instead of dodging it.

Making up for any minor issues is the wonderful resolution of the on-screen selection of functions in the center mounted monitor. The layout is clean and simple. A study of the owner's manual is completely unneeded. Flanking the screen on either side is a short column of buttons. Push the button for the desired feature and presto there it is. Audio, climate, and map are just that easy to access. From that point the touch screen allows the user to adjust whatever function they selected. Lexus embarrasses the competition with its straightforward manner. While it might not be as Buck Rodgers as some, it is just what all cars require, user friendliness.

It takes less time for the GS to become your best friend than anyone would imagine. An associate who is lost in OC calls me asking for help. The GS saves the day. I switch to the GPS map and locate both him and his destination. In moments, I redirect him to the proper path. Many other cars offer a global positioning system, but this one is so user-friendly I can operate it exceptionally quickly providing real time answers to my friend's dilemma while he is still driving. On the other hand, it might be hard for some to choke down the $4,000 price for the combo audio and navigation system with the rear cameras. Technology has its price.

In comparison, the optional clearance sonar is a steal at 500 clams, and can save countless dollars on body shop repair bills in the future. The graphic display of the vehicle and approaching object is very easy to understand.

When the transmission is placed into reverse the screen turns into a rearward color back-up monitor. While the machine offers the latest in electronics, I still (out of habit) continue with the old tried and true head turn.

The highly touted Mark Levinson audio system is as billed. It has decent punch and is very easy to operate, as are many of the other features with the seven-inch touch screen. Personally I prefer to have digital sound processing (DSP) to contour the sound fields. It might lack DSP, but it does have a cassette player built in. Odd, very odd.

While the interior maybe just a bit too refined. As one of the passengers mentioned, where's the bling? The perforated leather, genuine wood, and plastic are as nice as one would hope for, but it is just too clean and simple, and maybe too perfect. All right there is a minor misalignment in both cars with respect to how the door meets the dash and a vent that didn't sit in flush. I wish I could find more to say, but that was it. Lexus offers drivers a car they not only want to motor about in but also live in!

I can't emphasis enough just how pleasurable it is. And while other cars might share the same quality materials, or offer stylish designs, few can do both of those, as well as provide an ergonomic layout that we find in the Lexus GS. Every operation functions with flawlessly fluid motion. The smooth opening operation of the glove box is a plum example of how much attention is spent on even the most minor of details. Another example is the simple yet clever fabric part they incorporate to seal up the gap between the front seats and the center tunnel. I can't even count how many times I have dropped an item down there which required incredible fishing skills and a wrist that has a built in u-joint.

Almost like something out of a James Bond flick, the GS has a few tricks up its sleeve. I can almost hear the Bond theme music as I slide the center armrest rearward a few inches revealing a few of my favorite buttons. These control power and suspension settings. A toggle of the switch turns the well-mannered car into a full bore sport sedan able to satisfy the most demanding of drivers. The engine is able to pull hard and all the way up towards the redline. The sound from the engine and the exhaust are up to snuff with any other high-end car out there.

Residing in the same area is the dials for the temperature adjustments on the seats. The cooling fan works well, but I could use more demanding exercise in the heat of summer with triple digit temperatures in order to make a final judgment call of this feature.

Where there's smoke, there's fire! From the first moments I got on it at the freeway onramp I knew the creative energy wasn't solely dedicated to styling. I have no trouble in overtaking traffic with the 300 horsepower motor. The truth be told, I have troubles keeping this to 65 miles per hour. The whole package is so well screwed together that I have to constantly remind myself that we are preceding way too fast, in a legal sense of course. To further give the illusion of motoring at a more sedate speed, the interior cabin is eerily quiet, thanks in part to the four cam, 32-valve motor. I can enjoy the rapture of the Mark Levinson audio system, or if I give it some juice, I become engulfed in the audio system mounted fore of the firewall. Around town the six-speed sequential shift automatic transmission is smooth and well behaved, unless we make the switch to hyperspace via the power switch. Again, the engineers manage to provide all the right goods, who are those guys anyway?

Unlike less inspiring vehicles, the Lexus has a quick-steering feel that allows it to veer aggressively towards corners. I get the feeling the car would much rather be on a coned slalom course rather than the unchallenging city streets around these parts.

I am finding it tough to concentrate on anything at home, knowing the GS is residing in the garage so patiently awaiting my return. With the Smart Access keyless ignition system, all I need to do is approach it and the doors unlock upon a tug on the door handle. Push the start button, housed where any normal ignition key would be, and the engine springs to life with a husky growl.

To counter any human factors, Lexus has the whole gambit of safety equipment. The only way this is going to get any safer is the inclusion of a five-point racing harness, a roll cage, a rubber bladder fuel cell, and a flame resistant racing suit and helmet.

As I jump on the 55 freeway once more, I find it tough to think of this as a Toyota brand. Toyota makes good cars and their sales numbers are proof enough of that. Our two cars go well-beyond the description of "good." They are remarkable. Giving drivers all they need in one machine is going to put a damper on sport car sales. I don't think the GS realizes that it isn't a sports car. The term sport sedan always seems like an excuse of sorts. Porsche and Ferrari won't be concerning themselves much with the GS cutting into their sales figure but they too would be impressed with all the thrust and overall balance in this machine. Four doors plus trunk that can swallow anything but major household furnishing is a feat in a car that car tear it up like these two.

While the New GS 430 is virtually perfection to nearly all, it is a big source of frustration to those of us in the media. What are we going to do if we have nothing to complain about?

SIDEBAR COMMENT

The first-generation GS marked a turning point for Lexus. The brand had successfully developed a reputation as a maker of smooth, quiet, and conservative luxury cars. The conservative label particularly resonated with the brand's flagship vehicle, the LS400. That car set a benchmark for cocoon-like isolation. However, it also carried a reputation as being rather bland. Then along came the V8-powered GS400 and its V6-powered sibling, the GS300. They weren't beautiful, but they weren't bland either. They were the first true sport sedans for Lexus, and they paved the way for the even sportier IS300.

Model year 2006 marks the introduction of a more technically advanced, second-generation GS. Like the first-generation GS, it has rear-wheel drive and a sport-tuned suspension. Only now, you can dial in how much sport you want. Transmitting the power to the rear wheels is a new six-speed sequential automatic transmission with a manual-matic mode for an even sportier drive.

Our GS430 test vehicle comes with an aluminum 4.3-liter, 32-valve, dual overhead cam V8 with VVTi (variable valve timing), putting out 300 hp and 325 lbs ft of torque. This translates to a 0-60 mph time of 5.6 seconds and an impressive quarter-mile time of 14.2 seconds.

Even more impressive is the car's ability to adapt to different roads and road conditions. Stuck in traffic? Set the suspension mode in standard position and enjoy the typical Lexus ride. When the roads start to wind, set it to sport mode and feel a rather dramatic change in personality toward the firm but still compliant side.

My favorite item on our test car is the optional Mark Levinson Audio System, with 7.1 channel speaker architecture (14 speakers all together), 11 channels of amplification, and discrete amplifier design with 0.1 percent total harmonic distortion. Like the recent upper line Acura models, this MLAS system can play back DVD-Audio software. Unlike the Acuras', this system can play back DVD videos. With the abundant library of high quality musical concerts on DVD video, this is a major advantage of the Lexus MLAS system in the new GS. With the right source material, the sound is absolutely stunning. Moreover, if the car is stopped, you can view the video from the navigation display screen.

All of the aforementioned attributes combine to make this car one of the best to drive in rush-hour traffic. Last, but not least, with this new GS, Lexus has finally produced a large sport sedan that can be described as attractively bold. - Roy Nakano

Summary Judgment: The Lexus GS 430 is a sports car disguised as a sedan. Not quite perfect, but getting really close. For more information about Lexus products, go to www.lexus.com

SPECIFICATIONS

Price:Base $51,125 as tested $58,140

Engine type:Aluminum dual-overhead cam, 32-valve V8 with VVTi (continuously variable valve-timing with intelligence)

Horsepower:300 @ 5600 rpm

Torque:325 lb.-ft @ 3400 rpm

Drive configuration:Front engine / rear-wheel drive

Transmission type:Six-speed sequential shift automatic

Suspension:Front: Fully-independent double wishbone, with high-mount upper arms, coil springs, gas-filled shock absorbers, and stabilizer bar Rear: Fully-independent multi-link, with high-mount upper arms, coil springs, gas-filled shock absorbers, and stabilizer bar

Wheels and tires: 18 x 8 aluminum, 245/40R-18 Z-rated summer tires standard

Brakes:Front: 13.1-inch vented discs with ABS Rear: 12.2-inch vented discs with ABS

Overall length:190.0 inches Overall width:71.7 inchesOverall height:56.1 inchesCurb weight (pounds):3745

EPA mileage estimates City/ Highway:18/25

0-60 mph:5.7 seconds Quarter-mile: 14.2 seconds

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