Lexus is a car maker which likes to do things slightly differently, not least when it comes to powertrains. Look around at its rivals from Germany, Britain – even America – they all offer diesel engines.
The only concession Lexus has made to oil-burning technology is in the previous generation IS compact exec. In every other model where you’d expect to find a diesel, there’s a petrol-electric hybrid.
Nailing your colours to a mast so vehemently deserves respect. And so we find ourselves with the BMW 5 Series-rivalling Lexus GS. It’s the fourth generation of GS, a model that has traditionally been bought with the head, rather than the heart. Its skills lay in comfort and build quality, rather than performance and driver involvement.
From the off, it’s apparent Lexus has worked hard to inject some personality into the GS’s drive. It is based on an all-new platform and has a double-wishbone front/multi-link rear suspension set-up. Upscale models get adaptive suspension and a four-wheel steering system is offered on the options list.
Buyers usually expect base models in this class to come with a four-cylinder petrol engine. And in the past this wouldn't of been the case with Lexus previously opting for a 2.5-litre V6 petrol unit which produces a 0-62mph time of 8.6sec and a top speed of 143mph, for its GS250. Those figures wouldn’t keep a BMW 520d awake at night. However, this unit has now been replaced with a four-cylinder petrol hybrid unit forming the GS300h.
The GS450h retains the previous model’s 3.5-litre V6 Atkinson cycle petrol engine mated to Lexus’ second-generation hybrid system. Combined power is rated at 335bhp and 245lb ft. For those who dismiss hybrids as a poorly-performing distraction, the GS450h manages 0-62mph in 5.9sec and a 155mph top speed yet returns 47.9mpg and 137g/km.
It offers the smoothness and refinement Lexus has carved a reputation for, yet possesses an ability for overtaking unusual for a car equipped with a CVT gearbox. Topping the range is the only non-hybrid in the range, in the shape of the 471bhp GS F, which is equipped with a naturally aspirated 5.0-litre V8 engine.
The calm and unflustered way both versions of the GS drive impresses. The ride is supple and composed, although F Sport models fidget a little. Body control is generally very good, although predictably cornering is improved by selecting the sportiest of modes in cars with adaptive suspension. The same can be said of the steering – nicely weighted, if a touch on the light side. Selecting 'Sport' adds 10 per cent more weight.
The Lexus GS is 30mm taller and 20mm wider than before, and the front and rear tracks are 40 and 50mm wider respectively. That, and an improved arrangement of the nickel hydride batteries in the GS450h, means that boot space is up to 60 per cent larger than before.
Lexus has engineered the cabin with the usual degree of precision and the large display screen manages that rarest of things: a huge number of features with an intuitive interface. Lexus has created four trim levels to choose from - Executive Edition, Luxury, F-Sport and Premier - of which the GS450h can only be specced with the latter two trims.
The entry-level trim equips the GS with a wealth of Lexus safety systems, 10-way adjustable front seats, a leather upholstery and a 12.3in screen infotainment system complete with sat nav, Bluetooth and DAB radio. Upgrade to the Luxury trim and the GS gets 18in alloy wheels and a rear-view camera, while the F-Sport trim adds adaptive suspension, heated and ventilated front sports seats and LED headlights.
The range-topping Premier models get a touch more luxury, with premium leather and wood used on the interior, a head-up display and a 17-speaker Mark Levinson audio system, while the red hot GS F gets numerous sporting details and aerodynamic parts fitted, and a quad-exhaust system.
The appeal of the Lexus brand is complex, but the marque understands its buyers. The logic of shunning diesel will seem peculiar to those on the BMW, Mercedes-Benz, Audi and Jaguar side of the fence, but the Lexus GS offers something very different to the norm.
Lexus has added a dose of sportiness to its well-established GS recipe, but it is only there when you want it. This Jekyll and Hyde personality means there’s something for everyone. If you’re looking for a mid-size exec, the GS ought to be on your list.