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Lexus: now it's a marque of distinction

It’s wake-up time at Lexus. Toyota’s posh-car division has finally discovered that whisper-quiet motors, lashings of buttery leather and bulletproof quality aren’t the only things needed for world luxury car domination. Its cars have to look cool.

With the arrival of the new GS this spring, the unveiling of a bolder IS200 at Geneva next month and the stunning LF-A supercar concept seen at the recent Detroit show, Lexus is – at last – showing a new, edgier side to its designs

New from stem to stern, the GS rides on an all-new platform, has redesigned front and rear suspension, a new all-alloy 3.0-litre V6 in addition to the potent 4.3-litre V8, new six-speed transmissions, plus the option of all-wheel drive.

It’s also gone into techno-overload, with a mind-blowing array of computer-controlled systems. The new Vehicle Dynamics Integrated Management (VDIM), for example, deals with everything from vehicle stability to the new electronic variable-gear steering to electronic brake assist, so it can anticipate a skid or slide and correct it. It even adjusts the steering to compensate for a gust of wind hitting the side of the car.

The new GS is pretty much the same size as the old car. There’s an extra 50mm added to the wheelbase for more rear seat space, and 25mm added to the width. And while the GS430 bulks up by an extra 30kg, the GS300, with its alloy V6, is 51kg lighter.

On the road, the 300bhp 4.3 V8 still gives the big GS plenty of performance. Lexus claims 0-60mph in 5.7sec – down from 5.8sec thanks to the new close-ratio six-speed ’box – and a restricted 149mph top speed. It’s still whisper-quiet all the way to the red line, and with 325lb ft, still offers plenty of gutsy, mid-range muscle.

More impressive is the V6, which will also appear in the next IS. It packs a healthy 245bhp (25bhp more than the old straight six) and coupled with that six-speed auto delivers 0-60mph in 6.8sec and a 143mph top speed.

Through the bends, the new GS feels more agile and responsive than before. There’s less body roll and more front-end bite. The new variable-ratio electric steering feels precise and well-weighted, though we’d prefer a bit more feedback and more on-centre feel.

But it’s inside where Lexus looses the plot a little. The whole fascia looks bland, a sea of dull grey plastic. The cool electroluminescent gauges from the old GS have also been replaced by dull, machined aluminium facings set in ’70s-style individual plastic pods.

And Lexus’s traditional tactile quality takes a step back with door handles that feel cheap and sound tinny when tapped. Fold down the rear armrest and the pass-through panel you see is made of the cheapest black plastic. But the optional Mark Levinson audio system is simply astounding, delivering 11 channels of amplification with a total of 330 watts from 14 speakers. In-car audio never sounded this good.

The GS goes on sale in the UK on May 1 with prices expected to stay much the same, which means around £32,000 for the GS300 and £38,000 for the GS430.

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Howard Walker

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