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Americans are far less snobbish than Europeans when it comes to prestige cars. Take the success of Lexus in the US as an example: it is now the biggest-selling luxury car marque, outstripping all of the European and American brands after only 16 years. Show an American an exceptional product and sell it at a reasonable price, then support it with fantastic after-sales service and he or she will buy it. Period.
Not so over here in the UK, where Lexus has struggled to make headway against the European establishment. The badge means little, and as a symbol of the owner’s status, it has limited value. Good car? Who cares? Give me my three-pointed star or propeller badge – everyone knows what that says about me.
The new GS marks the start of a new Lexus attack. The new styling direction, which Lexus calls L Finesse, will also find its way onto the bold new IS and the upcoming LS.
Where the existing LS and outgoing GS are somewhat dumpy and clumsy designs compared with the sharpest Europeans, the shape of the new GS is immediately arresting, characterised by a swooping, angular nose, long side windows and a high-shouldered waist line – a dramatic improvement.We’re driving the top of the range GS430 here, fitted with the 4.3-litre, 279bhp V8 carried over from the previous car and shared with the LS430. It’s a smooth and refined unit, and throws this 1695kg machine to 62mph in 6.1sec and onto a limited 155mph.
On the move, the first thing you notice is the car’s quietness: at last, LS levels of refinement have filtered down to its smaller brother. It doesn’t quite share the bigger car’s exceptionally whisper-quiet ‘waftiness’, but there is very little wind, engine or suspension noise, and on smooth surfaces road roar is well contained. The seats are comfortable, the driving position excellent, and there is much more room than in the previous model. You gaze over a beautifully sculpted dash with handsome metallic gauges and an attractive centre console.
Tolerance levels on interior fit have been tightened even further with the new GS – you couldn’t jam a small grain of salt into the fit lines on the doors and dash. Some of the plastics and surfaces seem a little shiny and cold compared with the best from Audi, but the build quality is peerless and the whole interior feels incredibly solid. You sense this is a car that would be a pleasure to live with.
Aim at some fast corners and the new GS entertains, displaying excellent body control and high levels of grip, though the variable-ratio steering feels a little artificial and the brake-by-wire pedal is far too sensitive. Handling poise seems to have come at the expense of ride quality, however: jolts from smaller ridges and harsh joints tend to transmit too readily to the cabin. It’s not bad, just not quite as compliant as its rivals.
Make no mistake, this is a fine car and deserves to sell well. It also packs a lot of equipment for its £46,755: specifying a Mercedes E500 to the same level, including 18in alloys, satellite navigation and leather upholstery, would put you back £60,175. Just how much do you think badge snobbery should cost?