2006 GS 430 New Car Test Drive
As the first completely new passenger car from Toyota's luxury division since 2001, the 2006 Lexus GS is a showcase of the giant company's most advanced technology. It's not only loaded with more computer power than some third-world countries, and flush with the degree of luxury enjoyed only in the best zip codes, but the fully restyled and reengineered four-door luxury sedan makes a bold dynamic statement that says, 'Watch out, BMW!'
Lexus openly admits that BMW's 5 Series sedan provided the benchmark for the new GS, in much the same way the big Lexus LS was originally targeted the Mercedes-Benz S-Class, at the time top of its class. Again going after the perceived leader of the pack, Lexus devised a crafty strategy.
First, it broadened the appeal of the GS line-up with a faster, better equipped 'base' car. In fact, the rear-wheel-drive GS 300 out-measures its competitor from Munich, the BMW 530i, in horsepower, torque, the 0-60 sprint and fuel mileage, not to mention offering a far friendlier and more sybaritic cockpit.
Second, to entice those in cold climes who until now had to look elsewhere for an all-weather passenger car, Lexus is offering an all-wheel-drive option for the GS 300. More than one-third of all new GS sales are expected to be AWD models, most headed for the northwest and northeast United States.
Finally, Lexus made sure the top dawg of the family, the 430, had the bite to wrest bragging rights away from the Germans, not just by matching but exceeding the high-end performance recorded by the BMW 545i. Simply put, Lexus fine-tuned its 4.3-liter V8, paired it with a wonder of a transmission and cloaked the drivetrain in a slippery coat of sexy metal. Result? The GS 430 runs in realms never reached by a Lexus, and it's quicker than the BMW.
However, the primary target of this new, longer and wider GS isn't all that important, because Lexus is confident its four-door sedan's combination of driving fun and creature comfort is unequalled among its many peers and will do much to spread the badge across the land.
The outgoing GS was six years old, so it was expected that the new GS would be more than just a freshened take on a familiar theme. Lexus hasn't disappointed, adding more than a dash of driving spice to the family virtues of smoothness and refinement. But there is another, major question to be answered: Is this Asian upstart delivering where it counts most. Does a Lexus GS feel like an ultimate driving machine?.
The 2006 Lexus GS is available as three models (and an intriguing gas/electric hybrid GS is on the horizon).
The rear-wheel-drive GS 300 ($42,900) sports a completely new 245-horsepower V6 under the hood; the GS 300 AWD ($44,850) grips the road through the first all-wheel-drive system in a Lexus passenger car; and the top of the line GS 430 ($51,125) is the quickest Lexus yet due in part to its recently refined 300-horsepower V8.
Every GS puts its power to the wheels through three variations of a new close-ratio six-speed automatic transmission, each designed for optimum performance with their respective GS applications. One of the smallest and lightest gearboxes of its type, it includes a sequential manual shift mode, with gear changes made via a lever in the center console. Steering-wheel-mounted pushbutton gear selection is no longer offered.
The list of standard equipment places the GS line squarely in the luxury fold. And yet despite all the amenities wrapped in the more appealing bodywork, on a comparably equipped basis the new GS 300's cost-up is a paltry $140 over the outgoing model. In addition to the usual electronics, every GS gets a bunch of cool stuff, including leather-trimmed, heated front seats with 10-way power adjustment; SmartAccess keyless entry and a pushbutton starter; a premium sound system with both CD and DVD capability; Bluetooth wireless telephone technology; and a 7-inch multi-information touch screen for easy access to a wide range of information and commands.
Not surprisingly, given the generous array of standard items, interior options are limited: a steering-sensitive Park Assist system ($500); DVD navigation system and rear backup camera ($2,250); one-touch open/close moonroof ($1,000); ventilated front seats ($200); power rear sunshade ($210); and an eardrum-pounding, wallet-smashing Mark Levinson audio system ($4,030), its 11 channels of sonic wash flowing through 14 speakers.
Exterior options are even fewer: a Rain-Sensing Wiper package ($525) that includes adaptive front lighting and headlamp washers (standard on the GS 430); a rear spoiler ($200); and all-season run-flat tires ($400), which also can be ordered with a spare ($480).