On the road

The Lexus GS300 can be hustled through corners, but it's really about balmingly effortless progress.

by Richard Bremner
Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

When Toyota, the world's mightiest motor company, decides it is going to sell more cars, the result is usually just that. So plans to expand the presence of its prestigious Lexus marque in Europe will be viewed with resignation by rivals BMW, Mercedes and Audi, whose sales have already been overtaken by Lexus in the US, the world's biggest market for luxury cars.

The Lexus effort has been focused in the US. Though the 15-year-old marque has been on sale here almost as long, the range has had limited success in Europe (despite build quality and reliability), owing to the car's Americanised feel and downmarket image - not helped by the fact that spoof TV host Alan Partridge drove one.

But now the brand is reinventing itself, fashioning cars under a fresh design direction it calls L-finesse. The latest GS saloon, and its smaller IS250 brother, now possess a shapely style more in tune with European tastes. If you can see something of BMW, Audi and Mercedes in the lines of these latest Lexi, at least they are far removed from the faux-Merc look of the top-of-the-line, old-school LS430. And the Euro-influence is more inspiration than parody.

The GS300 is a six-cylinder petrol saloon intended as an alternative to the BMW 5 Series, Mercedes E Class and Jaguar S Type. It looks svelte and subtle, though the wood interior decor that comes with some models is best substituted by brushed aluminium. The rest of the interior is sumptuous, even elegant. You're most likely to notice the illuminated instrument needles that float over their dials - an old Lexus trick - and the size of the infotainment screen at the centre of the dashboard. This controls the excellent navigation system, a fine stereo and the subtly effective air-conditioning.

If all this suggests a pampering experience, well, that's what this car is about. Yes, the GS300 is brisk and can be hustled through corners, but it's really about soothing motorway cruising and balmingly effortless advances through traffic.

Only two issues threaten your peace of mind. One is the ride, which isn't cosseting enough for a car like this, the GS jostling its occupants over battered urban roads just that bit too much - although it smoothes out with speed. The other is that the GS is available only with petrol engines - either the smooth, sometimes slightly over-stretched 3.0 litre sampled here, or a powerful but thirsty 4.3 litre V8. There's no diesel version, nor is there likely to be for three years.

Despite this significant flaw, the GS makes a strong case for itself - because it is such relaxing transport, because it is so well made and because it makes a change from the mainly German choices in this field. The BMW 5 Series may be a slightly better car, but the Lexus - always a satisfyingly unusual choice - is now finally a tasteful one too.

SPECIFICATION Price: £35,900 (Lexus GS300 SE) Max power: 245 bhp Max torque: 228 lb ft Max speed: 145 mph 0-62 mph: 6.9 sec Fuel consumption: 28.8 mpg CO2 emissions: 232 g/km RIVALS BMW 530i SE £32,645 Cheaper, if not as well equipped. More dynamic, but the image isn't for everyone. Jaguar S-Type 3.0 SE £31,995 Smoother, though its ageing cabin is more confined. Looks are dated too, but good value.

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