So you’re a semi-retired professional/businessman and you’re looking for something to get you from the golf course to the office and back to your mortgage-less home. Oh, and the occasional trip down to your time share in Fairmont, BC. You want comfort, reasonable performance, all-weather capability, and a premium badge (you’ve earned it). So what do you buy?
A Mercedes-Benz E-Class. Or at least that’s what you would have done 5-10 years ago. But now the E is getting a bit long in the tooth and Mercedes can make even the most comfortable semi-retiree cringe when they see the repair bill. The alternatives include the BMW 5-series, the Infiniti M, the Acura RL, the Audi A6, and the Lexus GS. The 5-series is too firm and too common. The M is a bit boring and could blend in with a group of Camries. The new RL is, if I’m being polite, eye-scarringly horrid. The A6 is a solid choice but Audi is being chosen by more and more knobbers lately. Leaving us the Lexus GS range, the most sensible of which is the 350 AWD model.
The naturally aspirated 3.5L V6 pumps out an impressive 303hp and 274 torques through all four wheels. This is not an excessive amount of power but it’s more that sufficient for the daily slog and the AWD system ensures that dramatics are minimized during the 8 months of winter we Canadians enjoy every year. The GS is also an attractive enough car, it has the badge you’re looking for, and it’s as comfortable as your imported Italian sofa; but can it really be all that and a bag of potato chips?
The front end of the GS is an attractive interpretation of the E-Class 4 headlight design. The GS takes a bug-eyed front end and turns it into a sleek front fascia. Well done. The side profile is similarly well executed as this Lexus looks to be moving while it is standing still. Unfortunately, the exterior design all goes a bit wonky when you get to the rear. The GS has a back end that only a Toyota Avalon could love. This serves to unravel a bit of the design cohesiveness of the car so I would suggest parking it backwards against a wall wherever possible. Unfortunately, this backing up can be a bit of a problem, which I’ll get to in a bit.
The interior is a pleasant place to be for the front seat passengers thanks to heated and cooled seats, nav, a respectable sound system, reasonable visibility out the front and sides, and a comfortable, if slightly large, steering wheel. The back seat passengers aren’t quite as fortunate. The GS really only seats two humans in the back but even for them, the knee room is limited. This shouldn’t be a huge issue for the grandchildren of the target market who will be occupying the rear seats but I expected more space from such a large vehicle nonetheless. I attribute the surprisingly small back seats to the rear wheel drive nature of the platform but sometimes sacrifices need to be made for the drivers. And I’m okay with that.
So now you’re trying to back against that wall so no one will see the rear of your GS. So you look over your shoulder only to realize that the rearward visibility is, in a word, heinous. The use of a back-up camera and back-up radar sensors alleviate some of the issues but I’d still prefer to use my own eyes rather than rely on technology that was only invented to circumvent a poor initial design. Back-up cameras might sound cool and cutting-edge but the fact that they’re necessary at all is a problem that no one seems to be addressing. Should you be impressed that Lexus (and other manufacturers) were cunning enough to develop this bit of tech? Or should you be appalled that the engineers and designers were more concerned with aesthetics than function and then came up with a way to charge you more money to fix a problem that they created? Hmmm.
When you aren’t backing up though, you’ll be enjoying your drive and your music. But being a bit of an elder statesman, you aren’t up to date with all the latest, greatest tech and you even amassed a pretty solid tape cassette collection not too long ago. The only problem is that you can’t find anywhere to use those tapes anymore. No one makes walkmans anymore and it’s been years since one of your cars had a tape deck. Well worry no more because the forward-thinking engineers at Lexus have you covered in the GS! It actually has a tape deck! Now before you go popping a Cialis with intentions of making love to the man or woman behind that brilliant idea, remember that he or she is in Japan, and you are here in Canada. So just calm down and enjoy your Sting tapes.
As a whole, the GS is comfortable and uninvolving drive. The AWD system and the large trunk also make this a logical choice for us Canucks. It makes the right noises when you want it to and simply wafts the rest of the time. This is all well and good for Mr. Semi-Retired because this car is incapable of raising his heart-rate. For purely health-related reasons, he should therefore choose this car. But for those with younger, stronger hearts, Lexus will hopefully come out with a GS-F.
Price as tested: $62,000
Summary: Solid car with solid reputation and a solid value. Those looking for a soul should keep searching because Lexus seems to spell soul “t-e-c-h”.
Exterior Design: 6/10. Just don’t look at the rear end.
Interior Design: 4/10. Cramped back seats, no rear visibility, good seats up front.
Engine: 7/10. Strong, pleasing engine note, horsepower and torques aren’t top of class, more in the middle
Transmission: 7/10. Smooth as butter. No paddle shifters.
Audio/Video: 8/10. Lexus knows how to do sound systems. Period. Back-up cameras work well despite the fact that you shouldn’t need them in the first place.
Value: 8/10. At least $10k less than similarly-equipped competitors.
Overall (not an average): 6.5/10
Special thanks to Bruce Kirkland and Lexus of Edmonton.