On the Hunt and Closing Fast
By Scott Corlett
Lexus’s design and engineering teams must have clocked some serious overtime in recent years. By the fall of next year, the company will have launched three reworked models in an eighteen month period: the midsize GS sedan in early ’05, the nimble IS sedan in mid-’05, and the regal LS sedan in mid-’06. Lexus’s quality-perfect and feature-rich offerings long ago surpassed their torpid American competitors. The latest iteration of the GS sedan makes clear who the executives at Lexus now have in their sights. Being stalked by Lexus’s management is the stuff of nightmares for those who occupy the corporate headquarters of Mercedes or, dare we say, even BMW.
Recently, we were hit with a Lexus double whammy. During our weeklong evaluation of the Lexus 2006 GS430 sedan, we also attended Lexus’s “Active Safety Seminar.” We drive our own cars like hell but the one-day learn-and-drive was a golden opportunity to toss around someone else’s $50k ride and get a free lunch to boot. We drove our GS430 test car from San Francisco across the Bay Bridge to the decommissioned naval base that hosted the seminar. Once there, we chowed on some surprisingly good chicken breast and, during the Lexus engineer’s presentation, we mused that alphabet soup would have made a more fitting meal. VDIM, KDSS, PCS, VSC, EBD…the acronyms went on for days.
We already knew that the GS430 is a hot drive on freeways and city streets – its steering is precise and its powertrain is a pulse-racer. However, on the Lexus driving course, we put the GS to hard use. With the pavement wetted, we raced toward a wall of cones, hit 55 mph, turned hard left, turned back almost 180 degrees right, and then made a final, killer, 180-degree left. Think multi-car accident just ahead of you on the freeway and you get the picture. Thanks to Lexus’s new Vehicle Dynamics Integrated Management system (VDIM) which oversees the car’s numerous safety and stability control systems, we ran that gauntlet without even the need for a hair check. For comparison, Lexus provided a GS with all stability systems disabled. The result was quite different: by the end of the second turn, we were barely in control and, as we rounded into the third turn, we entered a full spin and slide side-on into the last cone wall. That exercise both testified to the GS’ handling abilities and gave new meaning to the term, dizzy queen. VDIM is standard on the 2006 GS430 and should soon come to other Lexus models.
After a workout in the Castro, we like to jump in the car, throw on some tunes, and see how fast we can make the beach by the Golden Gate Bridge. Our GS430 made short work of that route. The sedan’s 4.3-liter 300-hp V-8 engine is mated to a smooth-shifting, six-speed automatic transmission and will, according to Lexus, get you from zero to sixty in 5.7 seconds – right on the tail of the BMW 550’s 5.5 seconds. If you want to cut back on the sticker price—and the fun—a 3.0-liter V-6 engine with either rear wheel or all wheel drive is offered.
The engineers of the GS have embraced ‘by-wire’ technology – its brakes, throttle, and steering no longer have mechanical linkages between the driver and their active components. Using electronics in these systems reduces their size and weight and allows, in theory, for computer-enhancement of their performance. We applaud the steering and have no qualms with the throttle; however, the brakes are another story. The brakes demonstrate superb stopping ability but are touchier than a drag queen caught out in the rain. Worse, there is a disconcerting unevenness during the first moments of pedal depression.
We demand ultraluxe accommodations and cutting-edge technology from cars with base prices pushing $52k. The firm leather seats and tight, high quality finishes fulfill both the GS’ luxury mandate and its sporty aspirations. The GS430 also has the requisite gadgetry. Our favorite standard toy is the keyless entry and ignition. Just leave the fob in your pocket or purse and, as you approach, the GS unlocks; take a seat, press the ignition button, and the V-8 awakens with a petulant snarl and awaits your command. We only wish we could find a boyfriend that responsive. However, like the boyfriends we too often find, the GS430 does come with baggage, albeit that of the safety variety: driver and front passenger get front, side, knee, and curtain airbags while rear-seat passengers get curtain bags.
The GS sedan and the entire Lexus lineup have long trounced the competition in terms of quality and reliability. The flowing Citroën lines of the GS’ exterior combined with its crisp, elegant interior make the sedan an aesthetic threat to the European luxury lines for the first time. But, what wakes sweaty, breathless, sheet-clutching German auto executives is the ever-improving performance of Lexus’s automobiles. The German brands have long been unchallenged in the performance arena. Now, in the rearview mirrors of Mercedes’ and BMWs, a swooping ‘L’ hood badge looms ever larger– closing in, faster, faster…
Lexus is a gay-friendly company.
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