The Lexus GS is one of the most distinctive sport sedans on the road. It combines challenging style, terrific down-the-road driving feel, and an edge of aggression. Lexus sells about 25,000 examples of the GS (roughly 20,000 GS300s and 5000 GS430s) every year, just a bit fewer than the number of BMW 5-series sedans.
The SportDesign is part of an effort by Lexus to bolster sales of the GS, now in its fifth year and apparently not due for a makeover any time soon. The GS300's keynotes are its 220-horsepower, 3.0-liter, in-line six (with button-type E-shift on the steering wheel) and chassis tuning that is slightly softer than that of the GS430. The Sport-Design interior gets special perforated leather upholstery for the seats, black-stained walnut trim, and a brushed-aluminum panel on the center console. More important is that it includes the wider 225/55VR-16 Michelin Pilot HX tires on polished alloy wheels that are found on the GS430 plus a sport suspension. About 3300 cars will get this treatment this summer.
There is no compelling reason to buy a GS300 in anything but Sport-Design trim. At $4050, it represents just a $310 spiff above the $3740 Premium package's mix of leather, audio, and sunroof; and for $3250 more, or a total of $7300 above base price, it can be combined with the Navigation/ Mark Levinson audio package. It's a nice piece to drive, and it dials out the little bit of wooziness in the GS300's behavior at very high speeds.
But the SportDesign doesn't look very cool in its limited palette of tedious gray, silver, and black. And it also dilutes the impact of the L-Tuned line of similar performance parts developed by TRD.
In short, the SportDesign seems to be a car for the older drivers Lexus already has instead of the younger drivers it needs. We think the GS is a rival to the BMW 5-series, not a little brother to the LS430, and we wish that Lexus would give the GS the respect it deserves.