"What a great car." That's the first sentence in the logbook of our Four Seasons Lexus GS430, and it's a pretty bold statement to make when your audience is a bunch of automotive journalists with an uncanny ability to ferret out a vehicle's hidden flaws. Still, it's easy to see why that editor was so impressed by our newest long-term test vehicle. Completely redesigned for the 2006 model year, the third-generation Lexus GS features updated styling both inside and out, a new suspension system, upgraded safety features, and a host of advanced electronic systems. All-wheel drive is also newly available, a first for a Lexus sedan, but only on the V-6-equipped GS300. Sounds great so far.
For our test, we opted for the rear-wheel-drive GS430, which is powered by a 300-hp V-8 paired to a six-speed manu-matic transmission. The base GS430 comes nicely equipped with traction and stability control, heated and power-adjustable leather seats, wood interior trim, dual-zone automatic climate control, a power tilt and telescoping steering wheel, and a seven-inch multi-information touch screen. The base price is $51,775. We, of course, specified several options, among them run-flat tires, a Mark Levinson audio/navigation system ($4030!), and rain-sensing wipers, which brought the total to a whopping $58,814.
It turns out we could have done without a few of those options, because rather than enhancing our affection for the vehicle, they diminished it. For one, the rain-sensing wipers never seemed to work as advertised. "The automatic wipers take too long to react to changes in rain intensity and never seem to find the right speed. There's no manual intermittent setting, so you end up manually turning them on and off. It defeats the purpose," noted assistant editor Sam Smith. A small nit to pick, admittedly, but still a valid complaint on an almost-$60,000 car.
For another, the pricey navigation system had a bad habit of prescribing a route that was neither the quickest nor the most direct. Senior editors Joe Lorio and Joe DeMatio found that out firsthand when returning from our Automobile of the Year test in Zanesville, Ohio, last year. The Lexus's nav system wanted to send them on a 302-mile route back to Ann Arbor when, according to MapQuest, the distance is only 249 miles. Other staff members found that the system would give up the ghost if they took a wrong turn.
And as for the low-profile, run-flat tires, we found that they made the GS430's ride unusually harsh on bumpy roads--even with the adaptive variable suspension tuned to the normal rather than the sport setting.
Still, the car handled pretty well, its lightweight control-arm front suspension and multilink rear setup delivering predictable cornering behavior despite some lack of feedback from the speed-sensitive electronic power steering. Getting up to speed was no problem, owing to great off-the-line throttle response and the transmission's willingness to downshift with little provocation (especially in sport mode).
Slowing down, on the other hand, was a completely different matter. We're not fans of electronic braking systems, and the GS430's was no exception. "I know that these brakes are sensitive, but do I really need to test the seatbelt every time I tap them?" inquired assistant editor Erik Johnson. "They act like an on/off button. You have to relearn how much pedal pressure to apply practically every time you get into the car."