When we conducted a comparison test of four sport sedans earlier this year, the Lexus GS430 finished a respectable second. Its handsome exterior impressed us, as did the integration of its audio, navigation, and ventilation systems. And the powertrain sparked executive editor Mark Gillies to say, "The engine is amazing, with wonderful refinement and midrange power, while the transmission shifts so unobtrusively it could apply for a job as a butler."
So we ordered a flint mica GS430 with a base price of $51,775 and added it to our Four Seasons fleet. Among the options we selected were the $4030 touch-screen navigation system, which includes a rear camera for easier reverse maneuvering, and an upgraded audio system. We are eager to see if the electronic systems that annoy us in some German cars, such as the brake-by-wire system and variable-ratio steering, are better engineered by Lexus.
260 miles Assistant editor Erik Johnson pens the first logbook entry: "What a great car. So smooth, so comfortable. Only the ugly satellite radio antenna, tiny trunk opening, and inability to turn off stability control disappoint."
1364 "After all of Mercedes-Benz's issues with a brake-by-wire system, I'm surprised that Lexus fit this technology to the GS. These binders are too abrupt on application and difficult to modulate," says road test coordinator Marc Noordeloos.
864 miles The staff has conflicting views about the looks of the reddish interior wood, but everyone agrees that it--along with the touch screen--seems to have a magnetic attraction for fingerprints and dust. Wet wipes, anyone?
7128 miles After being continually frustrated with our inability to completely turn off the GS's traction and stability control system, we learn from an anonymous source how to disable the overprotective electro-nanny. Road test coordinator Marc Noordeloos performs the complicated procedure, takes a test drive, and, grinning from ear to ear, pronounces the car transformed. If you own a 2006 GS (or IS), follow these steps and enjoy the slide. Once the car is started, you have thirty seconds to complete the process. With practice, the procedure can be completed in approximately fifteen seconds but, unfortunately, must be repeated each time the car is switched off.
1. Make sure the car is in Park and the parking brake is disengaged before you start the car.
2. Start the engine.
3. Engage the parking brake.
4. Fully depress the brake pedal and then release.
5. Fully depress the brake pedal and then release.
6. Disengage the parking brake.
7. Fully depress and hold down the brake pedal.
8. Engage the parking brake, then disengage it(while holding down the brake pedal).
9. Engage the parking brake, then disengage it(while holding down the brake pedal).
10. Release the brake pedal.
11. Engage the parking brake.
12. Fully depress the brake pedal and then release.
13. Fully depress the brake pedal and then release. When "Check VSC" is displayed in the multifunction display along with the "Trac-off" icon indicator, you'll know that you have successfully completed the procedure.
Six-Month Update True to the Lexus brand's reputation for high customer-satisfaction ratings and excellent reliability, our GS430 has been trouble free since its arrival last summer, with only Lexus-recommended service visits every 5000 miles. (We wonder about the short service intervals, however, given that both Mercedes-Benz and BMW call for 10,000 miles or more between service visits.)
We also surrendered the GS to the local tire store to swap out the original-equipment, all-season run-flats for a set of Vredestein Wintrac Xtreme winter tires. Some staff members feel that the GS could use even more aggressive winter tires, but most of us are satisfied with the Vredesteins. We've found that they provide good snow traction but also maintain decent steering feel and grip in warmer, drier conditions. As an added bonus, they noticeably improve ride quality compared with the OE run-flats, and we don't have to worry about a flat-tire emergency, since the GS packs a spare. We've had fun disabling the traction and stability control systems (for instructions on how to do this yourself, visit: www. automobilemag.com/news/0601_lexus_gs_vsc/), and we're happy to report that the car is as much of a blast to slide around in snow and ice as it is on dry pavement.As for the interior of the GS, we generally like the layout of the controls, but many drivers find the drop-down panel to the left of the steering wheel--which houses the fuel-door release and the power side-mirror controls, among other functions--annoying to use, and some have bruised their legs while exiting the car with the panel open. But the bruises will heal; it's our Lexus's service record that we hope remains unblemished.
14,721 miles We visit our local dealer for the GS430's 15,000-mile service ($344) and to determine whether its overly sensitive, difficult-to-modulate, electronically controlled brakes are faulty. We are told that the brakes are normal. "They feel that way because the car is equipped with high-performance pads and rotors," the service writer claims. Really? We don't recall brakes this weird the last time we drove a Porsche, let alone an Infiniti or a BMW.