The 2016 Lexus GS is now on sale in Australia, with buyers able to finally purchase the mid-sized luxury sedan from Japan with a turbocharged petrol engine - the 2016 Lexus GS200t.
Admittedly, though, it won’t attract buyers who are after a bargain, as the new 200t range starts from $75,000 plus on-road costs, which represents a price jump of about $2900 over the previous GS250 entry-point. You do get more gear, though.
Lexus Australia stated at the launch of the updated GS in Canberra this week, that it expects the new drivetrain and equipment to change the game for Lexus in this segment, where it has previously struggled for traction.
Okay, so it won’t see the GS overtake the considerably better-selling Audi A6, BMW 5 Series or Mercedes-Benz E-Class – even the Maserati Ghibli has outsold the GS in 2015! – but it will bring the Lexus into line with those aforementioned German models in offering buyers a more affordable, higher-tech entry-level model.
The 200t variant gets a similar 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine to that seen in the NX and RX SUVs (175kW), though it sees a minor power bump. The engine produces 180kW of power at 5800rpm and 350Nm of torque from 1650-4400rpm.
That makes it more powerful than the old 2.5-litre V6 in the 250 models, which had 154kW and 253Nm. And while the old rear-drive model had a six-speed automatic, the new 200t variant pairs its turbo engine to an eight-speed auto with paddleshifters.
In short, this is an engine that transforms the GS from a bland – but inoffensive – executive’s sedan to a more involving, exciting and enjoyable model. To put it another way: if the old GS250 was vanilla ice cream, the new GS200t is like taking Neapolitan and mixing all the flavours together. It’s more daring, but still pretty safe.
The acceleration from a standstill isn’t blinding if you don’t preload the throttle a bit, and indeed there’s a second or two of hesitation before it all hooks up. At that point, though, the progress is rapid, the shifts are seamless and the speed limit shows up on the dashboard quicker than you might expect for an entry-level engine.
And if you do hold the brake and put the accelerator on at the same time, the GS is properly rapid. In fact, it is quicker from 0-100km/h than the RC200t Coupe (7.3 seconds versus 7.5sec). That’s also faster than the A6 1.8 TFSI, 520i and E200, all of which claim 7.9sec.
It sounds pretty good under throttle, too, with a nice burble as the engine builds speed.
The 2.0-litre turbo engine not only makes the entry-level GS more powerful and quicker than before, it’s also lighter than the old six, and that means that the front-end feels more nimble around corners.
Indeed, we jumped out of the RC200t F Sport Coupe (review coming soon!) and into the GS200t F Sport and were shocked. This car feels sportier, more agile and nimbler than the coupe with the same drivetrain.
There’s bugger-all in it in terms of weight between the two (that RC Coupe is a bit of a porker), and while the RC has weightier steering, the GS’s steering is lighter and more involving, with better feel to the driver’s hands.
It perhaps isn’t as dynamic as a 5 Series through a series of twists, but it is entirely competent at giving the driver a smile on their dial, and it could be that the GS rides better over bumps than its Bavarian competitor, even on 19s as per our F Sport.
The chassis of the GS is quite well balanced and the traction control system isn’t overly intrusive, which means the keener driver can enjoy themselves – particularly in Sport S+ mode, which offers the sharpest gearshifts and most sensitive throttle response.
But while there are paddles, the GS’s eight-speeder will override the driver and upshift at redline.
If you’re not an enthusiast – and it’s fair to assume that some Lexus buyers aren’t – fear not. The GS200t is entirely comfortable as a cruiser in normal driving, and it offers a quality ride and good body control over bumps.
On the whole – as a drive experience – it feels like this is the drivetrain the GS has been waiting for. And it's more efficient on paper, using a claimed 8.0 litres per 100 kilometres, which is 1.3L/100km better than before. We saw 9.0L over a spirited drive mainly on country roads.
It’s perhaps a shame, then, that the interior hasn’t seen the same level of fettling as the bits under the bonnet have.
The overall design of the GS hasn’t changed at all between this update and the model that came out in 2012, and even at that stage the GS felt like it was behind the game.
That means that while there is a decent-sized (8.0-inch) media screen with Bluetooth phone and audio streaming, digital radio (DAB+) and standard satellite navigation.
But the graphics of the navigation system look like they were developed last decade, and the interface isn't much better: it’s the “third-generation Lexus Remote Touch” system with the touch-sensitive pad that has haptic feedback for your inputs which feel a little bit like the static shocks you get when you wear woolly socks on carpet. That touchpad – without a simple-to-use rotary dial – can’t match the better media systems on the market, such as the BMW iDrive unit or Mazda’s MZD Connect.
The cabin ambience – even in F Sport guise – is a bit dowdy, too, particularly if you don’t have the red leather trim. The faux carbonfibre elements aren’t convincing or plentiful enough to offer a really sporty feel, and while the cog-styled driver information screen that can slide from the middle to the right of the cluster to show extra engine diagnostics is kind of cool, it’s a bit of gimmick.
The electrically adjustable front seats lack much in the way of support, even though they were the F Sport, er, sports seats. Still, there’s good adjustment and it’s easy to find a comfortable position, and the F Sport chairs include 18-way adjustment for the driver while regular models have 10-way electric adjustment for driver and passenger.
They are comfortable, just not great at cuddling you in place through corners.
In the back there is enough space for a couple of extra adults providing they aren’t freakishly tall or have freakishly large feet. The transmission tunnel between the seats will also mean any middle-seat occupants will have to share footspace.
The rear also has are air-vents and, if only two of the seats are occupied, there’s a flip-down armrest with a little storage box for lollies or smart devices. Map pockets are attached to the front seats, and there are bottle holders in the doors but no cup holders. The fold-down section also houses a ski port, and the boot offers 520 litres of capacity - enough for golf clubs or a couple of big suitcases.
So, it's still vanilla inside though very well equipped for the cash. The base model Luxury version has items such as a 12-speaker stereo, heated and ventilated front seats and leather trim on the seats, steering wheel and gear shifter.
It is worth noting that there are plenty of new safety features in addition to the GS’s existing eight airbags, reverse-view camera and front and rear parking sensors.
The new gear includes adaptive cruise control, blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert, pre-collision safety with autonomous emergency braking and lane-keeping assistance.
As with all Lexus models, the GS has a four-year/100,000km warranty, and there is no capped-price service program.
The 2016 Lexus GS200t is an impressive bit of kit let down somewhat by a less-than-spectacular interior. Still, we look forward to getting it in the garage to see what it’s like to live with over a longer period of time.