Once upon a time, Lexus vehicles were a bit bland but overdelivered on quality and equipment. Very Japanese.
These days, Toyota's luxury brand is going all-out to create a more powerful visual and dynamic impression, and the mind boggles with the scope of optional equipment available. Very German. From a Japanese brand.
Whether that's the right move will depend on your perspective. But Lexus obviously wants more than the eight percent of the worldwide luxury car market it currently claims, and feels that this is the right way to go about it. Do what everyone else is doing, in other words.
The new GS-series sedan is the perfect example of this ethos. Our GS250 test car is merely the starting point for the range, which offers three different powertrains and three different specification packages: standard, F Sport and Luxury.
The GS250 opens at $102,900 and presents as excellent value for money. The latest GS wears an aggressive new nose (the new Lexus corporate style), but in this trim the car still looks a little bland. I don't mind that at all; Lexus does low-key very well.
You can add an F Sport styling/suspension package to the GS250, which gives it a huge dose of visual machismo. I can't help but feel it looks a little silly and while the 2.5-litre six (154kW/253Nm) provides plenty of punch in real-world driving, I'm not sure 0-100km/h in 8.8sec deserves a lurid body kit and big wheels. Better to enjoy the GS's ride and refinement as its maker intended: under the radar.
That's not to say the rear-drive GS is clumsy. It is, in fact, very composed and a pleasing drivers' car. But cosseting qualities and the fact that Lexus is an ‘alternative' brand are where the GS's strengths lie. Stepping up to tackle the Germans on styling character and sporting prowess (as with the more powerful GS350, especially in F Sport guise with four-wheel steering) is a mistake, because they're so good at what they do. Lexus is good at understated luxury and extreme quality.
I've driven the entire GS range and for all the sporting and technological bravado on offer, I find the entry-level GS250 tested here the most impressive and appropriate. The GS450h hybrid also captures the Lexus character very well, but at a starting price of $134,900 it's in a whole other league.
The Lexus GS250 carries a highly appealing air of quiet authority and ultimate quality that makes the German competition seem like they're trying too hard.