If there is a medium-sized luxury sedan that has flown under the radar in New Zealand, then it has to be the Lexus GS series.
While the Lexus brand has established a steady luxury market share of around 10 per cent since 2006, the GS has
POWER PLANT: 2.5-litre 24-valve DOHC V6 petrol engine, 154 kW at 6400 rpm, 253 Nm at 4800 rpm.
RUNNING GEAR: Rear- wheel drive. Six-speed automatic transmission with manual operation via gear shift and steering wheel paddles. Doubles wishbone front suspension, multi-link setup at the rear. Full range of electric ride and handling aids.
HOW BIG: Length 4850mm, width 1840mm, height 1455mm, wheelbase 2850mm.
HOW MUCH: $102,900.
WHAT'S GOOD: Refined drive, excellent luxury, good pricing for the level of specification.
WHAT'S NOT: Engine can get noisy when pushed.
OUR VERDICT: This latest GS has lost the Lexus blandness, making it a much more appealing proposition when compared against the German opposition. Price is appealing, too.
There's good reason for this - the GS competes against some high profile and very good European product including the BMW 5-Series, Jaguar XF, Audi A6 and Mercedes-Benz E-Class.
But, quite frankly, a 3 per cent segment share hasn't been good enough for the GS. The Lexus New Zealand people know that, and that's why they are now going all- out to increase that to a much better 17 per cent.
It should be achievable too, for two good reasons - first, it only represents an average of two sales a week; and secondly, the Lexus sales people are now armed with a new fourth-generation model that was launched in New Zealand mid-year.
The new model range represents quite a bit of change. Whereas previously the third-generation GS featured 3.0-litre V6, 4.6-litre V8 and the 450h hybrid models, for the fourth-generation lineup the V8 has been dropped and replaced with a 3.5-litre V6, and the entry model has had its engine downsized to 2.5 litres. The hybrid remains to complete the new GS trio.
And a further major change is that pricing has been lowered.
Now, a customer can buy the entry GS250 for $102,900 which is a lot less than the $114,000 that was previously needed to purchase a GS300. And if a customer wants something just a little special, there is now the opportunity to go the F Sport way, adding various sporting bits and pieces for a little more - in the case of the GS250, it takes the price up to $108,900.
Some weeks ago, I drove the top model in the GS line, the $142,900 GS450h F Sport, and raved on about how good this very powerful luxury hybrid is to drive.
But, as good as the car is, that price will always mean that sales will be limited. And this means that Lexus' GS sales aspirations must be focusing firmly on that entry model, the GS250.
Well, I've just been driving that car too, and I think it may well be the pick of the range anyway. Refined, well-specified and not lacking in power despite the V6 having "only" the 2.5 litres, it is offered at a price that is well below equivalent product from the German rivals BMW, Audi and Mercedes-Benz.
Powered by the same 4GR-FSE 2.5-litre V6 as that aboard the smaller IS250, it has 154 kilowatts of power and 253 Newton metres of torque on hand to provide sound performance.
The engine is mated to a six- speed automatic transmission that can be operated manually either via the gearshift or by using paddles on the steering wheel. As usual, I couldn't be bothered using either, and during a fairly lengthy journey through the lower North Island I preferred to leave the auto to its own devices.
It proved quite willing to drop down a gear of two to keep revolutions high enough to allow the GS to scoot along when required, and when that happened the engine did become quite noisy.
But, at the normal cruise, things were luxuriously quiet, and over the length of the journey I was also able to achieve an average fuel consumption considerably better than the published 9.3 litres per 100 kilometres.
It offers a very nice ride too. As well as being rear-wheel drive, this latest model has a new body shell which is 14 per cent more rigid than before, and the suspension has undergone a re- work. End result is a sedan that tracks brilliantly, and even without the F Sport treatment which does all sorts of special things to the suspension, this car handles nicely through the corners and bends.
This Lexus has what is known as a Drive Mode Select which, at the touch of a button, allows the driver to choose Normal, Sport and Eco drive modes depending on what is required of the car.
The system defaults to Normal, which is obviously the mode used most of the time. Sport changes the gearshift protocols for more hurried motoring - and increases the revs by several hundred rpm under cruise - while the Eco mode save fuel but makes overall performance a bit dead.
Interior is more spacious than before. Those in the front seats have more leg room and up to 30mm extra headroom; in the rear the knee room has gone up 20mm and headroom by 25mm. Luggage room in the boot has also increased, by 23 per cent, to 532 litres.
Several new technologies make their debut in this car. It includes a comprehensive multimedia system with 8-inch display screen, advanced Bluetooth capabilities, and satellite navigation. A computer mouse-like Remote Touch gadget is on the centre console and is linked to the information display screen.
Other interior features include leather trim, dual-zone climate control air conditioning, ventilated and heated front seats, 10-way electric adjustment of the front seats with memory, and self- dimming, heated exterior mirrors.
Safety features include blind spot monitoring, tyre pressure monitors for the car's 18-inch tyres, parking assistance with eight sensors, a reversing camera, and adaptive front lighting.
It all adds up to a very nice luxury motoring package that is quite capable of competing against the German opposition.
If there has been one criticism of the GS series in the past, then it is that it has been a bit low-key. That's changed thanks to a new exterior that is more aggressive in design and which gives something of a design edge to complement a highly appointed interior.
As such, the GS - particularly this very good GS250 - deserves better recognition than before.
- Taranaki Daily News
Do you own or rent your home?Related story: Renting no joke for older flatmates
Get Taranaki's frequent news and sport updates
Choose an iconic Taranaki photo as wallpaper for your computer
Astronomer Tom Whelan explains what is in the Taranaki heavens for each month.