Jude P. Morte / Ramon Sy | June 12, 2009 00:00
Alternate FlagshipMost of the Lexus line is known for their unrivaled creature comforts, particularly the flagship LS 460. But if one also craves for top tier Lexus-level satisfaction behind the wheel, you'll SERIOUSLY consider the GS 460.
A jab at the throttle and your upper body slams back in the seats. With each poke on the right pedal your palms get sweaty and you find yourself having to grip the steering wheel a little tighter, because the car could get away from you. It doesn't help that there's just faux wood/plastic trim - instead of fine leather - at the 10 o'clock and 2 o'clock steering wheel positions, as the sweat from human hands make grip on the steering wheel during cornering an adventure. Given the early powerband entry (2,500-2,750 rpm), the VVT-i waking up at 4,250-4,500 rpm and a 6.36 second 0-100 kph time, one could imagine that the car's performance could improve if it had some sort of forced induction.
The gear ratios have small steps between shifts so you won't fall out of the powerband too much. Although the strong engine more than compensates for the gearing, it's best to use the a/t's manual mode, and put the ECT (electronically controlled transmission) button on sport (better known as the "Power" mode), as the shift points are higher and you're always in the power curve. It's at the behest of fuel consumption (7.04 km/l, four days mixed driving), but who cares when you're driving a performance vehicle?
The handling is much appreciated, especially if the driver hasn't had much performance driving seat time. Traction breaks at 120-125 kph sans traction control (TC). With TC off (and the suspension toggled to the "Sport" setting), you can get it sideways to a certain degree - allowing for a sustained slide of roughly two to three seconds - before the electronics wake up. When the TC does come alive it applies a lot more stopping power (be it during actual braking or during engine speed reduction), and steering effort gets heavier. Speaking of steering, it's generally sharp, but you have to give a little more effort cocking the wheel (perhaps a degree or so) on change-of-camber turns and hairpins to get the correct line.
The ride is surprisingly comfortable, given an 8J x 18-inch aluminum alloy and Yokohama Advan A10 245/40R18 rim/tire combo. Even potholes than can swallow 13-inch tires were handled with great ease by the GS 460's adaptive variable (dual wishbone front/multilink rear) suspension, with occupants never feeling the vibrations generated by such wheel-to-road impact. The NVH (noise, vibration, harshness) levels are also surprising, as occupants were able to get lots of r-and-r (rest and relaxation) during one trip to Angeles City in Pampanga, never being disturbed by the engine roar at high rpm when the unit went through long stretches of empty NLEX tarmac nor the bumpy gravel of the southbound EDSA Balintawak-Congressional Avenue area.
The safety features are helpful for those who have difficulty reining in 342 horses. Brake grip is strong, but you have to get the parking brake millimeters close to the floor to get decent bite. The rear and side view mirrors have electrochroming to reduce glare, and the latter has wide lateral sight up to the second or even third lane. The reverse gear-activated camera -with viewing via the middle dashboard's seven-inch screen display - is a great help for parallel parking and long backing, as view towards the rear glass is very limited. The high intensity discharge (HID) headlights, coupled with the Adaptive Front lighting System (AFS), swivel the front light's beams two to three degrees in the direction of the turn to aid in night driving, especially on blind corners. There's a rain sensor somewhere in the vicinity of the front windshield to activate the wipers immediately should precipitation begin to fall. If the unit gets into an accident, there's a bevy of airbags - including knee airbags for both front occupants, side airbags within the a-, b- and c-pillars and a curtain shield airbag encompassing both flanks - plus side impact door beams to envelop occupants in a safe cocoon.
The P 5.328 million GS 460 shows a fastback profile, a stepped-down grille and a liberal use of convex and concave surfaces that are a hallmark of the L-finesse concept seen on all current Lexi. The overall arrowhead design has an acute angle seen at apexes like the side window trim, the leading edge of the tailights, in the door handles and beyond. Such themes help assign a sense of continuity from the front to the back of a car, thus creating a look that reduces drag, but isn't exactly striking. Passers-by and passengers didn't know it was a Lexus until they saw the "L" badge on the grille and the trunk, and one occupant event remarked that the rear - especially the tailights - looked like that of the current model Toyota Camry.
Inside is a laundry list of features that provide comfort and convenience for four or five. Certain controls - such as side mirror adjustment and trip meter toggling - can be done via a hidden control panel under the leftmost aircon vent. The aforementioned seven-inch touchscreen display toggles between phone connectivity (via Bluetooth), aircon, audio entertainment and trip/fuel consumption stats. The 14-speaker Mark Levinson audio entertainment system is the best this writer has heard to date, even better than that of the Lexus IS 300's Pioneer unit and the Chrysler 300C 3.5L V6's Bose unit. It has a strong, unique balance between treble and bass, and captures all tones faithfully, especially when you play classical music or instrumental movie themes. There's an abundance of LED interior lights around the cabin, even at the shins of those in front. There's automation for opening/closing the moonroof and all windows. The cold airconditioning system has a dual zone setup, and can be tailored via the seven-inch touchscreen display so that the entire right half of the cabin experiences temperature and blower speeds different than that of the left half. As with all current Lexi, starting the engine is also easy - all you have to do is carry the key fob on your person (or place the key fob within the cabin) and press the engine start button at the right of the steering column. For those carrying items in both hands, opening the doors from the outside is easy, since the GS has thumb pads on all door grab handles. All you have to do is carry the key fob on your person, place your thumb on the black thumb pad and pull on the door handles. Interestingly, if you open the driver's side door via the said Smart Entry feature, all the doors unlock.
Let's not forget the GS 460's storage abilities either. With two six footers in front, rear occupants have a fistful and a half of kneeroom and legroom. However, the tall rear footwell behind the center console might provide difficulties for the middle rear passenger to move his/her legs about. The center console storage has soothing aniline leather sliding padding for its armrest, and suede/velvet padding for its two-tier insides. It has a 12-volt outlet and an aux in jack, plus the ability to swallow even two Canon EOS 28-135 mm lenses, four iPods and five to six Buffalo Ministation external hard drives. Speaking of storage, the trunk can be locked from the cabin via a button under the glovebox. Even if you press the trunk unlock button (below the driver-side hidden drop-down panel) to pop the trunk latch, the trunk stays shut. It makes storing stuff in the trunk (up to two golf bags and three duffel bags) a great relief for peace of mind, especially if you're toting valuables.
The Lexus LS 460L may be the marque's current standard bearer, but the GS 460 presents itself as an alternate flagship due to its outstanding balance between heart pounding performance and passenger comfort.