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The Lexus GS 400 was a surprise right from the start. First of all, it looks like no other Lexus. Its sleek aerodynamic shape presents a stunning appearance, finished with a rear spoiler and five-spoke aluminum wheels that say it means business. Some critics have charged that Lexus cars, though nearly flawless, are somewhat lacking in character. It was immediately obvious that this would not be the case with the GS 400.
Even more surprising is the brilliant acceleration performance. The GS 400 can accelerate from 0 to 60 mph in just 6 seconds. That's quick. And it will cruise all day long at speeds that are not at all socially acceptable. In this mode, it is an extremely stable car that instills confidence in the driver.
Lexus redesigned its 4.0-liter V8 engine before dropping it into the GS 400. It boasts four camshafts (dohc) and 32 valves. Variable valve timing allows the engine to deliver strong torque at low engine speeds, while providing healthy horsepower at higher speeds -- often mutually exclusive benefits. The engine produces 300 horsepower and 310 foot-pounds (lbs.-ft.) of torque. Most of that torque (80 percent) is available at just 1800 rpm, giving the GS 400 lots of around town cruising power and allowing it to sprint away from intersections. In spite of its impressive acceleration performance, the GS 400 delivered an EPA highway fuel economy rating of 23 mpg on the highway.
All that power gives the Lexus GS 400 a leg up on its performance-luxury counterparts from Europe: BMW's 540i has a 282-horsepower V8. Mercedes-Benz offers its comparably sized E320 with a 221-horsepower V6 and its larger S420 with a 274-horsepower V8.
The $37,800 Lexus GS 300 uses a 3.0-liter, 225-horsepower inline 6-cylinder engine. It can make the run to 60 mph in a quick 7.6 seconds and boasts a 25-mpg EPA highway rating. Its top speed is electronically governed at 144 mph, while the GS 400 is governed at 149 mph. The GS 300 doesn't have all the features of the $46,000 GS 400 and it certainly isn't as fast, but its price is $8,200 less.
All Lexus GS sedans come with a five-speed electronically controlled automatic transmission with a console shifter. The transmission is designed to be shifted manually as well. The top half of the shift gate has the familiar PRND markings. To the left of Drive is M for manual. Pulling the shifter toward the left permits manually downshifting and upshifting using the shift lever. This can also be accomplished by using the Formula 1 racing-inspired buttons on the front and back of the steering wheel. Pushing the button on the front of the steering wheel downshifts one gear. Pushing the button behind the wheel upshifts one gear. A readout at the bottom of the speedometer displays the selected gear. Electronics prevent downshifting above the engine's redline.
Like all true high-performance cars, the Lexus GS is rear-wheel drive. The GS 400 features anti-lock brakes (ABS) with electronic traction control and vehicle skid control (VSC). The latter can be switched off using the console mounted button. Skid control uses the brakes to bring the car back on course if it senses the car is going in a direction not consistent with the steering wheel position.
With all that horsepower, right-foot gratification is instantaneous and substantial. In fact, drivers inexperienced with high horsepower ratings may find themselves intimidated the first few times they apply full throttle. The GS 400 practically leaps off the road when given full throttle. There is plenty of engine noise, but it is a high-tech mechanical sound rather than the angry noise of a Corvette's V8. However, the force pushing the driver back into the seat is very Corvette like.
Under normal driving conditions, the GS 400 is a perfect gentleman. It is sedate and effortless with just the right amount of steering effort to instill a firm feeling of control often missing in luxury cars.
The ride quality more like a BMW than a Cadillac -- firm, but not harsh. The suspension absorbs road variations, while providing reassurance in tight turns and fast sweepers. The stellar acceleration performance is backed up by high-performance brakes. The GS 400 stops quickly and without drama with big anti-lock disc brakes.
Optional high-intensity discharge headlamps throw a wide pattern with bright, sharply defined edges. The light sometimes appears blue/white, but is actually a very white hue in a world of yellowish headlights. We liked them.
Buyers considering a BMW 5 Series or Mercedes E Class should look closely at a GS 400. The all-new Lexus GS 400 delivers awe-inspiring performance and a head-turning exterior design. There is simply nothing like it on the road today.