The all-new GS 250 is the petrol counterpart to the hybrid-powered GS 450h. Replacing the previous GS 300 model that failed to find favour in the UK market, the new car is the entry-level contender in the GS range until a new, lower displacement model arrives in the latter half of 2013.
Lexus says that the GS 250 was designed taking into account feedback from customers of the previous model in the US and Europe. The result is a vehicle that is roomier, more refined, boasting better quality materials and technology.
But with rival cars in the segment offering hyper-frugal, yet fun-driving diesel-engined variants, how will the new petrol-powered GS 250 fare? To find out, we hopped a flight to Munich -- home to its chief rival, the BMW 5 Series -- and drove the car over the border to test it on Austria's mountain roads.
The new GS features a deep bumper and 17-inch wheels wrapped in flared wheel arches, which give the car an aggressive appearance. Luxury models add larger 18-inch wheels, while the F Sport -- which comes fitted with 19-inch rims -- looks sportier still, with a subtly revised grille and bumpers and a rear lip spoiler.
Inside, the cockpit is more driver focussed and with improved ergonomics, placing the controls within easier reach. The new front seat design features a lower hip-point than the previous model, which means the driver sits closer to the car's centre of gravity. The front seats also include an extended sliding adjustment for the bottom cushion to help occupants find a comfortable seating position.
Cabin space in the GS 250 has been improved over its forbear. There is more legroom in the cabin and 30mm more headroom for the driver and front seat passenger. The new GS has 20mm more knee room in the rear seat accommodations and, despite a more aerodynamic roofline, there is also an additional 25mm worth of headroom. The GS 250 also gains an extra 30 per cent in boot space over its predecessor, bringing total volume up to 552 litres.
Performance & Handling
The GS 250's 2.5-litre V6 powerplant is rated at 207bhp and puts out 253Nm of torque. Though this may look satisfactory on paper, the fact that peak torque is only available at 4800rpm means that there is virtually no low-end power to move nearly 2,000kg worth of car. If you keep your foot in, it's an adequate performer, reaching 62mph from a standstill in 8.6 seconds, something the brand's customers are unlikely to be disappointed about.
Its six-speed transmission is smooth and its suspension isolates its occupants from virtually all road imperfections. It also feels refined at speed -- we noticed only slight wind noise coming from its wing mirrors whilst cruising the German autobahn -- but the engine sounds strained under hard acceleration, which is something we're not used to given Lexus' reputation for refinement.
The GS 250 handles well on the 18-inch wheels fitted to the Luxury model we tested and there is less body roll than on the previous generation, thanks to a re-engineered body shell that provides 14 per cent better torsional rigidity. Yet even with these improvements it's not nearly as engaging as a comparable BMW 5 Series, though both share a front engine/rear-wheel-drive layout. The 5 Series just feels more engaging.
Economy & Environment
On our drive on the German autobahn and winding Austrian gradients, we achieved fuel economy of 29mpg, which isn't far off the 31.7mpg Lexus claims. It is a petrol engine, however, so it struggles to achieve the mileage you'll get from a diesel-powered Audi or BMW. The engine spews 207g/km of CO2, putting the GS 250 in VED band K, which makes it a reasonably efficient motorway cruiser.
Equipment & Value
The GS 250 is available in three guises -- SE (£33,000), Luxury (£36,000) and F Sport (£40,000) -- all of which come fitted with a host of comfort and convenience features. Heated and ventilated 10-way adjustable leather seats (16-way on F Sport) with electric lumbar support, dusk sensing bi-xenon headlamps, rain sensing wipers and heated door mirrors are standard across the range.
Technological amenities such as a rear view camera, Bluetooth, 12-speaker CD and DAB radio and an 8-inch screen are also standard, as is the second generation of Lexus' Remote Touch Interface. The system mimics a computer mouse in operation but features force feedback and a magnetising function that stiffens the mouse and locks the cursor onto menu options as you glide over them.
Navigation is an £1,850 option on SE models but standard in Luxury and F Sport guise. The latter models can also be specified with a huge 12.3-inch screen paired with a 17-speaker Mark Levinson premium sound system (£1,000). Lexus anticipates 60 per cent of buyers will opt for the Luxury trim, which is good value for money compared to its chief rivals.
All of the safety equipment found on the GS 450h is present here, including traction control, stability control, and the standard Vehicle Dynamics Integrated Management system. There are also 10 airbags throughout the vehicle, including knee airbags for the driver and front passenger and side and curtain airbags for both the front and rear seat occupants. A tyre pressure warning system is also standard.
The GS 250 is a bit lacking in power and efficiency and isn't quite as enjoyable a drive as its BMW 5 series and Audi A6 rivals. A BMW 525d SE for example, produces more power, way more torque, has lower emissions, drives better and has a lower overall cost of ownership.
That said, the GS 250 holds its own thanks to the level of standard equipment on offer; similarly specified cars from the Germans would cost a fair bit more. Inside, it's well finished in high quality materials and features some excellent cabin technology that should keep you feeling smug every time you pull up next to a Beemer or Audi.
The GS 250 holds its own on A-roads, cruising well provided you don't work it too hard, and is hugely comfortable, making it a pleasant vehicle in which to rack up motorway miles. Ultimately the GS 250 has a lot of potential and offers more than a few reasons to tempt you away from its German rivals. We just wish it were a tad more exciting to drive.
Model Tested: Lexus GS 250 Luxury
Engine: 2.5-litre 24-valve DOHC petrol
Power: 207bhp @ 6400rpm
Torque: 253Nm @ 4800rpm
Acceleration: 0-62 in 8.6 seconds
Top speed: 144mph
Emissions: 207g/km of CO2