2009 Lexus GS 460 SedanPosted on December 8th, 2008
New V8 engine and eight-speed automatic transmission make the GS as thrifty as it is powerful.
By Nina Russin
The Lexus GS sport sedan bridges the gap between the entry-luxury ES
and flagship LS models. Buyers can opt for either a V-6, V-8 or hybrid powertrain, and all-wheel drive on the V6.
The LS 460, powered by the 342-horsepower V-8 and eight-speed automatic transmission is the hot performer: it accelerates from zero-to-sixty miles-per-hour in 5.4 second. But unlike many of its competitors, the GS 460 doesn’t beat up the driver. Its highly refined suspension gives the GS 460 a silky-smooth ride.
I drove the GS 460 on a recent trip back to the Midwest, where potholes reign supreme. It was a good test of the suspension, and, thanks to some winter precipitation, a chance to evaluate the car’s ride and handling on slick roads.
Ultra-low emissions and new safety technology
The V-8 engine and eight-speed automatic transmission is as notable for its thrift as its power. Choosing the larger engine usually translates to a higher cost of ownership for the driver, thanks to decreased fuel economy. But fuel economy for the V-8 in the GS is almost as good as for the V-6.
On a one-hundred mile drive between Columbus and Cincinnati, I averaged about 24.3 miles-per-gallon: slightly better than the EPA estimate of 24. Driving around town, the average was about 21.7 according to the car’s fuel meter. That’s a significant improvement over the twenty mile-per-gallon EPA figure.
Two technologies allowed engineers to maximize fuel economy and achieve an ultra-low emissions vehicle certification: variable valve timing, and the new eight-speed automatic transmission.
Variable valve timing changes the duration during which the valves stay open to match the terrain and driving habits. The valves can stay open longer to add power, or close earlier to save gas when cruising at a steady speed on a flat road.
By creating some valve overlap between the intake and exhaust strokes, engineers add more power and also clean spent fuel out of the engine cylinders to reduce toxic emissions.
The eight-speed transmission closely matches gears to engine speed, which has a significant effect on fuel economy. Large overdrive gears make the engine much more efficient at steady speeds.
While driving close to eight miles-per-hour on the highway, the engine rarely revved above 2200 rpm. The tachometer will spike when the driver accelerates hard, but it’s easy to merge into highway traffic without topping 2000 rpm: that saves a lot of gasoline.
Adaptive headlamps and pre-collision
Two safety technologies that debuted in the flagship LS sedan have made their way to the sporty GS: adaptive headlamps, and pre-collision. The headlamps react to steering inputs to light the corner of the road the driver is moving towards.
I love this feature more for what it does to protect pedestrians than the driver. As a runner and cyclist, it’s nice to know that the driver can see what’s on the side of the intersection.
The pre-collision system helps drivers avoid accidents by monitoring the vehicles in front. A radar sensor calculates the distance between the driver and the vehicle ahead.
If the sensor determines that a collision is unavoidable, the on-board computer automatically changes the suspension to a stiffer setting, and primes the brake assist to brake hard as soon as the driver touches the pedal. It also preemptively retracts the seatbelts to keep the passengers in place.
The GS comes with Toyota’s vehicle dynamics integrated management as standard equipment. The system integrates antilock braking, traction control, stability control and brake assist to help the driver maintain directional control on a variety of road surfaces and weather conditions.
As luck would have it, our final highway drive came during a typical winter storm: what started as rain turned to sleet and then snow. Since this was during the Thanksgiving weekend, traffic was thick, and drivers’ minds weren’t always on the road. In addition to a fatal crash, we witnessed several multi-vehicle accidents, one of which took out a good chunk of guard rail,
The GS handled as if it was on a dry road: no skidding, no loss of braking control, and no hydroplaning, even when there was a fair amount of standing water.
Navigation and rearview backup camera
The test car came with an optional navigation system, that also includes an audio upgrade and rearview backup camera. The navigation works using either touchscreen or voice controls, with maps displayed on a screen in the center stack. While the system has a lot of capabilities including searching by points of interest, I found it difficult to use.
Using the touchscreen, one has to first select the appropriate multi-state area, then follow some rather unclear commands to locate something as simple as an airport. Press the wrong button, and the user has no choice but to go back to square one. It almost seemed to be more effort than it was worth.
On the other hand, the rear backup camera is a great feature, especially for those who do a lot of city driving. The camera displays a wide-angle view to the back when the car is in reverse. It makes it much easier to parallel park in tight spaces, and to figure out where the rear bumper is when backing into a space in a parking garage.
I was able to slip the GS into a parallel parking spot with about six inches between my bumpers and the vehicles in front and back. The passenger and driver’s side mirrors also tilt down when the car is in reverse, making it easy to see how far the wheels are from the curb.
Seamless ride and handling
It’s a crime against humanity to have a car with the ride and handling of the GS, and not take it on at least one winding road. A control on the center console shifts the standard adaptive suspension between comfort and sport modes: the sport mode keeps the car flatter in the corners.
An optional active stabilizer system ($3000) reduces body sway to improve the car’s cornering. Eighteen-inch wheels with optional all-season run-flat tires don’t hurt either.
Engineers use an electric power steering system in the GS: the same as the system in Toyota and Lexus hybrids. The electric steering pump is lighter and more compact, saving weight and gasoline. It also eliminates the need for a power booster, that can wear down over time and leak fluid.
The system provides plenty of assist at low speeds, while maintaining a positive on-center feel on the highway. A thirty-four foot turning radius makes it easy to do the occasional U-turn.
Four-wheel disc brakes with four channel antilock braking stop the GS in a firm linear fashion. The GS has a brake-by-wire system: another move to eliminate heavier mechanical parts that wear out over time. While some electronic systems tend to be grabby, the GS brakes perform very much like well-tuned mechanical systems.
By pushing the wheels to the corners, engineers created an exceptionally spacious interior for five passengers. Both the driver and front passenger have heated seats with multiple adjustments, and memory for up to three people. Dual-zone front climate controls allow both the driver and passenger to stay in their comfort zones.
My mother, who can find getting in and out of some cars challenging, was impressed with ingress and egress to the back seats. The doors open quite wide, and the seats, while low, aren’t difficult to climb out of.
Quiet interiors are something Lexus excels at, and the GS is no exception. There’s a minimum of road noise, despite the low profile tires, and no noticeable wind noise around the windshield or side-view mirrors. As a result, it’s easy for both rows of passengers to converse on the highway.
Mark Levinson, a manufacturer of high-end home audio systems, supplies the upgraded systems to Lexus. The optional Mark Levinson system in the GS is outstanding. Since the option also includes navigation and rearview parking assist it’s an expensive package: about thirty-six hundred dollars.
One Achilles heel
The trunk of the GS is its only Achilles heel: at least for anyone who has to haul large cargo. It’s quite long, which makes it good for luggage and golf bags. But the aerodynamic profile of the sedan prevented designers from making it very deep.
When we tried to put my mother’s folded walker inside, it wouldn’t fit. Since the same walker fits just fine into her friend’s Prius, we were a bit embarrassed. If the trunk isn’t deep enough to hold a folded walker, any type of bicycle would be out of the question. The trunk’s best feature is the standard first aid kit mounted to the right of the lid.
Base price on the GS 460 is $53,320, not including a $825 delivery charge. All new Lexus cars come with a four-year bumper-to-bumper warranty that includes forty-eight months of roadside assistance.
Likes: A fast, responsive sport sedan with exceptional fuel economy, segment leading safety and ultra-low-emissions vehicle certification.
Dislikes: Touchscreen controls on the optional navigation system are hard to use. The trunks isn’t deep enough to hold some large cargo.
Model: GS 460
Base price: $53,320
As tested: $65,665
Horsepower: 303 Hp @ 6200 rpm
Torque: 274 lbs.-ft. @ 3600 rpm
Zero-to-sixty: 5.4 seconds
Antilock brakes: Standard
Side curtain airbags: Standard
First aid kit: Standard
Bicycle friendly: No
Fuel economy: 17/24 mpg city/highway
Comments: The V-8 engine in the GS 460 requires premium fuel.
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