Sam Philip25 July 2011

Top Gear tests the new Lexus GS

Sam Philip heads out to Belgium to feed back on the pre-production 5-Series rival

Lexus GS

As the sort of right-thinking, fragrant-smelling individual who frequents TopGear.com, the Lexus GS probably doesn't feature too high on your car-radar. In fact, you'd be forgiven for being entirely unaware of its existence.

This anonymity is partly because the current GS - a medium-large exec rival for the BMW 5-Series and Audi A6 - has been knocking around for nearly seven years, but also because it's not a car that offers anything to the driver who enjoys... y'know, driving.

But, for the next-gen GS - due on sale early next year after an official unveil at Pebble Beach in August - Lexus wants to shed that reputation for uninvolving dynamics. Which is why Top Gear was invited to Toyota's brand-new, top secret Belgian proving grounds just off the E40 in the Zanventem district of Brussels to drive a pre-production version of the new GS and give some, erm, constructive feedback.

See more pics of the new Lexus GS

Our test car - a top-spec GS450h - is clad in a decidedly kinky leather get-up, so it's impossible to tell whether it'll offer more distinctive visuals than the current car. It seems likely: the new GS has a wider track front and rear, and, if the LF-Gh concept shown earlier this year is anything to go by, will feature much bolder lines.

Before setting out in the new car, we have a quick punt in the old GS, a punt that confirms the venerable Lexus isn't an awful drive, just an uninvolving one: lazy in the corners and short on feedback. The new car is far, far better.

Lexus has thrown an almighty host of chassis tech at this car - from adaptive damping to an optional four-wheel steer system (which, like that in the Renault Laguna, turns the rear wheels in the opposite direction to the fronts at low speed to improve agility and tighten the turning circle, but turns the rears in the same direction as the rears at high speed for better stability) and the results are impressive.

The GS's trademark body roll is controlled and you can push it much harder before it eventually succumbs to anguished tyre squeal. There's little feedback from the steering - hardly unusual for this class of car - but the turn-in is far, far sharper than the current car's. The most noticeable improvement is that the new GS, unlike its predecessor, doesn't try to plough its nose into the road under heavy braking.

Where previous GS models were mainly tuned on Japan's silky tarmac, Lexus engineers have decamped to Europe for the new model, testing the car over the worst roads our fair continent has to offer.

It shows. Apart from a slight jitteriness on scratchy tarmac on 19-inch wheels - we later had a shot in a new GS on 18s, which improved things a deal - the new GS doesn't trade in its essential... Lexusness in pursuit of wild-eyed thrills. It still offers fantastic refinement, but adds a welcome dose of composure when going fast over tricky surfaces. Promising stuff.

So what else can we tell you? Well, though much of the cabin was swathed in black tape, we spotted a simply ENORMOUS sat nav screen, plus a rather natty half-wood steering wheel which some will love and many will detest. It's optional, fear not.

Lexus has also worked hard to make the GS's seats the best in the business, and the chairs fitted to our test car were entirely lovely: comfortable and supportive and infinitely adjustable. Fans of 1980s digital watches will be delighted to hear the GS retains Lexus's trademark, incongruous pound-shop read-out.

Will the GS prove a genuine rival for the 5-Series, A6 and E-Class this time round? We'll withhold judgment on that one for now: it's five months until we get a shot in the final production GS, and we've driven enough pre-prod cars to know that, like financial investments, chassis set-ups can get worse as well as better in that time. But, on these early impressions, it should get mighty close to the Teutonic trio. Keep it on your radar.

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