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Expert Reviews 1 of 3
By Mike Hanley
December 10, 2009
The Lexus GS 460 sport sedan is caught between two automotive realms: On one hand, it features many of the driving characteristics that define Lexus in the marketplace, like buttery-smooth steering and a cabin as quiet as a tomb. On the other, its firm ride and flat cornering say, "I can be sporty, too!" As it turns out, mixing the two characteristics results in a car that doesn't fully live up to either ideal.
I drove a 2009 GS 460, but the 2010 model carries over much the same. New features for 2010 include active front head restraints, iPod connectivity and Bluetooth streaming audio. For a side-by-side comparison of the 2009 and 2010 GS 460, click here. Old Habits Are Tough to Break Part of the appeal of a Lexus is its ability to isolate occupants from the road and transport them in serene comfort. These qualities don't fly when creating a sport sedan, which is what the GS 460 aims to be. Sport sedans need to be engaging and fun to drive, and there's too much traditional Lexus in the GS 460 for that to happen.
Take the car's steering. If you've driven other Lexus models, you'll recognize the inherent smoothness in the GS' steering wheel. The car responds quickly to direction changes, and it feels like the power-assistance has been dialed down a little to make the wheel feel a bit heftier. Still, that doesn't do much for road feel, which is as minimal here as it is in other Lexus cars. Enthusiasts will want more steering feedback than the GS 460 offers.
A quiet cabin is usually a positive thing in a luxury sedan, and that's mostly the case in the GS'. The cabin is very hushed when cruising at highway speeds, partly because you never really hear the car's V-8 engine — even when you stand on the gas pedal. Whereas competitors like the Jaguar XF belt out a beautiful V-8 exhaust note, the GS 460 makes a quiet hum most of the time. That would be less of an issue if this were a V-6-powered GS 350, but this is a 342-horsepower GS 460. A little V-8 rumble wouldn't be a bad thing, but it's nowhere to be heard.
Though the V-8 is quieter than I'd like, it's still impressive. The same Lexus smoothness when steering the car carries over to the engine; despite its many moving parts, you'd be hard-pressed to tell if it were running were it not for its humming sound. The V-8 can pick up the pace when cruising on the highway, rocketing the car from 65 to 80 mph whenever you want.
The gear count of the GS 460's eight-speed automatic transmission is noteworthy, but it lacks real-world responsiveness. At times, you have to press the gas pedal pretty hard to get the transmission to kick down. The transmission's Power mode doesn't seem to change the overall driving experience, and the only thing the shifter's Sport mode seems to do is dictate the highest gear the transmission can be in, as well as letting you control gear changes using the clutchless-manual mode.
I understand the reasoning behind using a high-gear-count transmission with a modestly powered engine — you can wring greater performance and efficiency out of it through more optimal gearing — but this is a V-8-powered sedan. It makes 339 pounds-feet of torque at 3,600 rpm. Though the GS 460's EPA-estimated combined gas mileage is better than several competitors, the advantage is less than you might think.
V-8 Luxury Sedan Gas Mileage
2009 Lexus GS 460
2010 Jaguar XF 4.2
2010 Mercedes-Benz E550
2010 BMW 550i
2010 Infiniti M45
The GS 460's 1 mpg benefit in combined fuel economy isn't worth dealing with the unresponsive transmission. I'd take the Jaguar XF's powertrain and its six-speed automatic, which always seems like it's in the right gear. For those who prefer to shift gears themselves, the BMW 550i is the only model listed that offers a manual gearbox.
What separates the GS 460 from many other Lexus cars is ride quality, which is quite firm in its normal mode and even more so when the adaptive suspension is in Sport; the ride can get bumpy on rutted and patched pavement. This would be reasonable if the GS 460 provided engaging handling, but it doesn't. You don't get the kind of driver involvement you do from a BMW 5 Series, Infiniti M45 or a Jaguar XF. Instead, it's more similar to the Mercedes-Benz E550, though the Mercedes rides more comfortably and offers greater road isolation.
In addition to the adaptive suspension, my test car was equipped with optional active stabilizer bars. The computer-controlled system, a $3,000 option, adjusts the car's stabilizer bars in real time to resist body roll. Indeed, when cornering hard, the GS 460 remains impressively flat. A Cabin That Could Use More Luxury The GS 460's interior, while nice, looks a little behind the times. That's not entirely unexpected, as the GS was last fully redesigned for the 2006 model year. Competitors like the Jaguar XF have benefited from the trickle-down effect of high-end interior trim — like an available leather dashboard with real stitching. The GS, in comparison, makes do with traditional synthetic dash surfaces that can't match cowhide's richness. Some interior elements, like the window and door lock buttons, look like they've been plucked from Toyota; they seem out of place in a luxury car like the GS.
Other interior aspects have aged better, including the optional touch-screen navigation system, which is easy to operate and includes physical shortcut buttons that give you direct access to things like the audio and climate systems. This setup appears to be on its way out, though, as newer Lexus models have a new navigation interface with a small joystick on the center console for making selections on a dashboard screen.
The GS is a low-slung, sleek car. You don't really notice it when sitting in front, but when you get in back it's readily apparent; it feels like the whole car is closing in around your head. Backseat legroom is passable for taller adults.
The standard leather front bucket seats have cushioning that's on the soft side — much softer than the seats in the 2010 E550, which are heavy on support. The GS 460's seats remind me of a leather lounge chair. They have some sizable side bolsters, though, which help keep you in place when cornering.
The trunk opening looks like a slot; it might be hard to fit bulky suitcases through it. The trunk itself measures a relatively small 12.7 cubic feet, but that's enough to handle a couple of golf bags. The trunklid's design doesn't do a good job keeping pooled water out of the trunk when you open it — water runs right in from a few different spots. A trunk pass-through for carrying long, skinny items inside the car is standard. A number of competitors — the E-Class, 5 Series, XF and Audi A6 — offer folding rear seats. Safety In Insurance Institute for Highway Safety testing, the GS received Good overall scores in frontal-offset and side-impact crash tests. It rated Marginal overall in the rear-impact test, but the newly standard active head restraints for 2010 models could improve that score. As of publication, the GS hasn't undergone IIHS' new roof-crush test.
Eight airbags are standard in the GS 460, including side-impact airbags for the front seats, side curtain airbags and knee airbags for front occupants. Other standard features include antilock brakes and an electronic stability system.
The GS can also have an optional Pre-Collision System. If the system thinks a crash might occur, it cinches the front seat belts and readies the brake assist function for harder braking. PCS can also automatically apply the brakes if the driver doesn't.
For a full list of safety features, check out the Standard Equipment & Specs page. GS 460 in the Market From a sport sedan standpoint, what's the GS 460's main problem? There's too much Lexus in this Lexus. It has ball-bearing steering but lacks road feel. Its V-8 engine is strong but feels held back by the eight-speed automatic. It rides firmly but doesn't encourage drivers to seek out twisty roads.
You may not be looking at the GS 460 in terms of how it measures up as a sport sedan, but that's how it's positioned in Lexus' lineup. If you are, there are better offerings in the form of the XF and M45.