PASADENA, CA – Kiji Sato was a happy man as I tossed his new “baby” through the tortuous twists and turns of Azusa Canyon Road in the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains. His smile grew even broader when I commented that this could not possibly be a Lexus.
To Sato-san this was confirmation that he was on the right road – literally and figuratively. The big sedan was acting like a German sports sedans, responding to steering inputs with sharpness and alacrity, tackling the turns with minimal body roll and generally behaving most unlike a Lexus. The Deputy Chief Engineer of the 2013 – yes you read that correctly – 2013 Lexus GS four door sedan beneath all that camouflage was a happy man.
Camouflage? Lots of it inside and out because this was a prototype. We weren’t allowed to see the new shape or most of the interior treatment, but were being asked for feedback on what Lexus hopes will help redefine how people think of the brand. Sato-san’s grin was one of relief. He and his development team had spent a great deal of time, effort and the vast resources of the world’s largest car company, injecting a large amount of fun into what will be the fourth generation GS.
Working under the theme “joy and leading edge”, they set out to add a new dimension to the Lexus driving experience. Sato said the majority of work on the new GS has centered on driving dynamics. “We wanted to improve the driving personality, make it more sporty and comfortable,” he said.
There’s not much I can say at this stage about appearance. One look at the photos will show there was little metal exposed to prying eyes. The company shipped a pair of early pre-production prototypes to California for testing, one a base model and one equipped with the F-Sport package. The exteriors were shielded from prying eyes by a heavy vinyl cover and the interior by metres of black tape and plastic.
While we couldn’t see or touch finished interior surfaces, the layout was different as were many of the controls. The center of the instrument panel is dominated by a giant 30-cm color monitor displaying information in 3-D. The largest display so far, it offers startling clarity.
There is a lot more room inside. While the exterior is only 0.8-in wider, the new rear suspension eliminated the shock towers allowing an additional two inches of width in the back seat and trunk. The infinitely-adjustable front buckets, with numerous adjustable bolsters for butt and back, are a new design. Large drivers will also benefit, thanks to additional width. The trunk is also wider and offers 25% more space, thanks to the less obtrusive suspension and a taller lid.
Beneath that disguise was a thoroughly developed vehicle, especially all the pieces and parts that make it go, stop and steer. The 3.5-litre six-cylinder engine and six-speed automatic transmission are carried over from the existing model but the electronic controls of both have been extensively updated. On some models there will be paddle shifters on the steering wheel. Select the S Sport or S Sport Plus mode with the console-mounted Drive Select mode controller and the transmission will blip the throttle during downshifts. This also firms up the suspension, sharpens throttle response and brings faster shifts. The default position is “normal” and Eco is also available.
BEHIND THE WHEEL
After thrashing the new GS on a secure handling course and on public roads through the nearby foothills, I can report this is indeed a new GS, even without a new body. The engineers say it will be based on a new platform, but admit only the rear portion and suspension are entirely new. It will be 15% stiffer thanks to additional welding and buttressing and despite more standard equipment weigh the same as the current model thanks to lots of low-weight, high-strength steel.
The new independent rear suspension gets all the attention, but things have been considerably tweaked up front with new knuckles, ball joints, bushings, control arms, cast aluminum carriers and geometry – all for the purpose of reducing weight, harshness and improving steering feel.
Both of the prototypes had a new Adaptive Variable Suspension (AVS) and Drive Mode Select. One had what will be marketed as the F-Sport package. Both were clearly superior to the existing model in virtually all areas of driving dynamics – without sacrificing ride quality and the traditional Lexus silence.
The F-Sport is the way to go if you have any enthusiasm in your driving genes In addition to larger wheels, tires and brakes, it will have the LDH (Lexus Dynamic Handling) package, comprised of a variable geared steering system and some rear steer ability dialed into the new suspension. Initial turn-in is much sharper and more accurate, lean minimal and understeer all but eliminated. Rear tires were specially-developed 19-inch Bridgestones, 265-mm wide on the rear and 235-mm at the front. The base model will have 235-mm wide rubber from a variety of suppliers on 18-inch wheels at each corner.
The 2013 GS will not go into production until early 2012 and appear in Lexus stores until late in the first quarter. The gasoline-engine version will be introduced at Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance in August, the hybrid version at the Frankfurt Auto Show in September and the F Sport version at the SEMA (Specialty Equipment Manufacturers Association) in October.
The next GS should ad some spice to a vanilla Lexus lineup