There are many, many car lovers attracted to the flashier aspects of the automotive world: eye-catching styling flourishes, head-jerking acceleration, ear-splitting exhaust notes, gargantuan size. I'll readily admit to most of these attractions myself (except, perhaps, the size -- the world has enough SUVs and size queens at this point in time).
But there comes a time when something more subtle, more refined, becomes the object of desire. I'm not quite there yet, but the Lexus GS300 is a good example of what I might look for when that time comes.
Newly redesigned for 2006, the GS300 has a svelte and slighty swoopy look that's a refinement of its predecessor. It's not what one would call cutting edge design, but it certainly fits in well alongside the current crop of sleek Japanese luxury sedans.
The front end is the most successful, replacing the old egg-like headlamps with a more angular design. The lines from the sculpted hood sweep back to the body to create a nice sense of flow and forward movement.
The back, however, feels a bit chunky in comparison. The plane of the rear window rides slightly below the line of the C-pillars (the area supporting the roof between the back doors and rear of the car), creating a ridged look reminiscent of the Nissan Maxima. I have the feeling that's not exactly the reference the Lexus design team had in mind, but that's what they ended up with.
While refreshed overall, the GS maintains a somewhat staid look that's effectively in line with its target audience. If you're searching for a sportier looking Lexus, you'll want to head over to the IS series, also redesigned for the new year.
The all-wheel drive GS300 is powered by a standard V6 that provides plenty of power for everyday driving in either city or highway conditions -- you won't find yourself struggling to merge or pass. Having power to four-wheels adds a bit of confidence in foul-weather that may be lacking in the rear-wheel drive model. While not truly nimble, the GS handles nicely for a large sedan. Even better, the gas mileage runs from the 21 to 27 mpg, depending on conditions, not a bad range for a luxury sedan in a time of fluctuating gas prices.
Inside, you'll find a peaceful cabin that mutes the clamor of the world outside. The smooth quiet can actually be a little disconcerting if you're accustomed to a bit more feedback from the road and surroundings. You'll get used to it, quickly.
The interior is understatedly plush, with big, comfortable seats and enough legroom for actual adult passengers. I managed to haul a good chunk of extended family around the Beltway with no complaints and more than a few compliments.
The optional navigation system is nicely integrated into center dash, and is easy to use even without delving into the world of user manuals. The rear-view camera that provides a low angle view of what's behind you, useful for those with lots of small kids running about or those who often find themselves squeezing into really tight parallel parking spaces. Someday, one hopes, the ever-useful navigations systems either will become standard or, more likely, easily affordable. For now, the Lexus navigation and camera system will add four grand to your total.
Bluetooth connectivity and keyless access with push button start come standard, however. Push button ignition, currently featured in number of high-end offerings from various manufacturers, is a nifty gee-whiz feature that will likely become ho-hum in another five years, when every car has it.
Overall, if you're in the market for a solid, mid-range luxury sedan, you should spend some time test driving the GS300 (or the further upscale stablemate, the GS430). But if you're looking for a car to set the world on fire, you'll have to look elsewhere.