The GS sedan is Lexus’ jab at the established Germans like the BMW 5-series and the Mercedes-Benz E-Class, and for 2017, it gets forced induction to match its rivals.
The 2016 Lexus GS 200t tested here has a 2.0-liter turbocharged engine, which is becoming industry standard. It’s the same engine that was in the 2016 Lexus IS 200t tested earlier. So how does the little engine behave in the larger GS, and how does it compare to the Germans?
This generation of GS has been around since the 2013 model year, although for 2016 Lexus gave it a facelift – literally. The GS now gets a more expressive version of the signature Lexus grille. Some call it the waterfall grille, some the angry Cylon grill, others the Darth Vader grille. Love it or not, it’s the corporate face of Lexus and it’s on all their vehicles.
The F Sport package on the test car swaps out the slats that give the grille its Darth Vader look for a honeycomb pattern that, despite being meant to look more aggressive, actually tones down the polarizing front end. The package also adds 19-inch graphite alloy wheels, a lip spoiler and F Sport badging.
The GS also has another Lexus trademark: smooth sides with little to no character lines. Some may call it boring, but I think it looks elegant and understated. The rear of the car is also fairly conservative and not as aggressive as the front end, but the whole car has a low, wide stance and an athletic profile.
Inside the GS, the understated, nearly Germanic theme continues. Like the IS, the GS has a more European flavor to it than other Lexus models like the ES and RX. It has the same return-to-center turn signal and windshield wiper stalks as the IS, which feel more European than Japanese.
The F Sport package adds some touches like a aluminum trim on the dash, aluminum pedals, an F Sport steering wheel and the same special gauge cluster that was also in the RX 350 F Sport tested earlier. The rest of the interior is the same as other GS models with a large center infotainment screen embedded high in the dash and a wide center console with covered cupholders, gear shift knob and the dreaded Remote Touch interface.
Materials are high quality for the most part, even the plastic faux metal on the steering wheel and doors. All cars, no matter what the price point, have some plastic in them, so the GS shouldn’t be faulted for that. The only questionable interior pieces deal with those cupholders. The retractable cover feels cheap and when opened it partially blocks the controls for the heated and ventilated seats. Also, there’s a removable middle divider that not only feels like it belongs in a $18,000 Corolla, but it constantly fell out when removing a large plastic water bottle.
The new turbo four-cylinder makes 241 horsepower and 258 lb-ft of torque, but in the GS it has 3,805 lbs of car to lug around. Power is sent to the rear wheels through the same eight-speed automatic transmission as the IS, too.
Despite the high torque number – which is available from 1,650 to 4,400 rpm – the GS, like the IS, feels sluggish off the line because of serious turbo lag. It doesn’t really come alive until about 3,000 rpm, when there’s a satisfying midrange surge that makes highway overtaking a grin inducing affair.
Around town, though, the turbo lag is frustrating to downright frightening when quick, off-the-line acceleration is needed. When driven slowly – like a Lexus, in other words – the turbo lag is less noticeable.
Ride and Handling
The GS’s chassis is very well sorted, especially with the F Sport package that adds a sport-tuned suspension and updated brakes. Steering is a little short on feedback but it’s very accurate and has satisfying heft, albeit artificial heft. Summer tires also add to the car’s balanced handling and prodigious grip. Brakes are firm and easy to modulate.
Despite being a rather large car, the GS has the ability to shrink around the driver. Credit has to go to Lexus for finally making a car that can handle as well as the best of the Germans.
Because it’s an F Sport, the test car’s ride was firmer than a regular GS. It’s still comfortable, but it does skip over expansion joints and shudder on rough pavement more than it would if it wasn’t tuned for sport. The larger wheels and narrow cross-section tires also don’t do much for the car’s ride. Those looking for luxury should skip the F Sport option.
Being a midsize luxury sedan, the GS has all of the utility space one would expect from such a beast. Headroom, legroom and shoulder room for front seat passengers is expansive, and two passengers would fit comfortably in the back, although the driveshaft hump in the middle cuts down on that fifth passenger’s comfort level significantly.
Out back, the GS has a well proportioned trunk for its size. Rated at 16.2 cubic feet, there is plenty of room for luggage, groceries, or anything else an owner could put back there that doesn’t require SUV height. The trunk opening is low and wide. There’s not much to complain about here. The seats don’t fold down, but there is a ski pass-through, and the trunk is so large there would be little to no need for the seats to fold in the first place.
Comfort and Convenience
The test car’s F Sport package includes upgraded seats with 18 – yes 18 – way adjustment that, although there’s a chance of option paralysis, once dialed in it’s as close to a custom-formed seat as I’ve ever experienced. The seats are firm enough for spirited driving, yet soft enough to coddle on a long highway trip. With the adjustability of the seats and the power tilting and telescoping steering wheel, it’s hard to imagine anyone not being able to find an ideal seating position.
The passenger seat, while not having quite the amount of adjustability as the driver’s seat, still has enough to let anyone find an optimal position. It also has the same soft-yet-firm cushioning as the driver’s seat.
The back seats are also nicely sculpted and the center folds down into a convenient armrest. That middle position, as stated above, is limited in legroom and should only be used for either very small passengers or only for very short trips.
The test car also had the upgraded infotainment system with the 12.3-inch split screen, as also tested in the RX 350. While the system looks a little better – it got a bit of a facelift, with some new graphics and fonts – it’s essentially the same system as in all Toyotas and Lexuses. It’s easy to use and can be learned quickly, but it’s also missing some features like Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. It just seems like it’s a bit behind the times when compared with systems from other manufacturers.
I tried out Lexus’ Enform App Suite, which is their in-house substitute for Apple CarPlay or Android Auto. It was easy to set up and it did provide some services like Facebook and Pandora, but it was still another account to set up and each service needed to be linked to the Lexus account. It’s enough extra work that it could discourage many people from using it. It’s time Toyota and Lexus got with the times and just added in the Apple and Android offerings.
And the system is still, unfortunately, controlled by Lexus’ Remote Touch system. I’ve used this on more than a few vehicles, and it is difficult to use and takes up too much space. For those who don’t know, the Remote Touch interface is similar to a computer mouse, if a computer mouse was a small rectangle with push-to-click functionality. It gives tactile feedback by essentially changing its configuration to match the pattern off what would be touchscreen buttons on the screen. Its inaccuracy is infuriating. It’s easy to miss the intended on-screen button and it takes too much concentration to be used when driving.
I’ve never had an opportunity to use the control knob interface, which is on lower-end Lexus infotainment systems, but I would love to have a chance. From other infotainment systems I’ve used with control knobs – Mazda, Mercedes-Benz and MINI systems – it’s a much more ideal interface. Lexus should consider using the control knob on all their systems, because the only way to get navigation is to get Remote Touch.
Manufacturers are switching to small-displacement turbocharged engines as a nod to fuel economy, but the GS 200t’s numbers don’t seem to bear that out. A regular GS 200t is rated at 22 mpg city, 33 mpg highway and 26 mpg combined, while the F Sport option drops that by 2, 3, and 2, respectively, because the stop-start function is removed.
During my test week, which was done almost exclusively in town, the GS got 19.3 mpg. While that’s not bad, and it is close to the city rating of 20, I had to purposely go easy on the throttle to get any decent mileage. It’s not an easy thing to do, as the lack of power from a standstill encourages flooring of the throttle. For comparison, the IS 200t tested with the same engine got 22.5 mpg, but that included a highway trip.
Value and Competition
The 2017 Lexus GS 200t has a base MSRP of $45,615 before destination. The F Sport package adds a tidy $7,670 to the bottom line. Other expensive options are the Mark Levinson surround sound stereo, which sounds great but also costs $1,380, and the navigation package with the big 12.3-inch screen that costs $1,730. These and a few smaller options meant the as-tested price was $59,200 including $950 destination fee.
Despite the lofty entry fee, it’s actually somewhat of a bargain compared to a lot of the competition. A base BMW 5-series is about $5,000 more than a base GS, a base Jaguar XF is about $6,000 more, and a base Mercedes-Benz E-Class is about $7,000 more. Heck, even a Kia K900 has a higher base price. However, a lot of those cars – with the exception of the Kia – offer more to the buyer, from more sporting pretensions to better luxury appointments depending on which one. The GS is hardly the class leader, but it is competitive in this segment and with its legendary Toyota/Lexus reliability, no one at the country club would fault you for buying one.
For most buyers, though, the F Sport package isn’t worth the tradeoffs. Not checking that box on the options list means that you won’t get upgraded brakes or the exterior garnish, but it also means you get more sane wheels and tires, a more easy-to-read instrument cluster, better ride, and of course, an extra $7,670 in your pocket.
There is one big elephant in the room, and it comes from the same Lexus showroom – the ES 350. Sure, its front-drive platform has Camry roots, but it has almost the exact same dimensions as the GS. It also has better interior packaging without having to worry about that driveshaft or the longitudinally mounted transmission. Plus, its front-drive architecture is a better compromise for inclement weather than the rear-drive-only GS 200t (buyers have to go up a level to the GS 350 to get all wheel drive).
But most importantly, it provides the same Lexus experience – the quiet, coddled, luxury – as the GS can, 95 percent of the time. The only time when the GS pulls ahead is when the performance ramps up. The GS’s handling is sharper and its rear-drive platform doesn’t have the ES’s torque steer. But is that really worth it to most Lexus buyers?
I spent a week with the ES 350 and was impressed. I enjoyed driving it, plus it got more than 25 mpg and I didn’t have to be light on the throttle. Add in the fact that it’s almost impossible to spec out an ES 350 to hit the near $60,000 price tag of the test car – the ES 350 tester was just under $50K and it had the ultra luxury package – and it becomes clear why Lexus sells almost four ESs to one GS. I know which one I would buy.
On the TFLcar scale of:
- Buy It,
- Lease It,
- Rent It,
- or Forget It,
The 2017 Lexus GS 200t F Sport gets a Lease It!
The GS is a very nice car with the usual Lexus luxury peppered with some additional sportiness thanks to its well-sorted chassis, nimble handling and sporting demeanor. However, it’s still not quite up to the best the Germans, English and even the Americans (in the form of Cadillac) can offer, and from a pure value standpoint, it doesn’t quite match up to its front drive cousin.
Check out this related TFLcar video of the GS 200t’s big brother, the 2017 GS F: