Ever since Lexus first set out to conquer the luxury car market, it has carefully cultivated an image of high quality and refinement. And to that end they’ve been extremely successful. But with the ultra quiet cabins and silky smooth highway manners, some would argue the ride is so refined, it excludes the driver from the experience. The same cannot be said, however, of the all-new GS400. This barnstorming performance sedan definitely has some very un-Lexus-like performance characteristics, and it is designed to keep the driver included.
And with performance leap-frogging to the top of the priority list, it was back to the drawing board for Lexus engineers. Who created, in the completely redesigned 1998 Lexus GS 400, a performance sedan intended to give its Autobahn rivals a run for their money.
And at first glance, their intentions are quite clear. While maintaining a basic identifying shape, some subtle and not-so-subtle styling cues give the GS 400 a more aggressive appearance. The large triangular headlights, with integrated turning lamps, wrap the front corners, giving the front a sleek, built-for-speed look, while separate high beam lamps flank the understated, yet classy grill.
Overall length has become understated as well, as the all-new platform has been shortened by six inches. Lengthy front and rear overhangs have been reduced, resulting in a more taut and muscular profile.
At the back, the inboard-outboard light arrangement that began up front is continued. As large taillamps wrap around the rear quarters, with separate brake lights set just inside the trunk lid.
When added together, the ‘98 GS 400 is far more appealing than its predecessor, and is a cleaner effort than the Lexus HPS show car we saw last January. And a very low 0.29 drag coefficient bares this out.
Not that the new V-8 needs much help from a slippery body design. For the GS 400, the LS 400’s 4.0-liter, 32-valve, dual overhead cam, powerplant has been reworked to kick out 300 horses. And 310 pound-feet of torque, 80 percent of it available at only 1800 rpm. New cylinder heads feature continuous Variable Valve Timing, with intelligence, a first for a production V-8. The GS 300’s 225 horsepower 3.0-liter inline 6 also gets the VVT-i Treatment.
Power is transferred to the rear wheels through a smooth-as-glass 5-speed automatic transmission, that slingshots the GS 400 to 60 in just six seconds flat. And that’s no fluke. This is one quick Lexus.
While a re-designed and more compact multi-link rear suspension, along with a 32% stiffer unibody and 17-inch wheels, equip the GS 400 to dice it up on even the twistiest roads. And unless disabled, the competent Vehicle Skid Control system is at the ready, should driver exuberance get out of hand.
But although the performance numbers may be a little unsettling to its competitors, the luxurious cabin has the opposite effect on the driver. As the substantially roomier interior, it’s 4.6 cubic feet larger than last year, comes with all the amenities that one expects from a Lexus.
The GS 400 has loads of leather and wood accents throughout. The sporty hide-covered, 3-spoke steering wheel is now smaller. Due to a more compact de-powered second generation air bag that resides there and on the passenger side as well. The dash features a new three-pod instrument cluster with silver-blue Optitron backlighting. A system that keeps the gauges consistently illuminated, regardless of exterior lighting conditions.
Both driver and passenger enjoy 10-way power adjustable seats, with integrated side impact air bags. As expected, the GS 400’s center console is the epitome of ergonomic efficiency. Premium stereo and climate control switch gear is close at hand and self-explanatory. So too is the optional navigation system with voice prompting. And it incorporates the climate and stereo controls it has displaced and operates them by touch screen.
The wood handled shift lever offers a choice of automatic or manual modes. In manual, the E-shift feature is activated, and allows up and down shifts by simply pressing the buttons on the front and back of the steering wheel.
In back, those along for the ride will appreciate the wide door openings, as well as the generous leg, hip, and shoulder room. There’s a big trunk, as well. Thanks to the compact rear suspension and the re-location of the fuel tank, trunk capacity has grown 14 percent to 14.8 cubic feet.
Pricing is not excessive for a performance sedan of this caliber. The GS 300 begins at $37,295, while the GS 400 carries a base sticker of $45,295. Be aware, however, options can easily add $6,000 or more.
No matter, our conclusions are clear. If Lexus pursues performance with the same relentless determination that made them a luxury benchmark, they could give the German machines more than a run for their money. It could be a run for their lives!
Engine: 4.0-Liter, 32-valve, Dohc, V8
Torque: 310 Lb Feet
0-60 MPH: 6 Seconds