Lexus sales in the UK are still growing. They increased by 33 per cent last year to 8,269 registrations and in the first seven months of this year they have grown again by 20 per cent.
They might be a highly respected premium brand, much praised for build quality and reliability, but they cannot compete in sales volume terms with the likes of BMW and Audi. However for some discerning UK owners, niche models are more appealing.
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Both versions of the new GS have automatic transmissions as standard. The GS250 is available with SE, Luxury and F Sport trim and equipment levels, the GS450h with Luxury, F Sport and Premier specifications.
Lexus GS250 Luxury first drive
My test model was the likely best seller, the GS250 Luxury priced at £35,995, that is £9,000 less than the hybrid GS450h Luxury. The four door executive saloon has an all-new exterior and interior which uses what Lexus calls their L-finesse design philosophy.
On the outside the principle feature of this is a much stronger frontal treatment giving the GS greater road presence. The front has sharper styling lines and a new spindle grille. I can see the front end 'edgy' styling influence has been carried over from the latest designs being used by the Lexus parent company of Toyota.
That said the kerb appeal is really classy and the propotions are well balanced. The new GS is the same length as the previous one at 4,850mm with a wheelbase of 2,855mm. Headroom is up by 30mm in the front, 25mm in the rear and there is 20mm more kneeroom in the rear.
The front and rear tracks are increased by 40mm and 50mm respectively giving a wider and bolder stance on the road. The GS250 gains an extra 30 per cent more boot space, now up to a total of 552-litres and the rear seats split and fold for added space which is unusual in this sector.
There is a 14 per cent increase in the torsional rigidity of the body and the suspension components are manufactured from weight reducing aluminium.
Inside the new Lexus GS250h
In most respects the interior is beautifully crafted with a dual-zone driver-focused cockpit. In addition to all the usual executive items of specification are several innovative technologies making their first appearance in the new GS.
These include a new energy-saving air conditioning system which uses less power and there is the second generation Lexus Remote Touch Interface linked to the world's largest 8-inch in-car multimedia display screen.
This uses a joystick cum mouse type controller to select most driver support functions within the car, everything from the sound system, to the navigation unit to the air conditioning.
However the controller is a bit fiddly to use, quick to react and can easily select the wrong setting. Whilst the analogue clock, the air vents and radio controls look top quality there are some cheap looking black switches set within the classy fascia. The cheap feel plastic electronic handbrake lever is hidden away behind the steering wheel and it's not a joy to use either.
The standard audio system has 12 speakers with CD player and includes DAB radio. Other equipment includes alloy wheels, Bluetooth, leather upholstery, front electrically operated seats, dual zone climate control, smart entry memory front seats and steering wheel adjustment, a start push-button, cruise control, vehicle stability and traction controls.
The Luxury spec adds aluminium scuff plates, piano black gloss interior trim, rear-view camera, automatic headlights and wipers and front and rear parking sensors.
Driving the Lexus GS250h
There is also a rotary controller which allows the driver to select the car's drive mode of Eco, Normal and Sport. This function changes the responses of the accelerator, automatic gearchange points and also adjusts the output of the air conditioning. In Eco mode it worked best once underway and in the cruise.
During acceleration, particuarly amoungst traffic going around roundabouts and away from traffic lights, it made the GS250 a little sluggish. However I used the Eco setting for much of the time during several long journeys covering 700 miles in total and that helped to achieve the remarkable and easily obtained 36.2mpg overall fuel consumption figure which was 4.5mpg better than the official Combined Cycle figure.
The GS250 is equipped with a fuel-efficient, low emissions 2.5-litre V6 petrol engine that is new to the GS range. The engine features D-4S direct injection and Dual VVT-i intelligent variable valve timing on both intake and exhaust camshafts.
The unit develops 207bhp at 6,400rpm and 253Nm (191lb ft) of torque at 4,800rpm. The GS250 accelerates from nought to 62mph in 8.6 seconds with a top speed of 143mph. The new engine is matched to a close ratio six-speed automatic transmission which features a sequential manual shift mode. It allows faster gearchange speeds with early torque converter lock-up to reduce power absorbtion and loss.
The result is quiet and relaxed power delivery, just the sort of features Lexus customers love and with good fuel economy. But, and it is a big but, the true sales potential of the GS in Europe, including the UK, will not be met unless a diesel engine is offered.
I know this goes against the Lexus core image of sports petrol or petrol/hybrid powertrains. But that is what the GS needs to meet its sales potential against the likes of the BMW 5-Series, Audi A6, Mercedes-Benz E-Class and Jaguar XF. Infiniti, Chrysler and Cadillac all initially tried to sell executive cars in Europe with no diesel engine option, they learnt.
Lexus GS250 Luxury 4-door executive saloon.
2.5-litre, V6, DOHC variable valve timing, direct injection petrol, 207bhp, 191lb ft of torque from 4,800rpm, 6-speed close ratio automatic.
144mph, zero to 62mph 8.6 seconds, 31.7mpg (36.2mpg on test), CO2 207g/km VED road tax £600 First Year rate then £270 per annum after that, BIK company car tax 32%.
33E. Dimensions/capacities: L 4,850mm, W 1,850mm, H 1,4255, boot 552-litres.
Overall refinement, comfortable, composed and predictable handling, mostly perfect interior design and of high quality, comprensive specification, good fuel economy for a V6 petrol engine and good performance, up to £12k less than the petrol/electric hybrid models.
No diesel engine option, high tax implications, some cheap looking plastic switches.