In the past couple of years, auto manufacturers have begun offering much smaller engines in many larger model cars in order to meet ever-tightening fuel economy standards.
This has been the result of better and more reliable turbochargers. Ford, for instance, offers the full-sized Taurus sedan with a two liter, turbocharged four-cylinder engine. Cadillac is also offering some of its sedans with a turbo two liter four-cylinder as well and even BMW and Mercedes are in the game offering their mid-sized sedans with four-cylinder engines.
Not to be left out, Lexus is now offering its mid-sized sedan, the GS, with a two-liter turbocharged four-cylinder — along with the V6 and V6 hybrid power plants that have historically resided in the GS’s engine bay — and the result is the GS200t.
The optional V8 engine has been discontinued and the V6 models soldier on as the largest engines in the GS series. The GS200t F Sport is rated by the EPA at 21 MPG city, 30 MPG highway with a combined rating at 24 MPG.
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Lexus wanted me to drive the new GS200t so they delivered a sparkling clean and fully gassed up example to my driveway. Other than that courtesy, I received no compensation for this review.
The Lexus GS sedan has been available in the United States since the 1993 model year and occupies the slot between the entry level ES and IS sedans and range-topping LS sedan. Now in its fourth generation, the GS’s main competitors are the BMW 5 Series, the E-Class from Mercedes Benz and Cadillac’s CTS.
The test vehicle
The Lexus GS200t has a base price of $45,615 and the GS200t F Sport has a base price of $53,285. Ticking a few option boxes quickly swells the price to over $60,000.
That price includes a twin turbocharged four-cylinder engine, an eight-speed automatic transmission, plus a host of comfort items such as heated and ventilated seats and a Mark Levinson 17-speaker surround sound system delivering 835 watts. And let’s not forget the massive 12.3-inch display with a mouse-like controller on the center console to navigate the various menus.
On the safety side of things, the GS200t includes blind spot monitoring, adaptive cruise control, forward collision warning with pre-collision braking, parallel park assist, dynamic cruise control and lane keep assist.
First, no review of a current Lexus can be complete without mentioning the styling. From the sides and from the rear, there is little to complain about. The lines are clean and, in regards to the GS with the F Sport package, the styling leans toward a very sporting demeanor. The 19-inch wheels with low profile tires only accentuate that image.
Then, there is the Lexus spindle grill. This design is being used across the board on the Lexus line-up. While not offensive, it certainly stands out. Like other manufacturers, Lexus is trying to set their models apart from the competition and there has been plenty written about their new styling direction.
The interior is a really nice place to be. The shapes and textures are all first rate and all the typical controls are exactly where they should be. The switches all feel particularly well designed and the overall fit and finishes are typical Lexus quality.
The 12.3-inch display is incredibly clear and the navigation system, in particular, is extremely useful because the driver not only gets a detailed map from which to navigate, but also has the option of displaying a less detailed map at the same time which gives a sense of geographic location. It’s a really nice touch.
As nice as that 12.3-display is, controlling it is an entirely different matter. Lexus employs a mouse-like joystick that controls all the functions on the display such as the sound system, climate control, navigation and various settings that the car offers.
This controller is genuinely a difficult piece of equipment to operate. It’s touchy and almost impossible to operate accurately and attempting to effectively use it while driving provides such a challenge that the driver will find the lane-keeping function practically a necessity.
Other manufacturers are doing a far better job at handling these functions and Lexus needs to catch up with the competition because this piece of engineering can only be described as a terrible distraction.
Comfort has always been one of the Lexus’ strong points and the GS200t delivers comfort in spades. The front seats get high marks for their high level of comfort. Even after six hours of non-stop driving, both driver and passenger remain comfortable thanks to the ventilated perforated leather or the adjustable seat heaters.
For the driver’s side, the adjustable thigh support is fantastic and adjustable lateral support really holds the driver in place when the roads get twisty.
Those in the back seats have fairly supportive cushions on which to sit and, while leg and headroom are acceptable, a little more of each would go a long way in increasing the comfort level. But, in the sport sedan world, back seat comfort often suffers for styling’s sake.
First and foremost, it’s a Lexus so the driving experience is mostly smooth and quiet. There are four drive modes; Eco, Normal, Sport and Sport +. With each setting, the character of the car changes fairly significantly.
Eco: In this setting, the car is reduced to being as efficient as possible by retarding the throttle setting and dropping the shift points. It’s fairly lifeless in this setting and it is unlikely many sport sedan buyers will ever use the Eco setting.
Normal: In the Normal setting, the throttle is much more responsive than in Eco, the shift points are higher and the general feeling is that of a composed sedan.
Sport: In sport, the suspension tightens up and the shift points are a bit higher and the whole package starts behaving like it’s capable of taking advantage of the first-rate chassis that underpins the GS.
Sport +: In this setting, the car becomes as much of a beast as it’s capable of being. The suspension really tightens up and it feels like it would be a worthy track competitor.
Unfortunately, all the chassis development and handling capabilities in the world aren’t of much use if there isn’t enough power to push said capabilities to the limit and that’s certainly the case here.
Yes, the twin turbocharged two-liter four-cylinder is quick to rev but, with only 241 horsepower on tap and 258 pound/feet of torque on hand, the driver is almost constantly aware that there’s a power deficit.
The engine gets a bit raspy above 5,000 RPM. The transmission — while quick to shift and very smooth under normal driving — feels as if it’s shifting far too much under hard acceleration. Yet it’s slow to downshift once underway. So pretty soon you begin to realize that the powertrain is overwhelmed by the 3,800 pounds of car it has been charged to move.
Kudos to Lexus, however, on making manual shifting a feature on this automatic transmission. This can be accomplished via rocking the shifter or using the paddles mounted behind the steering wheel. This feature bumps up the interaction level on the car and really ups the fun factor on twisty roads.
A minor criticism is the sound that comes from the engine bay. Under normal driving, the GS200t sounds very similar to the Toyota Camry. Now, that’s not a terrible thing by anyone’s estimation but it’s far from what one might expect from a sedan that’s claiming sport credentials.
Stab the accelerator pedal and that sound changes to a much more throaty tone that’s much more befitting of a sports sedan. But, like other manufacturers, Lexus creates this sound electronically and there’s no getting around feeling a bit cheated by this technology no matter what manufacturer employs it.
What to buy?
The GS is available with a V6 or a V6 Hybrid as well as the turbo four-cylinder and the latter exists mainly to up the corporate mileage ratings. However, in order to really enjoy driving the car, the driver really has to call on what power the smaller engine can make fairly often. And, that requires working the engine pretty hard, which really hurts the fuel mileage.
In a week’s worth of driving that served up equal portions of city and highway driving as well as about 35 miles of driving on winding mountain roads, the GS200t F Sport returned just over 23 MPG.
With the GS available with the F Sport package with both the V6 and V6 Hybrid — both likely to return mileage somewhat close to that of the four-cylinder model — one begins to wonder what the point of the GS200t really is.
And, once the buyer has paid the higher price of the six-cylinder models (just over $54,000 for the base GS350 to just over $68,000 for the range-topping GS450h F Sport), the price gets dangerously close to Tesla territory.
However, there is no disputing how good the GS is with any engine and Lexus customers are usually among the most satisfied buyers in the industry and are often repeat buyers. That by itself speaks volumes about the brand.
Add an unparalleled level of reliability to that customer satisfaction and it’s clear why Lexus scores at or near the top of just about every reliability and customer satisfaction index.
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