The 2008 Lexus GS 460 works as a good example of powertrain engineering, where Lexus took its existing GS model and dropped in the engine and transmission that it launched in the 2007 LS 460. We were very impressed with this powertrain in the LS for its fuel economy, and it loses nothing in the smaller GS 460. Of course, being a Lexus, this car also offers a very comfortable cabin with a solid array of technology, from a rich graphical interface to a superb-sounding Mark Levinson audio system. None of this cabin tech is particularly cutting-edge at this point, but it all works well. What really surprised us about this car was its performance, when we drove it for a couple of laps around the Laguna Seca race track.
Test the tech: Secret racer
Our first encounter with the 2008 Lexus GS 460 happened to be at Laguna Seca, where it sat among the cars we could take out for a couple of high-speed laps. Given Lexus' reputation for luxury over sport, we weren't expecting anything more than some comfortable sightseeing through the corkscrew, Laguna Seca's most notorious set of turns. We knew the 4.6-liter V-8 under the hood, with its 342 horsepower, would push the car along pretty well, but at Laguna Seca, it's the turns that count.
A set of switches on the console let us put the suspension in Sport mode and tune the engine for maximum torque. The automatic transmission in this car, which has an impressive eight gears, has a sport mode and manual selection. We wanted to see how its sport program worked, so left it in that mode and rolled out onto the track.
Going into the first couple of corners, we expected a lot of body roll from this big, luxurious sedan, but the GS 460 surprised us by staying relatively flat. And although we didn't feel an aggressive downshift, the transmission put the car in the right gear to give us plenty of power coming out of the turns. On the uphill straightaway just after turn 5, the V-8 proved more than adequate, giving us plenty of acceleration. By the time we took the dive into turn 6, we were gaining confidence with this luxury cruiser.
As with all the cars we drove this day, we took it easy through the corkscrew, but blasted down through subsequent turns 9 and 10. The GS 460 handled this long "S" maneuver well, again staying flat and keeping its tires gripping the road. After the tight turn 11, we used the quarter-mile straightaway to floor the gas, and the GS 460 gracefully accelerated right to the top.
With the first lap under our belts, we had confidence to push the GS 460 even faster through the corners on the second lap. We were impressed with the suspension, which uses electric actuators on the sway bars to counteract body roll. The suspension actually has four modes, Sport, which you can select, and three others that are chosen by the car based on road feel and driving style. The power steering is also electrically driven. Unfortunately, the steering offers little feedback to the driver in favor of an easy-to-turn luxury feel. Although the GS460 performed surprisingly well on the track, the wheel doesn't make you feel like you are driving a sports sedan.
In the cabin
The design of the 2008 Lexus GS 460's cabin is tastefully executed, with nice materials and big, round buttons inset around the big touch-screen LCD at the center of the instrument panel. The buttons around the LCD let you choose major functions, such as destination entry, maps, or the stereo system, while the touch screen lets you input the fine details, such as a street address. There is also a voice command system that works reasonably well. One thing we like about the voice command is that, instead of having you first say an application command, such as navigation or audio, you can just say a specific command, for example dialing a phone number or searching for a specific type of restaurant. Although it is easy to start using navigation or the audio system, the phone menu is buried under the Information menu.
We like the quality of the maps on the navigation system. The lines are cleanly drawn, the colors are nice, and the resolution makes them easy to read. The system also offers a very full points-of-interest database and a variety of methods for entering destinations, including by freeway entrance and GPS coordinates. But other than those points, the system doesn't offer any particularly advanced technology. The maps are stored on a DVD, although we never noticed much hesitation or lag from the system. Route guidance offers useful graphics to indicate upcoming turns, but the system doesn't have text-to-speech, so it can't read out the names of streets. And it doesn't have live traffic reporting, which would have been nice during our test period with the car.
Lexus bundles the navigation system with an upgraded Mark Levinson audio system, which produces excellent sound. There are 14 speakers around the cabin, including 3 in each front door, 2 in each rear door, and 2 on the rear deck, along with a subwoofer and center fill. These speakers are powered by an 11-channel 330-watt amplifier, resulting in very clear reproduction with solid bass that doesn't distort or rattle the speakers when the volume is up. The only thing lacking with the stereo were audio sources, which were just basic. Our car merely had a six-disc changer that can read MP3 CDs and DVDs, and an auxiliary input jack. XM satellite radio and iPod integration are also available. These choices felt a little spare next to those of the Infiniti EX35, which we recently reviewed.