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.
These switches on the Lexus GS 460's console maximize torque and put the suspension into sport mode.
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.
The Lexus GS 460 sits in the parking lot at Laguna Seca, waiting for us to run it on the track.
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.
The navigation system's maps, stored on DVD, offer very fine resolution.
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.
The Bluetooth system lets you import phone numbers into the car's phone book.
We had no trouble pairing our Samsung SGH-D807 phone to the GS 460, but the system didn't proactively download our contact list. Rather, once we entered the phonebook function in the car, we could send contacts to the car individually. This is more a limitation of our phone, as other phones will let you send your entire contact list at once. Although there are no buttons on the instrument panel for directly accessing the phone functions, the voice command system works well for this purpose.
The only other significant tech feature is the reverse camera and parking sensors, which come with the navigation and stereo package. The reverse camera doesn't offer advanced features, such as animated overlays that show the car's path, merely just the view behind the car.
Under the hood
The powertrain in the 2008 Lexus GS 460 is testament to what an automaker can do through efficient engineering. This 4.6-liter V-8, producing 342 horsepower, uses variable valve timing and the eight-speed automatic transmission to bring in impressive fuel economy. The EPA rates the GS 460 at 17 mpg city and 24 mpg highway. The tank average we saw during our test period was just over 20 mpg, at 20.4. That's an impressive figure, especially considering that it equals what we saw in the 3.5-liter V-6-powered Infiniti EX35, while offering about 50 more horsepower.
The GS 460 doesn't hold back the power to achieve this fuel economy, either. You can still stomp the gas pedal and roar--or rather, whisper--up to 60 mph in no time at all. Even though there are eight gears to get through, you don't feel the shifts, as the transmission seems programmed to change gears at optimal RPMs. Putting the transmission into sport mode, we were a little baffled to see a numeric gear indicator appear on the instrument cluster, and remain static no matter what gear the transmission was actually using. This number does show which gear you will be shifting from when you start using the manual mode, but we would prefer if the indicator showed the current gear, and let you enter manual mode from that point.
The eight-speed automatic offers a normal drive mode, a sport mode, and manual gear selection.
As we pointed out above, the steering lacks road feedback, although it precisely turns the wheels without too much play in the wheel. The suspension automatically tunes itself to road surface and driving style, although you can preempt all that and put it into sport mode, which delivers a more rigid ride and does a good job of keeping the car flat in the corners. You can also tune the torque, going from standard mode to a power setting, which dials in maximum torque, or a snow setting, which keeps torque low so as not to spin the wheels.
Further helping the road-holding performance and safety is Lexus' Vehicle Dynamics Integrated Management (VDIM), a system that takes input from multiple sensors, including wheel speed, steering angle, and brake pressure. These sensor inputs are used to regulate traction control, the steering ratio, and other car systems. During our track adventure with the GS 460, we felt some help from these systems as we put stress on the car around the corners. Essentially, it seemed to keep the back end from stepping out.
Beyond the fuel economy, the powertrain also delivers an Ultra Low Emissions Vehicle rating for the GS 460, an impressive feat for a car of this size and power.
The 2008 Lexus GS 460 shows up with a base price of $52,620. The major option package combines the navigation system and the premium Mark Levinson audio system, for $3,630. We had sundry other cosmetic and functional options on our test car, bringing the total, with $765 destination charge, to $59,318.
We give the GS 460 a high rating for performance, as it is amazing what Lexus wrings out of this V-8. And Lexus remains the only car maker with an eight-speed transmission. The sport gear on the car is also very impressive. The GS 460 earns a good rating for cabin tech. The gadgets are all of good quality, but there are a lot of advanced features missing. On the design front, we like the touch-screen interface, and give it high marks for that, as well as the general practicality of the car.