I had just gotten off of a trans-Pacific flight from Cambodia, squeezed into economy for 17 hours, when I picked up the 2017 Lexus GS 200t from Roadshow HQ. My lower back was stiff and sore from being crammed into steerage, so I was looking forward to a cushy ride home in a luxury sport sedan.
I adjusted the lumbar support to full-on pressure and searched the center console for the heated seat switch. Not seeing it there, I looked at the climate controls. Nope. Not there either.
Then I remembered that the GS 200t was introduced in 2016 as an entry-level model for those who found the GS 350 out of their price range. Apparently, heated seats are not for the hoi polloi. Still, the GS 200t starts at $46,310, a price where heated seats should be standard. Instead they're part of a $1,400 premium package, which includes automatic wipers and a rear sunshade.
Powered by a turbocharged 2.0-liter engine, this rear-wheel drive sedan sports 241 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque. This is the same power plant found in a variety of Lexus' vehicles, including the smaller. The GS 200t can also be had in an variant with performance enhancements. For those looking for different drivetrains, the GS is also available with a 3.5-liter engine or as a hybrid.
Not even remotely user-friendly
I can't talk about Lexus without taking it to task for the nearly unusable Enform infotainment interface, with its Remote Touch controller. It's like a joystick designed by a disgruntled Atari employee, hell-bent on making sure fans of Pitfall will get eaten by computer-generated alligators. The feedback force is customizable, but it's still very inaccurate, over- or undershooting target buttons and just being a royal pain in the butt.
To add insult to injury, there is no Apple CarPlay or Android Auto, and no word on when or even if they will be integrated. Instead Lexus offers Siri Eyes Free, which activates Apple's Siri on your paired iPhone through the car's own voice command system, to send text messages, place calls and select music. It's not as convenient as your phone's interface, but it's a close second.
The Lexus App Suite gives you access to apps such as Yelp, Pandora, Stitcher and OpenTable. It took me a few tries to get the system to work, but once I learned the protocol I was able to use Yelp to find the best tacos in San Francisco and listen to my Stitcher playlist.
Navigation in the GS 200t is a $1,730 option. The 12.3-inch color display can be split so that one function occupies the left two thirds of the screen, with information about climate, audio, navigation, settings or phone displayed on the right third. The navigation system doesn't have one-box entry and using the Joystick From Hell to input an address is the worst, but the voice recognition system works pretty well. The navigation can route you around areas you want to avoid, helpful if you don't want to drive through a bad part of town or past your ex-boyfriend's new girlfriend's house.
New for 2017 is the inclusion of Lexus Safety System Plus as standard equipment. This adds a precollision braking system, intelligent high beams, lane-keeping alert with steering assist and adaptive cruise control. Unfortunately, the adaptive cruise control does not work at speeds under 25 mph, making it useless for stop-and-go traffic.
A lane-centering feature is supposed to keep you centered in the lane on a relatively straight road while adaptive cruise control is active. I didn't find it reliable on highways where lane markers were difficult to read.
A sport-ish sedan
Cruising along the highway, the GS 200t is like riding on a down-filled comforter. I felt a few of the bumps along the way, but the car provides a really comfortable ride. The steering especially, though light in feel, is as smooth as melted butter. The GS would be perfect for a long road trip.
But in the end, it's a sport sedan, so it was off to my supersecret proving grounds in the hills of Oakland, California. The GS has a Sport, Normal and Eco mode, and being the lead foot that I am, I immediately put the car in Sport and mashed the gas, the eight-speed automatic transmission putting the power down to the pavement through the rear wheels.
I was one hairpin turn into my drive and I realized the GS is not the corner-carving big brother to the IS 200t that I had hoped. There is a significant amount of body roll in the chassis and the suspension is tuned more for comfort than anything else. I was able to push it around the fast turns, but it was far from tidy.
Acceleration out of turns was fair. In Sport mode the transmission downshifted willingly, which is good, but acceleration is a little sluggish. If your idea of a good time is thrashing about the turns, you'll be happier going down a weight class to the IS 200t or up in power to the 3.5-liter engine.
In Normal mode the transmission takes all fun out of the equation, with quick upshifts and reluctant downshifts, all in the name of fuel economy. EPA fuel ratings are 22 miles per gallon in the city, 32 miles per gallon on the highway and 26 miles per gallon combined. That's on the low side when compared to the 2.0-liter turbocharged engines in the Cadillac CTS,and .
Still, the Lexus GS 200t, at $46,310, has the lowest starting price of those. My test model came with optional 18-inch wheels wrapped in summer tires a premium sound system and park assist, bringing it up to $50,070 with delivery. Although that's without heated seats.
As a heavy right foot, I would go with the larger 3.5-liter engine, but the Enform infotainment system is the real buzzkill here. You can ditch the upgraded navigation and get a rotary controller instead, but until Lexus redesigns the system and offers CarPlay and Android Auto, it's going to lag behind some of its more technologically competent competition.
The lack of standard heated seats and stop-and-go adaptive cruise control aside, I enjoyed my time in this midsize luxury sedan. It's not the tidiest thing around turns, but most folks in this market will find it an engaging ride at a good price.