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1996 LEXUS GS300 SEDAN

SEE ALSO: Lexus Rover Buyer's Guide

BY: CAREY and BILL RUSS

The history of the Lexus marque is nothing less than inspiring. In seven short years Lexus has become a cultural icon and the standard by which luxury cars are measured in this country. Lexus achieved success by giving American luxury car buyers the comfort and features they wanted at a competitive price, and has forced other luxury manufacturers to match it for technical and comfort specifications.

The Lexus product line started with the top-of-the-line LS400 and the entry-luxury ES250 sedans in 1989, and began to grow with the introduction of the SC400 sports coupe in 1991. 1993 saw two cars powered by a 3-liter inline 6-cylinder engine: the SC300 sports coupe and this week's test car, the GS300 sports-luxury sedan.

The GS300 is a unique car. Based on a show car designed by famed Italian stylist Giugiaro and sharing an engine with the Lexus SC300 and Toyota Supra sports coupes, it has the proper credentials to be the sports sedan of the line. However, unlike many other sporting sedans, the GS300 features spacious accommodations. Being a Lexus, it is first and foremost quiet, refined, and luxurious.

The GS300 has some modifications for the 1996 model year. The taillights and rear body panel have been restyled. Side-impact protection has been added to the doors. And, all examples have a very special 5-speed automatic transmission that helps improve both performance and fuel economy. I recently spent a week with a 1996 Lexus GS300 and found it to be a great mid-level luxury sedan with plenty of sporting character and style.

APPEARANCE: The GS300 owes its distinctive styling to a show car developed by Giorgetto Giugiaro's Ital Design studio. Minor changes by Lexus engineers in Japan made it ready for production. The most striking features of the car is its long, rounded passenger cabin and short, high rear deck. Wraparound headlamps and a chrome-trimmed grille in front give the GS the Lexus family appearance. The rear panel, taillights, and badging have been restyled for 1996. Chrome-plated wheels are now a factory option.

COMFORT: Lexus made its reputation on passenger comfort and the GS300 only enhances that reputation. A good synthetic material is standard for seat coverings and interior trim, with leather available. There is just enough walnut trim to give a luxury feeling without being ostentatious. The long cabin means plenty of room inside, especially for rear seat passengers. The front seats are power- adjustable, and the steering wheel has power-assisted tilt and telescopic adjustability, with an automatic tilt-away feature making driver access easier. Windows and door locks are also power- operated. All seats are extremely comfortable. The contoured bench back seat is one of the best in the business, although any center passenger had best be small. Very good climate control and sound systems add to the luxury ambience.

SAFETY: The Lexus GS300 has all of the current safety features as standard equipment, including dual front airbags, 1997-specification side-impact protection, 4-wheel vented antilock disc brakes, and a rigid cabin with front and rear crush zones. A remote entry system is also standard, as are vehicle and audio system theft-deterrence features. Traction control is optional.

ROADABILITY: The GS300 is a luxury sports-touring sedan, meant for comfortable and enjoyable travel over any distance. "Luxury touring" has greater emphasis then "sports", resulting in a composed, compliant ride with none of the harshness often found in pure sports sedans. When necessary, as in abrupt lane changes or a challenging back road, the GS gets right down to business thanks to some refinements to the fully-independent suspension and new speed-sensitive power steering.

PERFORMANCE: The inline six-cylinder engine design is inherently balanced and smooth, making it a good choice for a luxury car. The one in the GS300 has dual overhead cams and 24 valves,displacing 3 liters and providing 220 horsepower. It drives the rear wheels through a very trick 5-speed electronically-controlled automatic transmission. Other 5-speed automatics have an extra gearset. The one in the GS300 uses the overdrive gear on both first and third to get 5 close gear ratios with no weight penalty. Electronic and hydraulic control modifications do the job well, and it makes a noticeable improvement on the road.

CONCLUSIONS: The Lexus GS300 combines Italian-inspired styling with Japanese quality and dependability to make it a good sports-luxury sedan for American tastes.

SPECIFICATIONS:
1996 LEXUS GS300 SEDAN

Base Price                              $ 45,700
Price As Tested                         $ 51,365
Engine Type                             inline 6, dohc, 24 valves
Horsepower                              220 @ 5800
Torque (lb-ft)                          210 @ 4800
Wheelbase / Length                      109.4 in. / 194.9 in.
Transmission                            5-speed EC automatic
Curb Weight                             3,660 lbs.
Pounds Per Horsepower                   16.6
Fuel Capacity                           21.1 gal.
Fuel Requirement                        unleaded premium
Tires                                   215/60 VR 16 steel-belted radial
Brakes                                  4-wheel vented antilock disc
Drivetrain                              front engine, rear drive

                    PERFORMANCE

EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon
    city / highway / observed           18/24/22
0 to 60 mph                             8.3 sec.
1/4 mile (E.T.)                         16.3 sec.
Coefficient of Drag (cd)                .31

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