PALM SPRINGS, Calif. -- Come along as we take a spin through frond-fringed passages of Palm Springs in what surely scores as the most sophisticated luxury sports sedan on our planet. That describes the 2006 GS 430 from Lexus, elite up-shoot brand from Toyota of Japan.
This stunning machine, projecting a bullet-shaped body as fluid as quicksilver, represents the top model for a new generation of designs on the mid-size GS series with a two-inch stretch in the wheelbase and an inch more in width on the rear wheel track.
There's a big V8 tucked below that elongated hood, a super-stiff structure behind smooth sheetmetal and optimum mechanical hardware to rank it as a high-performance rear-wheel-drive (RWD) four-door sports car of world-class rank.
But that oval L-letter badge on the front grille of this car signifies it comes from the automaker that redefines the meaning for control of NVH (noise/vibration/harshness) and passenger comfort.
As a result, the car's five-seat cabin is draped in fine leather cowhides plus glossy hardwood and aluminum trimwork -- such extensive trappings of luxury that it easily out-classes comforts in the nearest luxury sport competitors from Europe.
Then there's the high-tech angle with an adaptive variable suspension and more computerized controls (and more acronyms to delineate those controls) than any other production car to-date. A key element is the new VDIM -- Vehicle Dynamics Integrated Management -- system on GS 430.
Tapping into a host of sensors -- tracking such vehicle functions as the angle of the steering wheel, the turn rate of each wheel, lateral motion of the car body, and pressure on brake and accelerator pedals -- the VDIM constantly analyzes all collected data and uses it to deploy various traction controllers and maintain stability.
The acronyms in car safety include the variable gear ratio steering (VGRS), electronically controlled brakes (ECB), anti-lock brake system (ABS), vehicle stability control (VSC), electronic traction control (ETC), brake assist (BA), plus electronically controlled throttle system with intelligence (ECTS-i).
Stability control devices on other cars merely react when the vehicle loses traction, but the Lexus VDIM system is pro-active in a design that actually anticipates a potentially dangerous situation developing and makes subtle corrections to brakes or throttle or steering in a way that's virtually transparent to the driver. In effect, VDIM enables the GS driver to perform at a level that's perhaps a step above innate skills -- you come off as an expert in car control even if you don't realize you are one.
GS cars from Lexus trace to debut designs of 1993, with improvements coming in the iterations of 1997 and 2000. GS for 2006, built on the longer and broader structure, splits into two editions based on engine size.
GS 430 packs the twin-cam Lexus 4.3-liter V8, which has sequential multi-port injection (SFI) and variable valve timing with intelligence (VVT-i).
It develops 300 hp at 5600 rpm and 325 lb-ft of torque at 3400 rpm.
And it's quick -- under six seconds for the 0-to-60 mph test and 14.2 seconds to the quarter-mile post.
Top speed, capped electronically, comes to 149 mph.
GS 300 replaces the previous six-in-line engine with a new 3.0-liter V6 that develops higher torque across a broader band plus enhanced fuel economy figures for ULEV-level emission control.
The V6 with direct injection and VVT-i runs up to 245 hp at 6200 rpm with torque reaching 230 lb-ft at 3600 rpm. GS 300 hits 60 mph in 6.8 seconds and passes the quarter-mile mark in 15.4 seconds. Both plants operate through a new close-ratio six-speed automatic transmission which has a sequential manual shifter with gated lever on the center console.
And here's a new twist for Lexus: GS 300 adds optional all-wheel-drive (AWD) traction for Snow Belt states. The AWD device brings a wet-type multi-disc clutch and planetary gear set in the transfer case, with electronic controls to measure wheel speed and yaw rates, but hydraulic controls to modulate the torque split ratio front/rear -- from customary 30/70 percent to a maximum of 50/50. Thus, the AWD version usually behaves like a rear-drive vehicle although it can quickly shift to AWD mode on slippery roads.
Both GS 300 and GS 430 appear poised for action in sporty low stance with a long hood and windswept windshield. Flanks are taut and the silhouette is curvaceous but so smooth it scores a coefficient of drag figure of only 0.27.
Sporty body elements are apparent -- a thick front valance with broad air inlet and integrated foglamps, rocker extensions below side doors, the stubby tail treatment with tall rear valance and twin exhaust pipes tipped in stainless steel.
The GS cockpit orients toward the principal participant, the driver. There are two bolstered bucket seats flanking a floor console, the steering wheel finished in wood and leather, and an instrument panel with 160-mph analog speedometer and tachometer plus an electronic digital odometer.
Interestingly, the gauge cluster is covered by a lens of variable transparency capable of changing the lens diffusion in different light conditions to enhance viewing. Centered on the dash is a large touch screen for controlling cabin features like climate and audio systems.
Standard equipment on all issues includes leather upholstery and memory controls for seats with seat heaters, a keyless Smart Access system with push-button starter, in-dash CD changer, high intensity discharge (HID) headlights, and a host of air bags like side curtains and front-seat knee shields.
Options are limited to a DVD navigation system with rear backup camera, Park Assist, a moonroof, ventilated front seats and a power-controlled rear sunshade, a Pre-Collision System (PCS) to reduce collision damage, and a deluxe Mark Levinson audio system with 14 speakers.
Despite adding so much hardware and sophisticated control systems, Lexus holds price points near the level of previous GS models. MSRP for the 2006 GS 300 is $42,900, the AWD version is $44,850 and a GS 430 starts at $51,125.