When Lexus announced the GS300 name would be replacing the GS200t, I was intrigued. When Lexus told me I was getting the new GS300 for a week, I was ecstatic. A 1999 GS300 has been a mainstay of my family for the last seven years. I even took my now wife to prom in that same GS300 Junior and Senior year of High School. Bringing back the GS300 name after last using it in 2006 was a bold move by Lexus, but a move that I think will pay off.
A lot of things have changed over the last twenty years. My younger sister, a senior in college who drives the 1999 GS300 shown here, was born the first year the 2nd generation of GS300 started production. In those twenty years though, the GS is still easily recognizable. The tall posterior line and minimal dimension changes lead to a vehicle that has aged quite well no matter the generation. In that time, the 300 has only grown two inches in width and length. The design language has certainly evolved though. Since the second generation GS300 ended production in 2005, Lexus has completely changed how their vehicles look. From the more rounded off 3rd generation into the sharp 4th gen currently occupying the GS slot. The controversial spindle grill, large (and optional) 18” wheels, and aggressive accents have left a legacy of understated, seemingly boring vehicles behind.
The 2018 interior is unsurprisingly a huge leap in quality, technology, and overall feel. When entering the new GS, one of the first things you notice is the massive screen, measuring just over 12” wide. Thankfully, Toyota has spurred the beckon of the all controlling screen though, providing ample physical controls for the climate control and radio, quite similar to the 1999 GS300. You’ll be grateful for these buttons as the mouse style controls for the infotainment screen can be…interesting. While the haptic and weighted feedback is helpful, it is still frustrating when the you continually pass the option you are trying to select. Thankfully Lexus added a select button on both sides as you are less likely to move from your option when pressing down then in the previous iteration. The Lexus Premium Sound System in the 1999 is great, but the new Mark Levinson system is just blissful. There was not a single song or genre the speakers did not broadcast well. The combination of radar cruise control and a blissful audio experience made commutes something to enjoy rather than loathe.
Handling and ride are also surpassingly similar in the two vehicles. Weighing in at less than 150 lbs difference (36xx vs 38xx), the new GS definitely does not feel like a bigger car. It also retains the front engine, rear wheel powered drivetrain at a time many companies are running away from it. Body roll is definitely less noticeable in the 2018, which boosted my confidence very quickly and allowed me to really trust that the car could do whatever I liked. Somehow, Lexus managed this while actually provide a similar if not superior ride to that of the original car with its smaller wheels, bigger tires, and softer suspension.
The 2.0L Turbo is a far departure from the original 2JZ found in the 1999 GS300, but when further examining the numbers, you’d be hard pressed to find a car all that much different. The 2018 has 20 more horsepower to pull around an extra 180 lbs. this means both cars, nearly 20 years apart, achieve a 0-60 of just under 6 seconds. While not blistering, it is plenty for day-to-day driving. The biggest difference is in how they feel. The adored 2JZ, 3.0L I6 is no more. It is replaced a four cylinder turbo many people are still unsure about. This is part of the reason for the name change. From 20__ through 2017, this was known as the GS200t. After lackluster sales numbers and a midscale refresh, Lexus decided that the “300” moniker might be more accepted. The 2JZ was attached to a very low geared 5 speed automatic transmission. This meant instant torque and a straight six engine that loved to be revved up. In the 2018, turbo lag is present for a split second before the vehicle starts to pull in a matter very recognizable to that of old. The real payback of the new setup is in fuel economy. In the 1997 GS300, 18mpg would be a hard goal to reach, meanwhile the 8 speed transmission and small displacement engine combination in the 2018 manages a respectable 25 or more. That is, as long as you can stay out of boost. Fuel economy drops very quickly to a measly 20 or so, but this is still above what the 2JZ could ever eek out.
Two decades later and the GS is a much different car. The technology has changed, the engine has changed, and the styling is night and day. Through all this though, the engineers and designers at Lexus have managed to keep the spirit of the GS in check. It’s not as quick as a sports car and it’s not as comfortable an executive sedan, but it gives you the perfect taste of both. It allows you to make that detour from your highway trip for a quick dash down a backroad without punishing you. It seats four comfortably, and it’s not going to land you in jail for going too fast.
So what does the next 20 years look like for the GS? Well that is still to be determined. I reached out to a Lexus PR representative and as of now the current generation GS is in indefinite production. Rumors have been swirling that the next gen GS may be dead in the water though. Slow sales and expensive development cost for new models may lead to the demise of a car I truly do love. If the GS does not die, other rumors mention that the next generation may be based on the front wheel drive ES platform. This is a true shame as the rear wheel drive sedan is dying a rather quick death as many companies switch to more fuel efficient and interchangeable front wheel drive platforms (like the Tiguan). What will actually happen? We shall see.
Long live the GS300.