2002 Lexus GS 430 Reviews and Ratings

Sedan 4D GS430

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2002 Lexus GS 430
Mitch McCullough, Editor-in-Chief

The GS is the bad boy of the Lexus sedan family, the one with the most aggressive personality and most eccentric styling. Last year, the top-level GS 430 acquired a new 4.3-liter 300-horsepower V8 with 325 foot-pounds of torque. That extra boost propelled the GS 430 from 0 to 60 mph in less than 6 seconds, quicker than comparable models from Acura, Audi, BMW, and Mercedes-Benz.

While the GS 430 gets the headlines, don't underestimate the punch of the GS 300. With 220 horsepower from its six-cylinder engine, the GS 300 squirts from 0 to 60 mph in just 7.8 seconds. Both GS sedans are fun to drive and deliver impressive handling, supreme comfort, and typical Lexus build quality, which is consistently ranked among the best in the industry. Model Lineup
Two models are available: the six-cylinder GS 300 ($38,605) and the V8-powered GS 430 ($47,405).

The GS 300 engine is a high-output, 220-horsepower 3.0-liter inline-6. The wickedly fun GS 430 comes with a 4.3-liter double overhead-cam V8 that produces 300 horsepower. Both are equipped with five-speed electronically controlled automatic transmissions, but the GS 300 features E-Shift manual controls on the spokes of the steering wheel.

In addition to the more potent engine, the GS 430 provides leather for the seats, steering wheel, and door panels; memory for the driver's seat, outside mirrors and steering column; high-intensity discharge (HID) headlights, and slightly wider P225/55R16 tires.

A leather package for the GS 300 costs $1,660. DVD navigation, a six-disc CD changer, and a Mark Levinson audio system are also offered, either individually or as a $7,945 package.

The GS 430 we drove featured the $2,520 Premium Package, which includes a six-disc in-dash CD changer, power moonroof, and heated front seats. Walkaround
The Lexus GS makes a statement from all angles. From the side, it presents a dramatically sloping nose, with the lower edge of the windshield pushed well forward. Its graceful roofline arches back to a stubby rear deck. A chrome strip surrounds the side windows and accents the shape of the glass. This strikes an interesting contrast with the flat black window posts. For engineering reasons, the rear door glass is divided into a panel that rolls down, and separate fixed pane, a compromise which breaks up the otherwise graceful sweep of glass.

Unique football-shaped headlamps sweep up and back into the fenders. Large multi-lens taillights wrap around to the sides, reaffirming the same statement from behind. Small, separate brake lights add interest at the rear. At the bottom of the rear fascia, a gentle, race car-like curl between the twin tailpipes improves aerodynamics. New six-spoke aluminum wheels say the GS430 means business.

An optional rear spoiler ($440) heightens the GS 430's appearance as a high-performance sedan, but we question its function and think the car looks cleaner without it.

Some critics have charged that Lexus cars, though nearly flawless in quality, are lacking in character. Clearly, this is not the case with the GS series. Interior
Lots of leather, tasteful applications of wood, thick carpeting and a refined overall design provide a pleasant environment inside the GS 430. It manages to feel roomy and cozy at the same time. However, the combination of a high dashboard and low headliner inspired a bit of claustrophobia in some of us. Keeping the sunshade for the moonroof drawn back lightens and brightens the cabin substantially.

The GS 430 instrument panel is a refreshing departure from other designs from Japan. Turn on the ignition, and a black panel illuminates to reveal gauges with black markings on white faces, all lit from the rear. The intensity of the backlighting automatically varies with ambient light. The gauges are handsome, creatively designed and easy to read. The compass in the rear-view mirror is a nice touch.

The remote releases for the fuel tank and trunk, located low on the left side of the dash, are initially hard to find. And the center armrest obscures the seat-heat buttons.

Audio and climate controls are logically laid out and easy to use, with separate heating and cooling settings for driver and passenger. A hydrocarbon sensor automatically switches to the system into recirculation mode, blocking contaminated air from entering the cabin.

An optional touch-screen fills the center of the dash, and also handles stereo and climate control functions. The Navigation System Package ($4,520) includes everything in the previously mentioned Premium Package, and adds the Lexus DVD-based navigation system, which is even faster for 2002.

The Mark Levinson stereo costs $5,945 on the GS 300, and $3,770 on the GS 430. The standard audio setup in the GS is already very good, but the eight-speaker, ultra-powerful Levinson leviathan is a must if you are a music lover. Plus, it comes with an in-dash, six-CD changer, which is far more convenient than fiddling with the standard six-CD magazine that mounts in the glove box. The Mark Levinson audio can be bundled together with the Navigation System in a single package that costs $2,500 less than if you ordered them separately.

Opening and closing the power windows and moonroof is a one-touch operation. A sensor stops the window or roof panel and warns the driver when anything (such as a child or pet) is blocking its path. The supplied keyless remote can be used to operate the windows and/or moonroof automatically, depending on the season. A hidden electric garage-door opener can be programmed for nearly all frequencies.

The view out the front of the GS 430 is excellent, but the rear view is restricted somewhat by the rear headrests and wide C-pillars. Lexus GS models come standard with seat-mounted side-impact airbags.

The trunk lid raises a full 90 degrees, and the lift-over height is low for easy loading and unloading. At 14.8 cubic feet, cargo capacity is comparable to that of other cars of its size. Driving Impressions
The GS 430 can accelerate from 0 to 60 mph in less than 6 seconds, putting it in a league with some of the world's best sport sedans and even with some thoroughbred sports cars. It delivers acceleration comparable to the BMW 540i with its 282-horsepower V8; and both cars stomp the outgoing Mercedes-Benz E320 with its 221-horsepower V6.

Lexus redesigned its 4.3-liter V8 engine before slipping it into the GS 430. It boasts four camshafts (dohc) and 32 valves. Variable valve timing allows it to deliver strong torque at low engine speeds, while providing healthy horsepower at higher speeds. (This would have been much more difficult with fixed valve timing.) The GS 430 V8 produces 300 horsepower and 325 foot-pounds of torque. Strong low-rpm torque gives the GS 430 plenty of around-town cruising power, and allows it to sprint away from intersections. In spite of its impressive acceleration, the GS 430 nets an EPA-rated 23 mpg on the highway.

The GS 300 is motivated by a 220-horsepower inline-six. It can make the run to 60 mph in a quick 7.8 seconds, which is still quicker than the outgoing Mercedes-Benz E320. Yet the GS 300 boasts a 25-mpg EPA highway rating. Its top speed is electronically governed at 144 mph, while the GS 430 is governed at 149 mph. The GS 300 doesn't have all the features of the GS 430 and it certainly isn't as fast, but its price is $8,800 less.

All Lexus GS sedans come with a five-speed electronically controlled automatic transmission and a console shifter. The transmission is designed to be shifted manually as well. The top half of the shift gate has the familiar PRND markings. To the left of Drive is M for manual. Pulling the shifter toward the left permits manually downshifting and upshifting using the shift lever. The GS 300 can also be shifted by using the Formula 1 racing-inspired buttons on the front and back of the steering wheel. Pushing the button on the front of the steering wheel downshifts one gear. Pushing the button behind the wheel upshifts one gear. A readout at the bottom of the speedometer displays the selected gear. Electronics prevent downshifting above the engine's redline.

Like all true high-performance cars, the Lexus GS uses rear-wheel drive. With all that horsepower, right-foot gratification is instantaneous and substantial, especially with the V8. In fact, drivers inexperienced with such a muscular abundance of horsepower may find themselves intimidated the first few times they apply full throttle. The GS 430 practically leaps off the road when you floor it, and surges with seemingly unlimited power as it passes other vehicles on the highway. Yet its sound is very subtle, a high-tech mechanical note rather than the angry racket of a Corvette's V8. However, the force pushing you back in your seat is very Corvette-like.

Under normal driving conditions, however, the GS 430 is a perfect gentleman. It is sedate and effortless, but provides just enough steering effort to instill that firm feeling of control often missing in luxury cars. Its ride quality is more like a BMW than a Cadillac: firm, but not harsh. The suspension absorbs road variations, while providing reassurance in tight turns and fast sweepers.

Stellar acceleration is backed up by big, high-performance brakes. The GS 430 stops quickly and without drama. Anti-lock (ABS) with electronic traction control and Vehicle Skid Control (VSC) are standard. Also included is Brake Assist, which interprets a quick push on the pedal as emergency braking and automatically supplements braking power. It's an excellent safety feature, as research has shown that many of us do not push the brake pedal as hard as we could in an emergency. Vehicle Skid Control monitors the car's direction vs. the position of the steering wheel, and if they are not consistent with one another, brakes one or more wheels to correct the car's course. VSC can be switched off via a console-mounted button.

Handling is excellent on winding roads. It probably isn't necessary, but an optional Upgraded Tire Package ($215) boosts the GS 430's cornering with a set of 235/45ZR-17 Bridgestone Potenza RE030's. We didn't drive a GS 430 with the larger tires, but we would be concerned that their shorter, stiffer sidewalls might degrade the car's superb ride quality. The standard 225/55VR16 Michelins stick just fine.

The GS 430 comes standard with high-intensity discharge (HID) headlamps, which throw a wide low-beam pattern with bright, sharply defined edges. (These lights are optional on the GS 300.) Though the light appears blue/white, especially compared to the yellow of more conventional headlights, it is actually a very white hue. They work great. Summary
Buyers considering a BMW 5 Series or Mercedes-Benz E-Class should look closely at a GS 430. The Lexus GS 430 delivers awe-inspiring performance and a head-turning exterior design. There are very few sports sedans on the road today that can run with this V8-powered Lexus.

The six-cylinder GS 300 offers the same refined chassis, dramatic styling, and fine appointments, although some of them may be optional. While not as beastly fast as the GS 430, it can still out-run some big-name European imports. More important, it's simply a wonderful car.

Model as tested
GS 430 ($47,405)
Basic Warranty
4 years/50,000 miles
Assembled in
Tahara, Japan
Destination charge
Gas guzzler tax
Base Price
Price as tested
Options as tested
Rear spoiler ($440); Premium Package ($2,520) includes in-dash 6-disc CD changer, power moonroof, heated front seats

Model Line Overview
Model lineup
GS 300 ($38,605); GS 430 ($47,405)
Safety equipment (standard)
dual front airbags, seat-mounted front side-impact airbags, ABS with Brake Assist, Vehicle Skid Control, Child Restraint Seat tether anchor brackets, three-point seat belts for all positions including rear center, front seat belt force limiters and pretensioners
Safety equipment (optional)
4.3-liter dohc 32-valve V8
5-speed automatic

Specifications as Tested
air conditioning with dual zone control, electrochromic mirrors, walnut trim, leather seating surfaces and interior trim, leather-wrapped steering wheel (with audio controls), memory system for seats, mirrors and steering column, outside temperature gauge, one-touch power windows, power locks, remote entry, power front seats, high-intensity discharge headlamps, AM/FM/cassette stereo

Engine & Transmission
4.3-liter dohc 32-valve V8
Drivetrain type
rear-wheel drive
Horsepower (hp @ rpm)
300 @ 5600
EPA fuel economy, city/hwy
Torque (lb.-ft. @ rpm)

Brakes, front/rear
disc/disc with ABS and Brake Assist
Suspension, front
Suspension, rear

Seating capacity
Head/hip/leg room, middle
Head/hip/leg room, front
Head/hip/leg room, rear

Fuel capacity
Trunk volume
Turning circle
Towing capacity
Track, front/rear
Ground clearance
Curb weight

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