Classic CARmentary: 1998 Lexus GS400

Another in a series of my reviews that appeared in the online version of African Americans On Wheels, a now defunct automotive magazine that was included as an insert in the Sunday newspapers of major cities.

Lexus (Toyota) nailed it with generation GS, a feat they were never able to duplicate.  The style, the power, and even the accompanying advertising campaign: “Something Wicked This Way Comes.”  Not one to let a good opportunity pass, we took the Lexus from our Arlington home up to visit my wife’s family in Connecticut.  The GS400 is one of those cars that you can just enjoy whether you’re moving or not, so the miserable traffic up the Northeast corridor bothered us less on this trip than on any prior trip.

If you’ve never experienced the aural feast of a well-balanced 32-valve V8 engine, let me just tell you it’s intoxicating.  Every chance I got, I revved the engine just to listen to it, sometimes getting dirty looks from my mother-in-law as a response.  The most memorable story from the week was on the drive home.  On the leg of the trip where my wife was driving, we were traveling through Baltimore on I-95 at around 10PM, and I was  just sitting back enjoying the scenery (or not, if you’re familiar with this part of I-95), and noticed that it felt like we were going fast.  In a car like the Lexus, 65 MPH feels at least half that fast because it’s so smooth and quiet.  Therefore, if it is “feeling” like we’re going fast, we’re probably not going anywhere close to the 55 MPH speed limit.  I leaned over to look at the speedometer, and saw that we going well over 100 MPH, and not intentionally, either.  I made her use cruise control the rest of the way home.

The below review ran on June 22, 1998, with the same manufacturer photo as above.

Three-hundred horsepower, 32-valve V8, 0 to 60 in under six seconds, 17-inch low-profile tires on five-spoke alloy wheels, and a five-speed automatic transmission with manual control via buttons on the three-spoke steering wheel. Sounds like the ingredients of an exotic sports car, doesn’t it? As the Germans learned many years ago, power and razor-sharp handling should not be limited to cramped, phallic-looking two-seaters. And now, with the all-new Lexus GS400, Toyota’s luxury division has learned that four-door sedans can ignite the soul.

While the Lexus LS400 has always been a premium sedan, the GS300 has been the sports sedan of the family. However, it was only available with a six-cylinder engine and felt underpowered. In addition to a complete redesign for 1998, Lexus also added a GS400 model by dropping in a slightly more powerful version of the 4.0 liter V8 found in the LS400. It turns the GS from an also-ran into a full-fledged competitor of the BMW 540i and Mercedes E430. The styling is daring, far more rakish and distinctive than its predecessor. It sits low, with a long 110-inch wheelbase and short 189-inch overall length. The front features a unique quad-headlamp design, with the outer lamps wrapping around the front fender next to smaller inset driving lamps (this theme is echoed by the taillights). The roof curves dramatically into the stubby tail, which distinguishes the GS from most other four-door sedans. I noticed several people doing double-takes as I raced by.

Inside are all of the features you would expect in a $50,000 car, including cushy leather seats, real wood inserts, side airbags, and vehicle skid control. The designers should be commended for providing probably the easiest to use climate and radio controls in a high-end luxury car, as well as for placing the CD-changer of the excellent Nakamichi stereo (optional) in the glove box instead of the trunk. Most impressive are the optional high-intensity discharge headlamps, which cast a wide, bright white light even with the high-beams off. As my wife commented, “It’s like having your own street light.” It’s worth every cent of the $500, and hopefully will be standard equipment on all cars someday.

Complaints: the trunk is small for this class, and the small rear window and high rear end hamper rear visibility; skip the optional rear-spoiler, which further hampers visibility.

If you’re dying for a Corvette, Porsche, or Ferrari but need room for the family, give this car a look.

For more information contact 1-800-872-5398


Type: 4-Door Sedan
Engine: 300-horsepower, 4.0 liter V8
Transmission: 5-Speed Automatic
EPA Mileage: 17 city/23 highway
Tested Price: $48,709

Whatever happened to HID headlamps, anyway?  They were popular for a while, but seemed to disappear.  Were they just too expensive?