We've covered a lot of German luxury cars on TestDrive over the past 2 years, including some of the most iconic models BMW and Mercedes-Benz had to offer, but we've always been curious to see what Japanese luxury felt like. We've seen plenty of them on the road over the years, but driving is believing, so we met up with a local enthusiast down in Bromont, Québec to see what his 20 year old Lexus GS 400 was all about.
Before the questions start rolling in, the black hood on this Lexus is not the owner's intention of modding the car, rather it's a replacement hood for one that got a little beat up recently. He's assured us that the original cinnabar pearl metallic will be applied to the hood once he has a chance, but we were excited to get behind the wheel of the car as-is.
Considering the car is almost 20 years old, we felt the design is still very fresh and looks younger than it really is. While the German giants were still crafting squared off corners for their lineup, Lexus took the smoother route when sculpting their designs. Perhaps Hyundai took some cues for the 2001 Sonata and later for the Kia Amanti, but I suppose if you're going to copy your neighbour's homework, you might as well copy from the best.
The rear end of this car is the best aspect of it's design. The factory rear deck spoiler helps to add some sport to this sedan and would probably look strange without. The quad brake lights are unique to Lexus' design at this time and make this car standout from the rest of the pack. Speaking of which, we've had the chance to drive the direct competitors of this vehicle with the 2001 BMW 540i M Sport and a little higher performance with the 2002 Mercedes-Benz E55 AMG, so we're able to speak from experience when it comes to vehicles in this segment. While the Lexus has an extra 10hp on the BMW, we felt the BMW 540i provided better acceleration, transmissions shifts, and overall ride compared with the GS 400. We won't compare performance with the E55 AMG though.
Design both interior and exterior will always be subjective, but all 3 of these mid-size luxury cars have something going for them. The BMW's interior is top-notch with driver-oriented controls and optionals upgrades like navigation being a big plus for us, even with older maps. Lexus didn't offer navigation in Canada until the 2001 vehicle refresh. The Mercedes W210 E-Class definitely feels the most dated, with an interior design dating back to the early 80s, but with tech like a digital cluster computer and options like parking sensors and navigation scoring points in our books too. The exterior styling is a toss up for us. The Lexus looks good to us, but to many can feel dated, much like the Mercedes. With the right colour, such as this cinnabar pearl, or spectra blue help make this car stand out, unfortunately most GS models ended up being grey, beige, or black.
Moving back to a focus only on the GS 400, the interior started to make a lot of sense the more we drove the car. We mention in our Spotlight that the interior feels well crafted, with every element of the interior cabin having a purpose and place. Unlike some newer interiors we've reviewed, the GS feels like everything was designed with careful thought and understanding of the buyer's needs, whereas other cars feel like things are slapped on with pieces from the parts bin. We joke that the interior buttons are ideal for the aging population, but truthfully they work well despite feeling much like the Toyota Camry.
And that's not necessarily a bad thing. It's rare that we find ourselves enjoying an interior with limited technology, but the GS nails it for us. It might have helped that we found the seating and interior space to be fantastic, including the rear seats. I always get in the back of the cars we review, even if it's just to get some interior footage and photos, but I was tempted to ask the owner to drive me around for a portion of the video. Those rear seats really hugged your back as you sat in them, and the rear leg room was really good for this class of vehicle. Taking 4 adults for a trip shouldn't be a problem, and the rear seating area should work great if you want to use the 2GS as a family car.
Overall we were very impressed with the 1998 Lexus GS 400. It's amazing to see a car like this with over 208,000km in such great shape both physically and mechanically. It's the main reason why earlier Lexus models like this are still on the road and being sold for more than their BMW and Mercedes counterparts. Reliability is certainly a key factor when it comes to the Lexus brand, and it's certainly something we've found to be the case when researching this car on various forums. There aren't a lot of common problems with the second generation GS, front control arms seem to be the most common, with smaller issues like sunroof and dashboard rattling being more of an annoyance than a side-of-the-road problem.
We always recommend to join a local enthusiast group and forum when purchasing a car like this. The Lexus forum community is a great resource for new owners to learn how to wrench on their vehicles, or find out tips and tricks about their Lexus. We find that plenty of cars like this are making it into the high-mileage club, and keeping up on the maintenance is the best way to make a car last. Find one in good shape with service history and it will last you a lot longer than you might expect, and you might get lucky by finding a car like this for sale by the original owner.
We hope to feature many other Lexus models here on TestDrive and have several more lined up for the end of 2017. For more information about this car, you can watch our full episode of TestDrive Spotlight on this 1998 Lexus GS 400 on YouTube below: