The second-generation ‘S160’ Lexus GS, launched locally in September 1997, was an important mid-to-large sedan model intended to validate with Aussie buyers that the Japanese luxury marque be considered in the same breath as BMW and Mercedes-Benz.
Its predecessor, the ‘S140’, were essentially rebadged Toyotas and would only make their way to Oz the grey import route. The ‘S160’, though, help spearhead Lexus traction Down Under, pitching quality to match the Germans if with an indicatively Japanese(-built) twist and equipment-laden value.
It launched with the GS300 variant, roughly 5 Series and E-Class in size. And it quickly plied a reputation for big comfort, high refinement levels and quality build. At around $90k, it loaded in features that are commonplace now if indulgent for its late-’90’s era, such as leather trim, climate control, cruise control, powered driver’s seat with memory, power windows and mirrors and as evens-speaker six-CD-stacker sound system.
Motivation was quite ‘European’ in that the GS300 brought a similar (3.0-litre 2JZ-GE) straight-six petrol engine, (five-speed) automatic and rear-drive combination as offered by its BMW rival. And it certainly delivered handsomely in Lexus’ aims for comfort when it came to ride quality. The flipside, though, was that the GS styling was quite bland, its powertrain was – at 166kW and 298Nm with an 8.8-second 0-100km/h claim – quite leisurely and its cushy ride on modest 16-inch wheels brought dynamic compromises, with quite flaccid body control.
Oh, sure, there are twin-turbocharged Aristo version running about local terra firma. By they’re all grey imports and never made the local Lexus new car dealerships.
Caught in groundswell of late-’90s local interest in Japanese turbocharged performance, the Lexus quickly earned the stigma as an ‘old man’s’ land barge. But perception for what the luxury sedan would ultimate represent has become more widely appreciated with time.
By 1999 pricing had crept to around $94k and then $96k in 2000 and, for today’s used tyre-kicker, a peachy used example can make for a remarkably good value.
For 2001, the S160 Series II arrived, bringing mostly minor but worthwhile upgrades to what was an already solid formula. Wheel size grew to 17 inches, the five-speed auto added the Lexus ‘E-shift’ wheel-mounted shift buttons and everything from the headlights to much of the interior design got a bit of a spruce up, with even more bling and extra woodgrain effect (if you’re into that sort of thing).
Safety wise, the early run examples fit dual front and side airbags, ABS and traction control, while the MY21 update brought additional brake assist functionality for its four-wheel-disc hardware.
Lexus Australia would offer a limited 20-unit-only GS300 L-Tuned in 2003 to sex-up its luxo-sedan, a dealer-fit bundle of enhancements adding sport suspension, steering and exhaust enhancements, unique styling an 18-inch OZ wheels. And it asked a handsome $116k for the privilege in a package still quoting a modest 166kW for the 3.0L six.
Aussie buyers would have to wait for the third-generation S190, launched March 2005, for a kick up the tailpipes via the 4.3-litre V8 in a GS430, a nameplate that had already been offered in other markets in the gen-II GS.