Heads of state will agree, being driven is the most dignified mode of transportation. Add to that the fact that the Lexus GS 350 has been driven and reviewed multiple times by Jack Baruth AND Alex Dykes, and you will understand why I chose to review the Lexus GS 350 from a position of power: From the back seat. Which, after all, is the most appropriate perspective to view a luxury vehicle from.
My normal driver Matthias had to remain back in China, due to visa problems. Thankfully, Martin Koelling, East Asia correspondent of Germany’s Handelsblatt, volunteered as a stand-in. I’d say he looks the part of a Brooklyn livery driver. I climb into the back seat, and off we go.
Let’s inspect my area first. Nice leather seats, burgundy red. I would have preferred black leather in a black car, but this is the F Sport version of the GS 350. If you had to ask, in Japan, this car would set your trust-fund back 6.8 million yen ($87,500) for the rear-wheel drive version, and $90,000 for the all-wheel-drive version.
When the rear seat center armrest is down, a hatch is revealed that lets you access the trunk of the car. Comes in handy if you work for the Yakuza, and you want to demonstrate your compassion by feeding peeled grapes to the two people you had locked in the trunk.
There is no TV screen in the back. It would not be necessary. The 12.3 inch high res display in the dashboard, the world’s largest in a mass-production vehicle, is big enough to be read back from where I sit.
I sit in comfort. Headroom is perfect for this 6 foot frame. Legroom is ample, especially when the front seat is pushed forward. Legroom behind the driver’s seat: Not so much. It’s lonely at the top.
Meanwhile, driver Martin has found his way out of the lush park that surrounds the Grande Ocean Resort, and it is time to demonstrate our empathy for the help by inquiring how he’s doing up front. He answers:
“That mouse takes a little getting used to. I am used to a touch screen, not to a mouse. It’s not bad, it’s different. Whenever you learn something new, you need to negotiate your way through it first.”
Asked about the ride quality, driver Martin says:
“The ride is taut, yet gentle. Japanese motorways have many seams, because of the earthquakes, the roads have to be able to move, via interlocked steel bands. That’s why in the olden days, Japanese cars always were softer sprung than their German equivalents.”
A car for executives must be able to accelerate without breaking the back of the principal. You want him to be happy, not being smashed into the backrest by exploding g-forces. Martin thinks the Lexus is doing a fine job.
“The acceleration is fine. We are in Sport+ mode. I drove the Nissan Fuga Hybrid the other day, and it has an acceleration fitting for a jet fighter, not for a chauffeur driven car, it pulls your socks off. The Lexus accelerates with verve, but not as brutally and unrefined as the Nissan.”
“This cockpit is something for people who don’t like to fuss around. Nice armrest, you can steer with your fingertips, everything is within reach of your fingertips, you barely have to raise a hand. This is my first time in this car, and all is where it should be.”
“Look, the up button has a raised label, the down button has the label sunk.”
If you spend as much time in a car as a professional driver, you want good seats. And, says Martin,
“the seats are super, especially compared to the old Lexus. Seats feel like made to measure. I could work here all day without getting tired – something I definitely cannot say for the old GS.”
“with a regular screen, the map goes away if you operate, say, the radio. Here, a window on the side goes up, and the map stays. I like it.”
Martin doesn’t just like the screen, he likes the whole car.
“Spoken as a chauffeur, l would say this is the perfect chauffeur’s car.”
I like how Martin drives. Should forest-based media completely go away, there is always the possibility for a second career.
My legroom was fine, but I would like to have a companion sometimes who can stretch her finely shaped legs.
The next day, I inquire with Lexus chief Kiyotaka Ise (the engineer) about the possibility of a long version. He does not like the idea. It would destroy the finely tuned balance of the car, Ise says. Sure, sure, but what about China? An upscale car must have a long version for China, no? Ise answers carefully
“For China, we may have to rethink our strategy in this regard.”
Lexus paid for airfare, hotel, gas, food,even the toll.