2017 Lexus GS 200t Review - Goldilocks?

Chris Tonn
by Chris Tonn
Fast Facts

2017 Lexus GS 200t

2.0-liter DOHC inline four, turbocharged (241 horsepower @ 5,800 rpm; 258 lb-ft @ 1,650 rpm)
Eight-speed automatic, rear-wheel drive
22 city / 32 highway / 26 combined (EPA Rating, MPG)
23.4 (Observed, MPG)
Base Price
As Tested
Prices include $975 destination charge.

Midsized luxury cars are a tough sell these days. The SUV craze shows no sign of ebbing, with new models coming out frequently from nearly every automaker (though if Caterham starts offering an assemble-it-yourself crossover, I’ll hang up my keyboard for good). Further, these midsizers are squeezed by models upmarket and down — the compacts keep adding content, while smaller engines in the full-size models offer space and economy for not much more cost.

Lexus is unique in this space with two very different models: the front-wheel drive ES, and this GS, offered with either rear or all-wheel drive. While the Avalon-based ES is perennially one of the best-selling, this GS lingers mid-pack. Thus, it’s no surprise rumors have swirled.

Still, Lexus has generally impressed me, so I was intrigued when this 2017 Lexus GS 200t appeared since I see so few of them in the wild.

The GS is certainly an attractive car, and considering the typically understated styling of the German competition, a few dramatic lines here and there on the Lexus are more than welcome. The signature spindle grille is a bit too prominent here, extending forward from the headlamps and brake-cooling ducts like a pair of buck teeth, but most of the spindle is mercifully matte black plastic. A big chrome honeycomb grille like the one found on the new LS would be overwhelming.

Beyond the slightly flared front wheel arches, the doors have a very simple convex curve.

The roofline is where the various GS generations resemble one another; the sloping C-pillar leading to a very short rear deck has been a staple of the midsize Lexus for years. The satin chrome exhaust surrounds are a nice touch, though the vertical ridges between them, seemingly meant to resemble a racecar diffuser, are a cheesy touch for an otherwise demure luxury sedan. It works on a Subaru WRX, but not a $52,295 luxury sedan.

The interior is well appointed in perforated leather, with heated and cooled front seats in my Premium Package-equipped tester. While I might prefer a slightly longer thigh support, the seats were spectacular for a long drive. Other than the driveshaft-clearing hump in the rear floor, the rear seat occupants had no complaints. As usual, I attempted my “sit-behind-oneself” rear-seat fit test, and found plenty of knee clearance for my six-foot-four frame.

I particularly love the metal-look surfaces on the dash, steering wheel, and shifter have a satin finish. Too many cars have distracting chrome brightwork right where the sun reflects into the driver’s eye in mid-afternoon. Thank you, Lexus.

However, I can’t say I love the mouse-like interface for the infotainment system. It’s identical to the one I didn’t hate in the IS, but I’ve since experienced some magnificent touch screens in various Hyundai, Kia, and Chrysler products. The inconsistent sensitivity and awkward selection of various features on the 12.3-inch display is distracting at best. The touchpad found on other models, like the RC-F, might be preferable.

I was further annoyed by the touchy turn signal stalk. On several new Lexus models, the stalk returns to center rather than remaining in place until the signal cancels. This doesn’t bother me, but the transition between the lane-change three flash position and the full turn signal is vague. I often found myself driving for several miles with a signal flashing, having expected to only flash thrice for a lane change. This annoyance is compounded by the remarkably quiet signal clicker. A more positive detent between the lane change and the full turn signals would be welcome.

Lexus needs to do some work on its cupholders, too. I hated the placement of the Big Gulp receptacles in the IS 200t I tested last fall. While the GS doesn’t interfere with passenger space – immediately forward of the shift lever – drinks will block the heated seat controls, and taller cups and bottles can foul the HVAC controls. Furthermore, the removable divider separating the two drinks removes too easily, causing the occasional topple and spill.

The 241-horsepower turbocharged four-cylinder engine drives nicely, with virtually no noise or vibration coming through to the well-insulated cabin. It’s the same powerplant — indeed, the same overall powertrain — as found in the IS200t I tested last fall. The extra 200 or so pounds of curb weight in the larger GS do blunt performance slightly, though it’s still an enjoyable driver willing to play on twisty roads.

Indeed, the GS 200t is legitimately fun to drive when the pavement meanders. The ride is firm on the interstate, but expansion joints and potholes sent but a muted thud into the cabin. When I exited for some three-digit two-lanes, I turned the drive mode dial to SPORT and enjoyed the early spring scenery.

Perhaps my vigorous application of the right foot can be blamed for my fuel economy results. While the EPA estimates a combined 26 miles per gallon for the GS 200t, I managed but 23.4 over my week with the turbo Lexus. Small displacement, turbocharged four-cylinders can produce better economy than the larger sixes they replace, but that efficiency evaporates when driven with any sort of vigor. Keep your toes out of the boost or pay at the pump.

One troubling concern stood out to me while driving the GS 200t: the brakes were unusually weird. On virtually every press of the brake pedal, I both heard and felt a soft clunk through the pedal. Furthermore, I noted some occasional light dragging noise upon application of the brakes. Having nursed several past-their-prime cars along in my younger days, I’m suspecting that a brake piston might not be retracting fully in the caliper, or a brake pad itself was catching on something. With fewer than 3,000 miles on my tester, it’s hard to chalk this up to wear.

My biggest problem with the GS is simply rationalizing its existence. Lexus offers four sedans: the compact IS, the front-drive ES, this midsize GS, and the full-size LS. The GS and ES are within an inch of each other in every single critical dimension beyond rear leg room, where the front-drive ES offers a whopping 40 inches versus 36.8 inches in the GS:

ISESGSLSWheelbase, inches110.2111.0112.2116.9Overall Length, inches184.3193.3192.1200.4Width, inches71.371.772.473.8Height, inches56.357.157.358.1Front Head Room, inches38.237.538.038.0Rear Head Room, inches36.937.537.838.0Front Leg Room, inches44.841.942.343.7Rear Leg Room, inches32.240.036.835.8Front Shoulder Room, inches55.957.657.358.5Rear Shoulder Room, inches53.455.055.756.9Curb Weight, pounds3,5833,5713,8054,278

Other than the subjectively better driving dynamics of the rear-drive platform, I’d struggle to justify purchasing a GS. I’m afraid it’s merely a remnant of the perceived need to compete with the Germans’ same-sausage/different-lengths model strategy. One look at GoodCarBadCar shows what’s happening at the showroom: The front-drive ES outsells the GS by a roughly four-to-one ratio, and has for most of the last 10 years.

I want to like the Lexus GS 200t. I really do. I appreciate that Lexus is throwing this sporting bone at enthusiasts who need the space not afforded by the (slightly) smaller IS. But I’m afraid that won’t be enough to save this very good sporting sedan from oblivion.

[Images: © 2017 Chris Tonn]

Chris Tonn
Chris Tonn

Some enthusiasts say they were born with gasoline in their veins. Chris Tonn, on the other hand, had rust flakes in his eyes nearly since birth. Living in salty Ohio and being hopelessly addicted to vintage British and Japanese steel will do that to you. His work has appeared in eBay Motors, Hagerty, The Truth About Cars, Reader's Digest, AutoGuide, Family Handyman, and Jalopnik. He is a member of the Midwest Automotive Media Association, and he's currently looking for the safety glasses he just set down somewhere.

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2 of 34 comments
  • Flipper35 Flipper35 on Apr 03, 2017

    This may be a great car, but I just can't get by the front end. It may have the athleticism of a gymnast, but it is in the body of Rosie O.

  • Chiefmonkey Chiefmonkey on Apr 10, 2017

    I must say, while I have mixed feelings about Lexus exterior styling, I am a huge fan of these interiors. I know Audi has long been the gold standard for interior design but the "why" part has always escaped me.

  • Dave M. The Outback alternates between decent design and goofy design every generation. 2005 was attractive, 2010 goofy. 2015 decent. 2020 good, but the ‘23 refresh hideous.Looking forward to the Outback hybrid in ‘26…..
  • Lorenzo Subaru had the ideal wagon - in 1995. The Legacy Outback was a straight two-box design with rear quarter and back windows you could see out of, and was available in brown with a 5-speed manual, as God and TTAC commenters intended. It's nice they're not raising prices, but when you've lost the plot, does it matter?
  • Bkojote Remember a month a go when Cleveland wanted to create a more walkable Cleveland and TTAC's 'BIG GOVERNMENT IS THE PROBLEM' dumbest and dullest all collectively crapped their diapers? Here's the thing- look on any American highway and it's littered with people who don't /want/ to be driving or shouldn't be. Look at every Becky on her phone during the morning commute in her Tucson, look at every Brad aggro driving his 84 month loan GMC. Hell look how many drivers nowadays can't even operate a headlight switch. You expect these people to understand a stoplight? In my neighborhood alone 4 people have been rear ended at lights from someone on their phone. Distracted driving over the past 10 years has spiked, and it's only going to get worse unless Becky has an alternative, because no judge is going to pull her license when 'she needs it to get to work!' but heaven forbid she not check fb/tiktok for 40 minutes a day.
  • Scott Shouldn't the The Italian Minister for Business be criticizing The Milano for being too ugly to be Italian?Better use of resources doing that....
  • Steve Biro Frankly, while I can do without Eyesight and automatic start-stop, there is generally less B-S with Subarus in terms of design, utility and off-road chops than with many other brands. I just hope that when they adopt Toyota’s hybrid system, they’ll also use Toyota’s eCVT.