How a Lexus Changed my Perception About the F Word

Lexus GS 450h 1 photo
Photo: Lexus
First I would like to offer a mea culpa and a full disclosure. I admit, until about a week ago I was one of the few (or is it many?) that always looked at Lexus with the least amount of respect possible. Instead of seeing them as the wild cards, the underdogs that started late but are now running for the championship I only perceived them as very good car marketers, not car engineers or designers.
Secondly, I trust that you will see this as an editorial and not an advertorial. It is just an opinion piece, and opinions are like a word which I shall not use but you all know what I mean - everybody has one and most of them stink.

So, I was telling you about my old opinion about Lexus. What is it and where did it come from? Being European, I first began learning about Lexus from car magazines and then from the Internet, with a very few limited hands-on approaches via some individually imported early 2000s models.

My very first thought was that all Lexuses (Lexi?!) were not much more than a handful of polished Toyotas made initially for Japan that had very good - even though a bit misleading at times - marketing. I knew they were pretty much bulletproof but they had no identity of their own.

That big “L” on the hood meant nothing and could have come from anything. They had no history, no identity and not even some fancy ground breaking technology until Toyota started gaining grounds in the hybrid department.

In the beginning I simply loathed all the Mercedes-Benz styling cues they had so unabashedly stolen and tried making it their own. The large headlights and imposing engine grille with similar lines, the ladder gear shifter for the automatic transmissions and especially their models' stylistic proportions were simply trying to copy the understated timeless design that Bruno Sacco had introduced for the legendary Stuttgart car manufacturer in the decades being in charge of every Mercedes-Benz model styling.

I truly despised - and still do, actually - the very first Lexus hybrid I ever test drove. I won't tell you what model it is, but let's just say that it's not more than a few years old. The steering felt like it was connected to the front wheels via cotton gears, the suspension was conspiring to make me sea sick and the way each and every button on the center console had its entire definition written on it was tasteless and insulting to any self respeting driver's intelligence.

Oh, and I didn't become fan of its CVT transmission either, which always made me sound like I've left it in first gear for way too long when accelerating. And yes, I know that Lexus doesn't use CVT gearboxes but an electric motor that simulates a continuous variable transmission, called eCVT in Lexus speak - a fact which only made me hate it even more.

So, getting back to last week, what happened? Why would I transform my opinion of Lexus from one of - let's not call it hate but more like concentrated indifference - to one of … gasp... praise?

It's all very simple actually. It's because of the GS 450h F-Sport. No, I haven't gone mad, I know it's also a hybrid Lexus and I know it also uses a CVT-like electric motor for a transmission. Except this one is completely different from the model I first took a bite of.

It's way faster, for one thing. It can reach 100 km/h (62 mph) from a standing start in a very respectable 5.9 seconds. When the first Lexus in history was launched that's about how fast a Porsche 911 was.The F-Sport package is more than just a few badges and angrier spoilers – by the way, never stare in the LED lights of a GS with the F-Sport design cues on a dark alley.

The main reason for my change of perception happened last week though, when I was supposed to return from crashing a party in a location that's pretty far from my city. With a hangover that would make Zack Galifianakis's Alan Garner character look like a catholic librarian and the desire to simply teleport into my home bed instead of taking the train from the city I was in, my dumb luck made it possible for a friend to pick me up at the last minute in a Lexus GS450h with the F-Sport package.

On the 300-something kilometers (186 miles) I was expecting sleepiness, nausea, headaches, maybe even a little emergency stop for a bit of projectile vomiting on the side of the road. None of that happened, despite me staying awake for the entire trip. We only stopped once to drink a glass of fresh OJ in a gas station and that was it.

That's all I needed to escape my monster hangover: a high intake of vitamin C and a ride in one of the most soothing cars I ever rode in. The almost complete lack of engine noise at high speeds didn't make me feel sleepy, the F-Sport suspension didn't cause me nausea, while the smooth aniline leather-engulfed seats were sporty enough to keep me from sliding around and making me vomit after a ride on the twisties. If Lexus can develop a model that can actually make my perception about their entire brand change after a single trip then they actually might be on to something after all.
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About the author: Alex Oagana
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Alex handled his first real steering wheel at the age of five (on a field) and started practicing "Scandinavian Flicks" at 14 (on non-public gravel roads). Following his time at the University of Journalism, he landed his first real job at the local franchise of Top Gear magazine a few years before Mircea (Panait). Not long after, Alex entered the New Media realm with the project.
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