September 20, 2005

●Lexus GS350 Vs Nissan Fuga 450GT

End of August saw the official launch of the Lexus brand in Japan. The new GS is the car everyone is talking about as it is the first model to embody the new L-Finesse design language. The GS has actually been on sale outside of Japan for a couple of months so it's not exactly big news. But what Lexus have done is keep a little gem of an engine all for themselves by only offering it in the Japanese market. I'm talking about the new generation 3.5L V6 which puts out a very impressive 315 PS at 6,400 rpm and 38.4 kgm at 4,800 rpm. Strangely enough this engine is more powerful than the 4.3 L V8 fitted on the GS430 (granted the V8 does crank out more torque). So with this in mind I came up with the perfect car to compare the GS350 to, Nissan's brand new Fuga 450GT. The Fuga has been on sale in Japan since late 2004. Until now only the 2.5 and 3.5 L V6s have been offered but what a lot of people have been waiting for is for Nissan to drop the 4.5L V8 (which also powers the Cima) into the big engine bay. So behold the 450GT, the Japanese market version of the Infiniti M45. Yes that's right, Nissan hasn't still got round to launching its luxury brand here in Japan.

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Design wise both cars have their own charms. While the GS impresses with its smooth aerodynamic design the Fuga prefers to take a slightly more aggressive road with a menacing front end and more conventional saloon lines. The Lexus has a coherent design carried out all the way from the front to the rear of the car while in my opinion the Nissan really looses the plot at the back with odd oversized lights. Both cars are extremely well put together, the GS having the upper hand with slightly tighter panel fitting and attention to detail like extra seals around the front doors to keep wind noise at bay. The Fuga, fitted with the optional sports package, has very nice 19" wheels while the comfort oriented GS is fitted with 17" wheels with 18 inchers being offered as an option.

The power plants in both these cars are sublime. The Lexus V6 is simply marvelous! It offers effortless acceleration at the slightest prod of the throttle and revs smoothly and silently all the way to the redline just under 7,000 rpm. What makes this engine shine is the Toyota developed 6-speed automatic transmission which is both fast and smooth shifting and seems to guess exactly the gear you want to be in by kicking down instantly without any drama.

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The Nissan V8 is a hot-rod! Below 3,000 rpm it's hardly even audible but step on the loud pedal and this small block really begins to sing. Power wise it develops an ok 333 PS, nothing special for a 4.5 V8, especially after Audi has shown the world what it can do with it's aspirated V8 engines! But it has buckets of torque that really make the Fuga feel like a sports car at times. And that V8 soundtrack! Wow! What let's it down though is the 5-speed automatic which feels "old-gen" compared to the Lexus unit. It's smooth shifting and fast but not quite in the same league the GS 6-speeder. But all things said there is not much difference in the performance of these two luxury saloons, the Fuga is slightly quicker, but not as much as most would think.

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If you like your toys then both these cars will not disappoint. Overall the Lexus has an old-school come new-school design feel to it while the Nissan offers a more unique and futuristic feel. I did prefer the Nissans overall layout with its easy to operate controls and high mounted screen. The GS has a very user friendly touch screen system and latest generation HDD navigation and is packed with other toys like an in-dash 6 DVD changer and Mark Levinson surround sound system. The Nissan certainly doesn't lag behind in this department with an equally impressive DVD-Rom based navigation unit, in-dash 6 CD changer and a separate DVD player in the glove box. The Bose 5.1 surround system is excellent but the GS system felt slightly more refined no doubt thanks to the impressive NVH insulation which Lexus is so well known for.

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Fuga
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The Lexus leather felt softer while the build quality and switch gear was much better then the Nissan. Keep in mind the Fuga is quite a bit cheaper then the GS so some cost saving in this department is understandable.

Out on the road the GS stood out for it's impressive refinement and virtually silent ride at any speed. What surprised me was the handling. I was expecting an American style wollowy ride but what I got was superbly responsive chassis and suspension.

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The Fuga 450GT with its optional sports package proved to be very reactive and accurate. All that torque means power-slides on demand but the electronics, just like in the Lexus, kick in to spoil the fun even after the traction and stability controls are switched off.

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Choosing between these two cars would be extremely difficult. Lexus is leaning heavily on the brand image side of things with unrivaled dealer service and brand exclusivity. In Japan this is an excellent strategy as brand and image play a lot in choosing a car at this level. The GS is a superb car, excellent build, excellent equipment levels after you fork out for the bigger toys and an overall great driving experience. Nissan not yet able to lean on its luxury brand image has taken the value-for-money route and offers the Fuga at an extremely competitive price. The V8 engine and sports car like handling are the cherry on the top. The V8 powerplant is also available from Lexus but higher costs really do begin to factor in.

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Come on Nissan, an Infiniti badge should be sitting here!
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If I had to pick between the two I would probably go with the Fuga. Despite the questionable quality of materials and switch-gear, noisier ride (19" wheels to balme here) and not so pretty design you really can't question the value this car offers. I just hope a future introduction of the Infiniti brand will not lead to higher prices!

The obligatory warp speed pix;-)

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Posted by dino at September 20, 2005 12:22 AM
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