To compare the on-road presence of the previous Lexus GS, chief engineer Yoshihiko Kanamori drove its three main competitors in the fast lane of Germany's autobahn.

When he was in the BMW 5 Series, Audi's A6 and the Mercedes-Benz E-Class, cars would pull over and let Kanamori speed past.

But in the GS it was "nein" - the Germans in front stayed put.

So, determined to beef up the looks of the fourth generation GS, Kanamori created the 'spindle' grille - an inverted trapezoid upper grille combined with a slanted lower grille, bridging the bumper mid-section to create the prominent shape.


Added to that were air ducts, daytime running lights and a rounded bonnet.

The result: an aggressive appearance that looked intimidating on any road.

So next time Kanamori hit the autobahn the Germans would instead be saying: "Mein Gott Fritz, it's a Lexus GS. Pull over to the other lane".

Back in New Zealand, Lexus decided it was also time to take on the Germans - especially the dominating Audi and BMW - so at the launch this week of the mid-sized luxury sedan it said it was offering three models with a staggering 420 combinations of specifications and colours.

The start of the bunch was the GS250 ($102,900) with a 2.5-litre 4GR-FSE engine that delivered 154kW at 6400rpm and 253Nm at 4800rpm plus a combined cycle fuel economy of 9.3 litres/100km and CO2 emissions of 215 grams/km.

Next was the GS350 ($117,900) with a 3.5 litre 2GR-FSE engine that gave 27 per cent more power and 22 per cent more torque than the present GS300.

And my pick of the bunch, the GS450h ($134,900) - with the 3.5-litre engine combined with the Lexus Hybrid Drive electric drive motor to deliver V8-like acceleration.

The range had a phenomenal amount of standard equipment: smart key entry, steering wheel paddles, 10-way driver's seat, blind spot monitor in the side mirrors and every safety feature expected of a luxury marque.

Then could come the fun part. Buyers could spec up across the three models to F Sport that added such features as dynamic rear steering (that glides a car around corners, as shown at the press launch at Hampton Downs race track) - all for $6000 to $8000 more.

Or, if you thought the 350 and 450h needs more love you could pay up to $25,500 for the luxury package - with such gadgets as pre-crash safety system with driver monitor, and rear passenger air-conditioning control and heated seats.

And if the Lexus owner still wasn't satisfied, they could add $3600 to the bill and buy a 17-speaker Mark Levinson audio system that wooed Lexus New Zealand general manager of product planning, Neeraj Lala, so much that he admitted the first time he tested a GS fitted with it he could have spent all night in the car listening to music.

Lala also reiterated the brands plan to take on the heavyweight Europeans with the GS promoted as a "luxury grand touring sports sedan".

"The new GS features a dynamic new L-Finesse design and a broader model range, which ultimately means more choice for customers.

"The new GS is better in every way. There is a model to suit every customer requirement with the widest array of engine variants in the Lexus line," said Lala. "The new Lexus GS will compete head-on in the luxury mid-sized sedan market, by offering greater specification as standard, at competitive if not class-leading prices. We believe more new customers will be attracted to the Lexus family than ever before with this new GS line-up."

While Lexus concentrated on giving the front and rear of the car a big dollop of macho, in profile the GS kept its predecessor's long cabin proportions and slingshot window design, but added 25mm to the roofline to increase rear passenger space.

Drive wise, the automatic GS range have eco, normal and sport modes for driving and Sport+ in the models with the - you guessed it - Sport package.

To test the Sport+ mode at Hampton Downs I was helped by New Zealand motoring legend Chris Amon.

Taking the 450h F Sport for its first lap, Amon was impressed with the handling and technology of the vehicle.

As for my driving? Hmm, not so impressed. He told me to start braking as we neared the end of the front straight, although this was the man who had just a few minutes earlier had the car doing 200km - and that was him driving slow.

When I took the car on to the open road I was foiled from putting the 450h through some energetic overtaking and swift handling of corners: a police car travelling in the opposite direction did a u-turn after seeing me and tailed for the next half an hour.

I'd like to think that he was so impressed with the GS's butch spindle grille that he wanted to follow me - rather then knowing that I was desperate to test the car's handling.

Oh well, there's always the autobahn with chief engineer Kanamori.