Technology is great, make no mistake. I have no desire to live in a world without TV, email, mobile phones or microwave ovens, but sometimes it is the simple things, the things that don't require excessive wire, screens, beeps or buttons, that work the best. This is certainly the case with the serviceable Lexus GS 300. The car's best features aren't the whizz-bang ones that the salesman in the showroom will probably try to foist upon you. Instead, the best features are the quiet, smooth engine that flirts shamelessly with the speed cameras, the gearbox and the fact that it is a rear-wheel drive rather than a staid front-wheel drive. I was testing the V6 and found it merrily skipped along the highways and byways of the UAE lustily overtaking with abandon, the odd AMG or Ferrari notwithstanding.
And the pleasing gearbox does the job without fuss in the automatic mode, but when you shift it yourself, you have six speeds at your disposal and the leather on the gear shifter is a nice touch. The rear-wheel drive means that it is more fun on corners. On the outside, the styling, while not overwhelming me with its raw animal magnetism, reminded me of the sharp saloon lines of a Chevrolet Lumina with sports kit. Indeed, I can imagine plenty of UAE buyers would not be able to resist the temptation to bung a spoiler on the back for extra menace in the light-flashing lane of the E11. There is nothing hugely high-tech about these positive points for the GS300 - it is filling its niche as a comfortable, roomy car with a good engine and slick gearbox, as required by the discerning UAE Lexus buyer.
While the interior design was a little bland, the leather seats were comfortable and the one high-tech gadget I did dig was the seat cooling system. Leather seats can get a little warm in summer and, if you're wearing a dress, they can take off a layer of skin as you get out of the car. The electronically generated zephyr, with three breezy speeds, is much appreciated. However, the gizmo-tastic controls for the air conditioning and stereo were trying too hard to be clever and as a result, they are not particularly easy to operate while driving. Keeping the AC controls simple is the way forward - when I want to turn the fan speed up on a 45-degree day, I want to turn a knob without taking my eyes off the road. I don't want to have to scroll through screens to find the one with the fan-speed control icon.
Finding a radio station was similarly fussy with baffling pre-sets and a hypersensitive tuning function, which also were not easy to use while driving along. Radio tuning and fan adjustments are two functions that do not need to be subject to excessive technology. But that was not nearly as bothersome as the slightly embarrassing lesson I learnt with the electronic fuel gauge. After picking up the test car from Dubai Festival City, taking it to Sharjah and Umm Al Quwain, getting lost, ignoring the directions my passenger was giving me from the sat nav (which we couldn't get to talk to us. Was it something we said?) and finally getting back to Abu Dhabi, the electronic screen between the speedometer and the rev counter informed me that I had 30km worth of petrol left. Splendid, I thought to myself as I parked outside my flat for the night. I planned to get the car photographed the next morning, the nearest garage is about 1km away, I can easily fill up and meet the photographer. Or could I? At 8am the next morning, I sauntered downstairs, pushed the start button and got nothing. No sound, no lights, nada! I assumed it was the battery but I hadn't left the lights on or the boot open.
The portable battery charger was in the back of my own car, which was not-so-handily parked at the Lexus showroom in Dubai, so I called Lexus and they dispatched a guy to take a look. The battery was fine but I was all out of petrol. A jerry can of special later and I was back on the road and the drama was over, but I couldn't help but wonder if I just had the old-fashioned needle fuel gauge would I have gotten into the same pickle? Probably not - the needle fuel gauge was riding on empty when the computerised gauge said 30km, so if the needle was the only indication I had that I was nearly out of gas, I probably would have filled up sooner instead of relying on the electronic reminder. There is a big difference between having 30km of petrol left and having 0km in the tank, especially if you were, say, in the middle of nowhere on an Omani road trip. I was told that erratic driving or sudden bursts of speed can mess with the computer that calculates how much gas is in the tank. Hmm, given that erratic driving and Lexuses are both very popular here, it might be advisable for their IT people to sort that partcular glitch so the electronic fuel gauge becomes a true selling point rather than a sticking point. In any case, you can expect to see plenty of GS300s on the road - they are becoming as ubiquitous as Toyota Camrys because, my fuel gauge debacle and fiddly technology aside, it is a reliable machine.