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2013 Lexus GS 350 Road Test Review by Tim Healey

2013 Lexus GS Road Test Review

By Tim Healey

Luxury Car Buyer's Guide - RTM's Top 8 Picks for 2013

Acura ILX

Kia Optima SX

Buick Verano Turbo

Lexus GS

Sedate. Soft. Boring

These are adjectives often lobbied Lexus’ way, and the company has tried to deflect them with cars like the IS and GS series, and more recently, the IS F.

While the IS and GS have certainly added some fun quotient to the lineup, they’ve been perceived as disappointing by the enthusiast crowd, and they haven’t quite hit the balance of sport and luxury that Lexus is looking for. Not to mention that they’ve been tight on interior space.

Lexus is looking to change things up with the next GS line, which launched in February as a 2013 model. While the V-6 carries over (more on that later) and the styling seems more evolutionary than revolutionary—although it’s still quite different—this new GS 350 is indeed a different ride than what it replaces.

Let’s start with said V-6. It only gains a handful of ponies—up three to 306—and torque similarly rises by three on the 3.5-liter unit to 277 lb-ft. There’s no V-8 (at least for now. Maybe Lexus will release a GS-F at some point in the future. Pretty please?) but those who hunger for more power will like the 338-horsepower GS 450h. The hybrid gets a continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT) while the 350 has a six-speed automatic. All-wheel drive is available on the 350 (rear-wheel drive is standard) while the hybrid is rear-drive only.

The GS 350 marks the first production use of Lexus’ new “L-finesse” styling themes, and it gives the car a more aggressive, flared look. Lexus execs won’t want to hear this, but the new GS’s side profile shows a hint of Infiniti influence, which isn’t a bad thing. LED headlamps are a nice touch (hybrids have LED high and low beams) and those who opt for the F Sport package will get a unique front bumper, mesh front grille, unique lower rear valance, and unique rear lip spoiler.

Both models sport LED tail lamps, and the hybrid adds special badging and hides the exhaust pipes. The GS 350 also has a rear exhaust diffuser.

Inside, the cabin gets a sporty-looking steering wheel, an info screen that sits recessed in the upper part of the dash, above the center stack (which has a little 5-Series influence. Hmmm.); a standard rearview camera; more space; increased visibility; a “drive mode selector” that allows drivers to choose between “Sport S,” “Sport +” (on cars with the F Sport or Luxury packages), “Normal,” and “Eco” modes; an app system that will allow drivers to book restaurant reservations, listen to Pandora, and check-in on Facebook; an optional navigation system; a Remote Touch system that uses a mouse to control actions on the info screen; wood trim; an analog clock, and more. F Sport buyers will get aluminum interior trim to go along with a black headliner, aluminum pedals, and unique F Sport badging. F Sport models also have sports seats up front, a 16-way power driver’s seat, and an available red interior that is exclusive to the F Sport.

There’s plenty of available on-board tech—such as Lexus’ Dynamic Handling and Vehicle Dynamic Integrated Management Systems, an electronic parking brake, an Adaptive Variable Suspension, a lane-departure warning system, a head-up display, a blind-spot warning system, a night-vision system, parking assist, and a system that monitors the eyes of drivers, to defend against drowsiness. There’s 10 airbags, including a front passenger knee airbag. We didn’t even list the available rain-sensing wipers, heated and cooled front seats, rear audio controls, and power rear sunshade. Well, we did now.
That’s an exhaustive list, and we haven’t even included some of the more minute details.

Seventeen-inch wheels are standard, with 18-inchers standard on Luxury package cars and F Sports coming standard with 19s.
Fuel economy is listed at 19/28 with rear-wheel drive (19/26 AWD), and pricing starts at $46,900.
Alright, alright, enough pre-amble. What it’s like to drive the darn thing?

In a word: Good. In two words: Very good. In slightly more words than that, we’ll say the new GS 350 has definitely taken a giant leap forward.

Drive the GS 350 around town at reasonable speeds, and you’ll find it to be a competent luxury car with a sporty feel. Kick it into naughty mode, though, and you’ll find a snarling V-6 (part of that snarl comes from an intake sound generator) that wants to play. The car hunkers down with only a hint of body roll to ruin the fun, and selecting any of the sport modes tighten the car up. The F Sport, with its thicker anti-roll bars and firmer suspension, is even more fun on road and track, although its steering is a tad jumpier at urban speeds when compared with a base car, likely due to the 19-inch wheels.

The binders (which are larger with higher friction front pads on the F Sport) haul the GS 350 down quickly, and while the F Sport is the back-road burner of choice, the AWD (non-F Sport) don’t feel that much less sporty, even though the F Sport can be had with Lexus new Lexus Dynamic Handling system, which includes rear steering.

As noted above, the steering is firm and sporty in all models, as is the ride—it’s composed without being overly stiff. It won’t tire you out on freeway cruises, nor will it lull you to sleep with softness. Lexus has shod the car with a double-wishbone suspension up front and a multi-link unit in the rear.

Neither will the interior—it’s not a dull place to work, although we found the center stack to be a bit less than aesthetically pleasing. The Remote Touch system works well, although it can be a tad too sensitive at times. The front seats are all day pleasant, but despite expanded dimensions (the car stays the same length but gets a bit wider and taller), the rear is still tight in both head and leg space.

We also heard an unusual amount of wind noise, but the weather was unusually windy during our test in the Las Vegas area, so we’ll reserve judgment on that one.

What we, the automotive judge and jury, can say right now is that the GS 350 is a solid sports sedan that comes alive on the track and has closed the performance gap with the BMW 5-Series and Infiniti M without sacrificing luxury or daily comfort. For those who simply mindlessly commute to the office, the GS 350 will please with its tech features and composed ride. It coddles without being soft.

As for those who want a little more spice, well, that’s where the GS 350 dark side comes in. Point it in the direction of the nearest racetrack, and it doesn’t shy away in fear. It simply lets loose, like the proverbial dog let off the leash.

Perhaps it’s fitting that Lexus choose Vegas as a setting for this particular launch. The city can be quite family-friendly nowadays, but darker pursuits are there for the taking—it’s called Sin City for a reason, after all. Same with the GS 350. It plays the innocent from 9 to 5, but ask it to dance, and it doesn’t hold back.

Lexus needs a shot in the arm, and the GS 350 could be just what the mad doctor ordered.

For more information on Lexus cars, click here