Review: 2013 Lexus GS 350 F-Sport
The first generation Lexus GS, aka Toyota Aristo, landed in the US in 1993, and was shoehorned between the upmarket LS and the diminutive IS. Despite its design pedigree from the likes of the exalted Italdesign Giugiaro, it arrived as an amorphous blob of sheet metal, in an arguably (and minimally) successful attempt at mimicking organic shapes.
Despite its simple look, Lexus was white hot at the time and the hip-hop community immediately embraced the car, with rappers like the Notorious BIG giving it shout-outs in songs. Ever since then, the GS platform has been on a roll. Each generation has seen the vehicle come more into its own as Lexus has solidified its own unique design language and has taken some aggressive risks, moving away from the status quo.
Despite its admirable progress, the BMW 5-Series, Audi A6, Mercedes E-Class and Infinity M sent the GS to the back of the classroom during the last several years. Lexus knew it had a serious decision to make – scrap the GS altogether or give the platform the panache it needed to compete in this mid-level luxury market. Lexus chose the later.
The 4th generation GS has a distinctive look, with a chiseled and sculpted spindle grill, a crisp profile and squared off rear-end. It’s the first vehicle from the Lexus camp to sport the new design DNA and is a solid front-runner. Lexus is transitioning from a practical, no-nonsense purveyor of luxury automotive wares, to a brand that seeks to invoke passion and emotion not only through aesthetics but, more significantly, the driving experience itself. Mission accomplished.
Our model is also equipped with the F-Sport package which offers a more aggressive front fascia, rear lip spoiler and staggered 19-inch wheels shod in summer performance tires. The car is pleasing to the eye but it feels like the strong emotional response elicited by the front ends somehow diminishes slightly as you move your sights across the flanks to the rear end of the vehicle.
The LexusGS 350 F-Sport comes with a 3.5-liter V6 engine good for 306hp and 277 lb-ft of torque, which is the same set-up as the base GS 350 and a similar powerplan to the one used since 2007. The car feels faster than it is thanks to a decent exhaust note introduced into the cabin by way of intake resonator piping. Overall, it’s pretty peppy despite its considerable heft, with 0-60mph sprints from the RWD set-up in just 5.7 seconds.
While no substantial performance mods are provided by the F-Sport package, upgrades do include adaptive dampers, variable ratio steering and bigger front brake rotors with high-friction pads. Unfortunately there is no longer a V8 available for those who love the feel of big engines. But if it makes you feel any better, fuel economy from the V6 is quite good with 19 mph in the city and 28 mpg on the highway.
When it comes to Lexus technobabble, the old adage of “Don’t tell me the battleplan, just tell me who to shoot” doesn’t apply here. The features that Lexus has implemented are well worth noting. A variety of Drive Mode selections come standard and options include Eco, Normal, Sport S, Sport + and Snow. As expected, Eco mode curbs excessive throttle and evens out accelerations while also putting the smack down on air conditioner usage. Normal is, well, normal, and Sport S is basically the kryptonite to Eco mode. It increases throttle response, speeds up gear changes and activates downshift throttle blips.
The Sport S+ mode pulls out all the stops. The transmission holds gears longer and quickens gear shifts. The electronically controlled shock absorbers get a few notches turned in the stiffening department thanks to Adaptive Variable Suspension, while the Variable Gear Ratio Steering prepares itself for higher speeds by growing heavier, and the Vehicle Dynamics Integrated Management (which controls all systems involved in handling) goes into aggro mode to keep the car facing the direction to which it was intended.
The Lexus GS also comes with something call Dynamic Rear Steering (DRS) which adjusts itself based on speed. When traveling fast, the rear wheels turn in the same direction as the front wheels for better stability; while when traveling slow, the wheels turn in the opposite direction for better handling.
Inside the Lexus GS, the cabin now feels high-tech with excellent fit and finish thanks to the stitched leather covering door panels, the center armrest and the dash. The trim pieces in the F-Sport are covered in a real brushed aluminum finish which adds to the modern feel along with the LED ambient lighting. The 16-way adjustable seats, wrapped in high-quality perforated leather with heating and ventilation, allow you to dial in just the right level of comfort by way of adjustable side bolstering, several levels of lumbar support and an extendable lower cushion. They are situated a tad lower in the vehicle than before but it still feels like you’re riding a bit too high. Other F-Sport interior accoutrements include aluminum pedals, black headliner, leather-trimmed steering wheel and shift knob.
The new navigation system is optional but pretty much a must-have with its enormous 12.3-inch split screen setup. One side is typically reserved for nav while the other presents info on the audio system and climate control. The Remote Touch Mouse controller works a shade better than before but still makes you yearn for a few more quick selection buttons or knobs. It does seem to jump around a little too much, though you can turn down the sensitivity. The included backup camera is a nice touch and is pretty much becoming an essential safety feature.
The basic sound system includes 12 speakers and is more than satisfactory. Bluetooth audio, USB iPod connectivity, HD Radio with iTunes tagging and SiriusXM Satellite radio come standard and all function flawlessly.Besides all of the standard safety features, one can also opt for a driver attention monitoring, blind spot monitoring, a night vision system, intuitive park assist and rain sensing wipers.
Owners of the GS 350 are not the kind of folks who are going to be chucking the car around corners and slamming on the brakes at every intersection. That said, the GS handles well and responds quickly when forced into situations in which one would not normally find a mid-market luxury vehicle. Even at the firmest setting, the suspension is still comfortable on crappy pavement. But left in its default state there is still a little bit too much travel and it feels a bit like you’re floating, which for most buyers is probably a fairly desirable attribute. The electric power steering is capable and quick if a tab muted. Braking can feel a little disconnected at times but we experienced no brake fade, even when we pushed hard during some extended canyon carving.
The base price of the GS 350 is $46,900 and the F-Sport package adds another $5,690. The navigation option, which includes the 12 inch display, Lexus apps and Sirium XM provided traffic, weather, fuel prices and sports info for $,1735, is a must have. And the premium package, which adds rain-sensing wipers, heated and ventilated front seats and rear power shade for $1,400, is pretty much a ‘why not.’ Overall, the Lexus GS 350 F-Sport is a solid offering that has finally closed the gap and in some cases surpassed its European competition in the mid-level luxury sedan category.