2013 Lexus GS 350 Review by Carey Russ +VIDEO
DRIVING DOWN THE ROAD WITH CAREY RUSS
SEE ALSO: Lexus Buyers Guide
From its debut in 1993, the GS has provided mid-size sedan customers the luxury experience that is Lexus's specialty. The GS combined that Lexus luxury with a good amount of performance -- but never quite as much or in the same manner as did its German competitors.
The fourth generation GS, all-new for 2013, builds on previous strengths and adds ability -- with no loss of the expected comfort and convenience. Most apparently, the styling is more emotive. Under the bold new skin is an improved chassis platform with a revised suspension system and multiple drive modes for the mostly-familiar drivetrain to take advantage of. There's an F-Sport performance package that brings some of the character of the IS-F sports sedan or even LF-A supercar to the GS. And that performance increase comes with no loss of fuel efficiency, but, rather, with improved efficiency.
There are two models in the 2013 Lexus GS lineup, the GS 350, powered by the 3.6-liter V6 now with 306 horsepower and the GS 450h hybrid, which combines a modified version of the 3.6-liter V6 with the Toyota/Lexus full-hybrid system for 338 hp. There is no V8, and given that the power of the V6 is virtually the same as that of the original third-generation GS 430's 300-hp 4.3-liter V8 and not much less that that of the later 342-hp GS 460 (the Hybrid's even closer), in a lighter car, that's a non-issue. The GS 350 can be had with an all-wheel drive system in addition to the standard rear-wheel drive; the Hybrid is rear-wheel drive only. The GS 350 transmission is a six-speed automatic, not the previous eight-speed, and no step backwards there, either. Faster shifting, earlier torque converter lockup, and speed-matching ("throttle blipping" on downshifts) have been adapted from the IS-F transmission for improved performance and efficiency. As in other Toyota/Lexus hybrids, the Hybrid uses a CVT to mix power from the engine and traction motor.
Key to the GS's new and sportier character is the optional F-Sport package. In addition to a number of interior and convenience upgrades, the F-Sport package gives a firmer suspension tuning with thicker stabilizer bars, adaptive variable damping, a variable gear ratio steering system (VGRS), and larger front brake discs and high-friction brake pads. A GS 350 with the F-Sport package can also be outfitted with the Lexus Dynamic Handling (LDH) system with Dynamic Rear Steering, Lexus's first integration of that with electric power steering (EPS) and VGRS.
I first met the 2013 Lexus GS 350 at a journalists' track day. And was quite impressed, although I did my allotted laps in default mode, not Sport or Sport+. It worked surprisingly well regardless, with very good handling characteristics at speeds in excess of what I'd try on public roads. And with a most un-Lexus-like (in the best possible manner of internal combustion music) soundtrack provided by the engine. I've just finished a week with a different but similarly-equipped example and found it to be second only to the IS-F as a sports-oriented Lexus. (I haven't driven an LF-A.) When driven moderately, it displayed all of the comfort and quiet that have been Lexus hallmarks since the beginning. Dial up Sport+ mode, put the transmission in manual mode and use the shift paddles behind the steering wheel and it wants to talk German, as in German vehicle dynamics. Interior space has never been a GS weakness, but there's more than ever even though the package is no larger externally. With its combination of poise and style, the 2013 GS 350 is Lexus's most formidable competitor in the mid-size sports-luxury class yet.
APPEARANCE: Bland is out. Love it or not -- and most comments I got on the car were positive -- the newest GS won't go un-noticed. If the broad shape is familiar, with a coupe-like roofline that dates to the beginning of the series, the details are fresh. The hourglass ("spindle" in Lexus-speak) top grille sits between wide, low HID headlamps with LED accents, under a hood with a chiseled power dome and above a lower intake with integrated brake ducts. The effect is just short of menacing, with much more attitude than before from the previously-conservative Lexus. Yes, there's more than just a hint of LF-A, especially at the lower part of the front, and that's a Good Thing.
Watch the GS 350 on-road video
COMFORT: Even though it's a sports-luxury sedan, with more emphasis on the sports part of the equation than ever before, the newest GS doesn't skimp when it comes to accommodation. As per the standards of the class, it's not opulent, and there is, appropriately, more sensory feedback from the road and outside world than expected in a Lexus. There's also plenty of room for four adults, with a fifth, smaller, person in the center rear position for short time periods only. (As is typical of most sedans.) With the F-Sport package come heated and ventilated front seats that are power-adjustable in nearly every possible way and soft-touch stitched panels and handsome textured aluminum interior trim. Seat comfort and support are first-class. Instrumentation is standard Lexus, brightly-lit "Optitron" speedometer and tach and easily-understood auxiliary controls and information between the main gauges (trip computer) and, for car info, audio, climate, and phone systems, displayed on the screen in the center of the dash and controlled by the trackball-like controller on the console. Interestingly, my test car was not outfitted with a navigation system, but did have the optional heads-up display, which unobtrusively showed speed and other parameters reflected translucently at the bottom of the windshield in front of the driver. There are useful storage spaces in all doors, and if you walk up to the car at night with the "key" fob (pushbutton start/stop no no physical key) in your pocket, lights under the outside rearview mirrors will illuminate the ground.
SAFETY: The GS's unibody structure is designed and built to protect passengers, and frontal, front knee, front side, outboard rear side, and full-length head curtain airbags, ten in all, add further protection. Active safety is addressed, especially with the F-Sport package, by excellent handling and braking performance. Further safety can be added with the optional Pre-Collision System, Night Vision System, Blind Spot Monitor, and Lane Keep Assist with Lane Departure Warning systems.
RIDE AND HANDLING: There is more than a little bit of IS-F and LF-A in every new GS 350, in both design philosophy and engineering. Chassis rigidity has been increased, and the track is wider by almost two inches. The suspension has been revised in both geometry and tuning for improved handling with no loss of comfort, very successfully. Aluminum control arms at both ends reduce unsprung weight and allow more responsive shock damper tuning. With the F-Sport package, a Sport+ mode added to the Drive Mode selector (see below) stiffens damping, quickens steering response, and raises the limits of operation of the Vehicle Dynamic Integrated Management (VDIM) stability control system for an improved performance driving experience.
PERFORMANCE: No V8? No problem. The GS 350's 306 horsepower (at 6400 rpm) and 277 lb-ft of torque (at 4800 rpm) compare well with the previous V8, and the car is lighter, with better weight distribution. The automatic transmission is an "old-fashioned" torque converter type with "only" six speeds -- but the engine's torque spread is fat enough that there is absolutely no problem. During my track drive I kept it in D, and Normal mode at that. No complaints there -- or at a fast touring pace on the street, even on what is usually considered a sports car road. The Drive Mode selector is useful -- use "Eco" mode to slightly improve economy in highway cruising by remapping throttle response and changing the seat heating and climate control systems a bit for further energy savings. Sport mode remaps throttle response in the other direction and delays shifting in D for more performance. With the F-Sport package, Sport+ adds the handling enhancements noted previously. Yes I kept it there for the most part, no discomfort and quick reflexes. Driven sedately, especially in Eco mode, the 2013 GS is exactly what you would expect of a sporty Lexus -- comfortable, quiet, and smooth. Turn the knob to Sport+ and move the shift lever to manual and let the engine rev, and the sport aspects are emphasized.
CONCLUSIONS: With the newest GS 350 Lexus challenges the established order in the mid-size sports sedan class.
Watch the GS 350 Reveal Press Conference
2013 Lexus GS 350
Base Price $ 46,900
Price As Tested $ 58,234
Engine Type aluminum alloy DOHC V6 with continuously-variable cam phasing and lift on all camshafts and direct and port fuel injection
Engine Size 3.5 liters / 211 cu. in.
Horsepower 306 @ 6400 rpm
Torque (lb-ft) 277 @ 4800 rpm
Transmission 6-speed automatic with manual shift mode
Wheelbase / Length 112.2 in. / 190.7 in.
Curb Weight 3795 lbs.
Pounds Per Horsepower 12.4
Fuel Capacity 17.4 gal.
Fuel Requirement 91 octane unleaded premium gasoline
Tires F: P235/40R19, R: P265/35R19 Dunlop SP Sport Maxx 050
Brakes, front/rear vented disc all around, ABS, EBD, BA, VDIM standard
Suspension, front/rear independent double wishbone, independent multilink
Drivetrain front-engine, rear-wheel drive
EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon
city / highway / observed 19 / 28 / 24
0 to 60 mph 5.7 sec
OPTIONS AND CHARGES
F-Sport package -- includes: rain-sensing wipers, heated & ventilated front seats, power rear sunshade, 19-inch Split-Five spoke alloy wheels w/Dark Graphite finish, staggered fitment with summer tires, F-Sport tuned Adaptive Variable Suspension (AVS), Variable Gear-Ratio Steering (VGRS), Sport S+ drive mode, 14.0" two-piece front brake rotors w/4-piston calipers, 16-way F-Sport driver's seat w/power side bolsters, striated aluminum interior trim, black headliner, F-Sport front bumper, upper, and lower grille inserts, rear valence & rear lip spoiler inserts $ 5,690
Heads-up display $ 900
Pre-Collision System & Dynamic Radar Cruise, pre-brake, driver attention monitor w/closed-eye detection $ 2,000
Lexus Dynamic Handling System $ 1,700
Cargo Net $ 64
Trunk Mat $ 105
Delivery and Processing $ 875