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2013 Lexus GS 350 Review By Steve Purdy

2013 Lexus GS 350 (select to view enlarged photo)
2013 Lexus GS 350

2013 LEXUS GS 350
By Steve Purdy
Michigan Bureau

I attended the launch of the new GS350 last November in Las Vegas where one of the opportunities to experience the car involved hot laps on a short road racing course with both a BMW 5-Series and a Mercedes E-Class for comparison. In terms of handling, performance and overall thrashing thrills the GS beat the pants off the two Germans. We finally had the opportunity this week to live with it long enough for a full evaluation.

At just about 60-grand (50-grand base price) our GS is loaded with technology and luxury along with its sporty character. Options include a $6,500 Luxury Package, $1,735 Navigation Package, $500 Blind Spot Monitor and $500 Park Assist. Even with a week we hadn’t enough time to explore all its nuances and features. It was long enough, though, to confirm my sense garnered at the launch that the GS350 is a leader in its class.

Lexus designers call their new front end look a “spindle” design – sort of wide at the top and bottom while slim in the middle. The lower fascia flares out and down encasing round fog lights and angular air inlets. We worry that curb scrapings might be exacerbated by some of that drama. The unimaginative design from b-pillar back could adorn just about any car in this or any other class of car. They lost the cool swooping fastback shape of the second- and third-gen predecessors. It is certainly attractive though not particularly dramatic.

Inside is where the new design really shines. I referred to it earlier as elegant because it is beautiful, understated and classy. Materials are luxurious without being ostentatious, and the small analog clock in the center of the dash speaks to a theme and ambiance of class without pretension. An old southern saw proclaims “an ounce of pretension is worth a pound of manure.” There’s no manure here.

In the center of the dash is the 12.3-inch navigation and control screen – 8 inches for the navigation and the rest for other controls. A slick rocker knob acts like a mouse in scanning and selecting functions giving just enough minor resistance between virtual buttons to feel the process as well as see it. We’ve seen this on the other high-line luxury cars and love how it feels and works.

You can also have the Lexus “Enform 2.0” with “Safety Connect” voice-activated apps suite system. Limited apps for restaurant reservations, theater tickets, music management and a bunch of other stuff combine with managing music and other infotainment functions by voice command. The first year is free. After that a subscription charge applies. More apps will be added, of course.

Wood, stitched leather, soft-look metal trim and ambient lighting make a statement about Lexus’ image. The best trim is in the Hybrid where popular, eco-friendly bamboo accents the dash and steering wheel. We’re told the steering wheel is all hand crafted. It sort of takes wood trim to a new level. While only available in the Hybrid now the bamboo may become so popular they’ll have to offer it in the others.

The lovely GS350 is powered by a smooth and sophisticated 3.5-liter V6, with both direct and port injection making 306 horsepower and 277 pound-feet of torque. The sound this engine makes as it winds toward redline is both throaty and resonant without a wisp of crassness. Kudos to the Lexus acoustic engineers.

Power gets to the rear wheels through an efficient and quick shifting 6-speed automatic transmission with sport and eco modes. “Why not a seven- or eight-speed?” asked one of our colleagues at the launch event. The answer was all about the engineers believing they had the perfectly balanced combination and the changeover to a new transmission with more gears would be well beyond the point of diminishing returns. Time will tell if that was a good decision. Most cars in this class are going to 7- and 8-speed transmissions.

Rated at 19-mpg in the city and 26 on the highway with a 21-mpg average using premium fuel, I was able to get 27.2 mpg on my first tank. That was probably 80% highway driving but it was at the extra-legal speeds it takes to keep up with our brisk Michigan freeway traffic.

The GS350 is a rear-wheel drive sedan with an optional all-wheel drive system that features a normal 30/70 split that becomes 50/50 on demand. A rear-wheel steering system with a 2-degree range, comes on the GS-F Sport and assists substantially with spirited driving needs. The GS350’s fully independent suspension is of conventional design but is nearly perfect for a luxury sedan with performance ambitions. Standard are 17-inch, 9-spoke alloy wheels with all-weather tires. Our test car has the optional 18-inchers. In addition to my earlier remarks about how well it handles on the race course, I’ll attest it is just as competent in conventional use.

The new GS is just about the same size as the old one with just a slight increase in track. The same wheelbase and overall length apply. The chassis/body structure has been stiffened with the judicious use of high-strength steel and a new pressed steel layer in the b-pillar. They claim significant improvement is aerodynamics and serenity (noise, vibration and harshness). Little fins on the taillight lenses, for example, redirect airflow at the tail of the car to minimize turbulence.

Competing with the luxury Germans requires a high degree of technology, like blind spot warning, lane departure warning, adaptive cruise control and all that driver assistance stuff. The new GS has all that plus an optional little sensor on the top of the steering column pointed at the driver’s face that sees drooping eyelids and lessening focus on the road, warning the driver of falling asleep or distraction.

The GS and GS F Sport have been on the market since February and the Hybrid emerged not long thereafter. The latter comes with innovative bamboo wood trim making a statement about renewable resources.

Since Lexus is offering no V8 or mega-horsepower version of the GS they’ll concede that part of the market to the Germans, but it looks like they’ll be competing much more intently in the bulk of the mid-size luxury sport sedan market.

BY THE WAY: Here is what the NYT said about the GS 350: How’s this for a Hollywood shocker: this Lexus (2013 GS 350) not only has a more overtly aggressive demeanor than the (BMW) 5 Series, the Audi A6 or the Mercedes E-Class, but its steering also feels more lively and connected. . Nice. SP

© Steve Purdy, Shunpiker Productions, All Rights Reserved