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2015 Lexus GS 350 F-Sport Review by Carey Russ +VIDEO


PHOTO (select to view enlarged photo)
2015 Lexus GS 350 F Sport

In F-Sport trim, Lexus's GS 350 can hold its own against the best from Germany.

DRIVING DOWN THE ROAD WITH CAREY

         • SEE ALSO: Lexus Buyers Guide


PHOTO (select to view enlarged photo)
2015 Lexus GS 350 F Sport

Lexus's GS sedan has been a worthy competitor in the midsize sport-luxury class since its debut in 1993, but during much of that time luxury was predominant over sport. Which didn't hurt sales a bit, but there's always that perception of inferiority when compared to the Germans in the class. Which is not a worry exclusive to Lexus, by any means. American and British marques are affected as well. Still, sport sells…

The current GS dates back to model year 2013, and yes there will be some changes for 2016. Does that make the 2015 edition a lame duck? Not at all.

Changes include upgrades to electronic systems to keep abilities and options current. The standard multimedia screen is larger, with an even larger one included with navigation. There are more choices in data display, and, for iPhone users, Siri® Eyes Free Mode continues, integrating the phone's map and contacts.

As before, the 2015 GS is offered only with V6 power, either as the GS 350 with a naturally-aspirated 3.5-liter, 306-horsepower unit matched to an eight-speed automatic transmission or in GS 450h form, with 338 maximum horsepower from a V6-plus-electric motor hybrid system. The GS 350 can be had with rear- or all-wheel drive; the GE 450h is rear-drive only. Both may be outfitted with the F-Sport performance and cosmetic package.

The F-Sport package adds a sport-tuned adaptive suspension with Sport+ driving mode in addition to the regular eco, default and Sport modes, variable-ratio steering, larger front brakes with four-piston calipers, a 16-way power-adjustable driver's seat plus heating and ventilation of both front seats, rain-sensing wipers, and unique interior and exterior trim. It looks the part, and in Sport+ mode is the part. This is a Lexus that wants to speak German to the Germans. And, when comfort is more appropriate, is as solidly comfortable and civilized as is expected of a Lexus.

That is an introduction to this week's test car, a 2015 GS 350 F-Sport. Comparing it to a similar example tested back in 2012, I see that the F-Sport package price has decreased -- from $5,690 to $4,825 for the same features. This car also had the blind-spot monitoring system, Mark Levinson surround-sound audio, the Intuitive Park Assist sonar hazard-alert system, and a power trunk lid for that final luxury touch. The navigation system was standard here. The result is a mid-luxury car that works as well as a high-performance sports sedan or as a luxury sedan, changing from one to the other at the turn of a knob on the console. Default and sport modes are best for most everyday driving, and even spirited journeys on twisting scenic roads. Sport+ is best when pavement is smooth and limits are high. Track day in a Lexus? This one would work -- it's not a race car but most track day events aren't races, just an opportunity to play harder than usual in a controlled environment with speeds dictated by physics, not politics. Eco? Maybe on a long highway drone -- and I somehow managed to stay off highways for most of my week. That was reflected in the 19-mpg average for fuel use, close to the EPA city estimate.




Need or want more power and next-generation Lexus styling? The GS-F is coming, with 5.0-liter V8 power to the tune of over 450. Which should be interesting, but the GS 350 is plenty quick enough and easy to live with.

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2015 Lexus GS 350 F Sport

APPEARANCE: Stylistic conservatism went out the door at Lexus with the debut of the current GS, and only when compared to the newer IS does it look modest. It's aging well, with the coupe-like roof profile that has been an identifying characteristic since the beginning of the lineage long ago complemented by the "spindle" hourglass grille and wide, low headlights. The F-Sport package adds more-aggressive lower front styling with real brake ducts flanking the lower part of the grille. A small ducktail spoiler and faux-venturi panel grace the rear, while modest sill extensions are found at the sides. Appropriately. it's more mature-looking than a tricked-out sport compact.

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2015 Lexus GS 350 F Sport

COMFORT: Inside is the Lexus take on sport plus luxury, and appropriately European in mien. Don't expect gold-plated opulence; do expect fine materials, design, and construction and feedback, not isolation, from the external world. As is appropriate for a sports sedan. 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 the outboard positions are deeply contoured and the central tunnel is high and wide. 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. The screen is larger now than before, with more choices for data display. 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 of course) 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, Blind Spot Monitor, and Lane Keep Assist with Lane Departure Warning systems.

RIDE AND HANDLING: A good, rigid unibody structure and well-designed double-wishbone front, multilink rear suspension give the GS good road manners. The F-Sport package adds Sport+ mode to the Drive Mode selector to (compared to Sport) further stiffen damping, quicken steering response, and raise the limits of operation of the Vehicle Dynamic Integrated Management (VDIM) stability control system for an improved performance driving experience. Default mode provides a fine sport-luxury baseline, while Sport is a bit stiffer for improved response but still comfortable over less-than-optimum pavement. F-Sport also adds excellent 14-inch front discs, grabbed by four-piston calipers. Stopping quickly is good!

PERFORMANCE: Ultra-performance supercar? No, the GS 350 is not, at least by today's standards. Specs -- 306 horsepower (at 6400 rpm) and torque peaking at 277 lb-ft at 4800 rpm -- don't tell the whole story. VVT-i variable cam actuation and a combination of direct and port fuel injection and a high 11.5:1 compression ratio allowed by that allow the namesake 3.5-liter V6 to produce that power efficiently, and over a wide rev range. The V6 is physically smaller and lighter than the old 4.6-liter V8, so the GS 350 weighs a couple of hundred pounds less than its GS 460 forebear. That helps both road manners and fuel efficiency. The eight-speed automatic than replaced the six-speed previously used in the 350 also helps both acceleration and fuel economy, with low lows and high overdrive for both acceleration and highway efficiency. It's smooth and refined in default mode, a bit brasher in Sport, and wants to take no prisoners in Sport+. My 19 mpg average reflects nearly no highway driving. I got 24 out of the 2009 model similarly-equipped but with the old eight-speed, so more miles on the slab should mean much better gas mileage.

CONCLUSIONS: In F-Sport trim, Lexus's GS 350 can hold its own against the best from Germany.

SPECIFICATIONS

2015 Lexus GS 350 F-Sport

Base Price $ 48,600

Price As Tested $ 57,330

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 8-speed automatic with manual shift mode

Wheelbase / Length 112.2 in. / 190.7 in.

Curb Weight 3726 lbs.

Pounds Per Horsepower 12.2

Fuel Capacity 17.4 gal.

Fuel Requirement 91 octane unleaded premium gasoline

Tires F: P235/40R19 96Y, R: P265/35R19 94Y Bridgestone Potenza RE 050A

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

PERFORMANCE

EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon city / highway / observed 19 / 29 / 19

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 $ 4,825

Blind-Spot Monitor with power-folding exterior mirrors $ 700

Mark Levinson Premium Surround Sound Audio $ 1,380

One-Touch Power Trunk $ 400

Intuitive Park Assist $ 500

Delivery Charge $ 925