A Victory & Reseda review of the 2013 Lexus GS 350
Excuse me while I address the following to Mark Templin, the Group Vice President and General Manager, Lexus Division, Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A., Inc.
Dear Mr. Templin,
Remember when you and the social media team from Lexus hosted a chat during the 2011 Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance? I was there, watching all the questions and comments rolling through, until I butted in. I was the one who expressed concern and doubt on the overall design package of the 2013 GS.
Your response was simple: Wait until I saw it in person.
Mr. Templin, you were right. I did see it in person – at the Chicago Auto Show during Press Days. I got to see it again at the Twin Cities Auto Show. Color me impressed. I liked how the team at Lexus created a textured and sculpted look for the GS. The brand's new signature "spindle" grille truly created the impression that flows onward to the rear.
I get it, Mr. Templin. Well done, indeed.
However, design is one thing. There are some harder questions to tackle. For one, does the Lexus GS drive the way it looks? Over a year since it was unleashed upon the world, an extremely well appointed 2013 GS 350 AWD with the Luxury Package arrived at the V&R Garage to hopefully answer that question.
To explain the weight put upon this particular Lexus, the GS had been in the lineup dating back to the early 1990s as their rear-wheel-drive mid-sized luxury sports sedan entry. As athletic as its moves, styling was never its strongest point. Interior room had always been tighter than its rivals – namely the BMW 5-Series, Mercedes-Benz E-Class, Audi A6 and the Infiniti M. For the new model, Lexus went back to the drawing board to not only make it better looking, but a better package overall.
Lexus may have succeeded this time around.
It starts with a new look for the brand – the aforementioned "spindle" grille. The evolution of the new look came from not only several concepts that toured the auto show circuit for the last several years, but from hints first seen on the hybrid CT hatchback and the LFA supercar. The result is a starting point that dictates where the GS is going in terms of combining the sports and luxury aspects of the car.
Thanks to the spindle grille, Lexus finally has a distinctive look for today's discriminating consumer.
The aggressiveness of the spindle grille continues the GS's theme with its solid side profile leading to a nicely finished rear end. Compared to previous generations of the GS, this one looks the part it was originally intended without having to resort to resembling its rivals. The best way to describe the new GS is a synergy of elegance and muscle-bound brawn.
As much as the exterior is a complete step forward, the interior of the GS will blow your mind. Your eyes are immediately fixated at the large 12.3-inch center screen. This is where the infotainment and telematics systems reside, including Lexus Enform. The wide screen also houses readout and specific controls for the climate system and other vehicle functions. You access all of these functions through the Remote Touch controller on the center console next to the gear lever. This mouse-like controller has been enhanced for the GS as the swivel also functions as the click button.
Everything else is typical Lexus – wonderful displays, soft touch materials, great switches, knobs and buttons and smaller diameter steering wheel. The latter is a recent development for newer Lexus models. Though it may seem complicated to understand for anyone outside of the brand. Once you get the hang of the Remote Touch controller and the plethora of buttons, knobs and switches throughout the GS, you would come appreciate how well Lexus truly crafted this mid-sized premium sports sedan for the driver.
The driver's seat is an absolute treat. Not only do you get the normal power adjustments for rake, recline and height, you also get power adjustments for the upper and lower lumbar supports, the bolsters and the front thigh support. The driver can choose to be comfortable or simply supportive. Sporty black perforated leather is lavished on the GS seats for four normal-sized adults. Trunk space looked fine, but the wheel wells dug into critical parts of the cargo hold.
The idea behind the GS is to offer than ever before. This is true for the audio system that goes along with the Luxury package. Twelve speakers dot throughout the cabin channeling everything from HD Radio, SiriusXM satellite radio and the tunes on your Bluetooth-connected mobile device. You can always utilize the USB connection inside the center console for your devices as well.
The sound that came from the audio system was equally rivaled by the sound coming from the integrated twin exhaust ports at the rear bumper. There is a distinctive rumble and burble that would come from a sports-tuned 3.5litre V6 engine – a staple of the Lexus lineup (and other Toyota products). With 306 horsepower on tap, the GS is capable of going from 0-to-60MPH on 5.7 seconds. Needless to say, the V6 feels like you can actually do that. It is quick and responsive to the throttle. The V6 also provides a proper soundtrack when you step on the accelerator.
Unlike its rivals, the GS relies on a six-speed automatic gearbox to control the V6's power band. Six ratios are all you need really because this transmission actually works as intended. You can choose to switch gears yourself other at the shifter or with paddles on the steering wheel. Or, you can simple leave it in Drive and still feel the power as it goes through the gears. This tester came with all-wheel drive – a must in our parts since the standard driveline is through the rear wheels.
There is a trick to this powerful machine. On the center console is the Drive Mode Select knob. It works to whatever mood you wish to be in while behind the wheel of the GS. It starts off in Normal, which is a combination of all good things the GS offers. If you want to leisurely go about your way, the Eco mode eases a lot of the vehicle's settings – including the climate control – to save fuel along the way. Flip the knob to the right, and you are in Sport S mode. Sport S enables the engine to breather deeper and induces the transmission for quicker shifts.
Flip the knob to the right one more time, and you are in Sport S+ mode. This setting tightens up the suspension, the steering response, and the gear changes. The result is a well-tuned, well-oiled machine that is fun to throw in a curve. The interesting part to Sport S+ mode was minimal fuel economy loss while the driving dynamics settings are at its tightest.
In any mode, the GS still combines the best of all worlds. The suspension was already reworked to minimize roll and keeps the car stable through the curves. Only Sport S+ maximizes suspension feel and keeps body roll is near zero. Normally when you stiffen the suspension, you lose ride quality and comfort. The GS is very consistent in every mode, keeping the overall ride stable and comfortable. You do feel some road imperfections even in Eco mode, but not enough to send shockwaves through the cabin.
In all other modes, I found the steering to be a bit soft in feel, though turning reaction is quite good. There is some play in Eco mode at the wheel. Sport S+ resolves this issue providing a tighter and sharper feel at every turn. Braking is quite good with balanced response in every mode. Panic stops are to the point without drama from the system and the pedal.
One does not expect great fuel economy out of a premium mid-sized sports sedan with over 300 horsepower. You may even consider that it would be relative to its competition. That was exactly what the GS yielded – averaging 21.1MPG. If you are concerned about fuel economy and like the GS, it does come in a Hybrid edition – the GS 450h, which takes the 3.5litre V6 and tacks on the Lexus Synergy Drive motor onto it.
The price of admission is what you would expect from a comprehensively equipped car in its class. The Luxury Package on this GS 350 AWD sends the sticker price to $60,990. Keep in mind that the GS starts at $47,795 with just rear wheel drive and no packages.
Given its recent history, as linked to its parent company, the GS simply returns Lexus back into the premium automobile fold. The result has been an increase in sales for Toyota's luxury brand – a good thing if you are not a fan of the class-leading Germans. As an offshoot of the GS, the new Lexus spindle grille has made it way onto four new or revised models this model year alone: The ES sedan, the RX crossover, the LX large SUV and the flagship LS sedan.
But, is the GS worth the buzz it created at Pebble Beach over a year ago? It has plenty of people talking, but it seemed to have quelled to a murmur. Then again, the entire segment has not been given the brighter spotlight due to newer segments involving the same cadre of premium brands, as well as newer competition on other fronts. It is not that the premium mid-sized sports sedan is not as relevant as its smaller siblings. It is the focus has shifted to absolute performance.
The GS does not have a rival to the BMW M5, Mercedes-Benz E-Class AMGs or the Audi S6. Does it have to? I could easily see Lexus drop the IS-F's V8 underneath the GS 350 F Sport's hood, but Lexus decided to not offer any V8 model at all. For the enthusiast, this is puzzling.
However, I must ask this: Does the GS really need a V8 to enjoy the thrust from the current V6 and noise from the exhaust? No. The GS is a damn good car in a class where the Germans have the upper hand.
I presume Mr. Templin would agree that assessment.
DISCLAIMER: Vehicle provided by Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A., Inc.
All photos by Randy Stern