Lexus has built a brand around refinement, quietness, precision, American-consumer-friendly ergonomics and reliability for luxury-seeking individuals and families. Dead-center in their lineup sits the GS sedan, a utility player on the luxury sedan bench, now bolstered by an F Sport package aimed at some of the more focused sport sedan competition.
The original GS debuted in 1993 and has quietly gone through three generations including those with V8 engines optional. Not so now, though. Lexus now gets sporty in the GS range with this GS350 F Sport, using the same healthy V6 engine as in the IS350 F Sport, but in a roomier package.
|Vehicle type:||4-door sedan|
|Seating capacity:||5 passengers|
|Price as tested:||$60,870|
|Engine:||3.5-liter V6; DOHC; 24 valves; 306 hp / 277 lb-ft of torque|
|Transmission/drive:||6-speed automatic with manual control / all-wheel-drive|
|0-60 mph:||5.8 sec|
|Top speed:||131 mph|
|Curb weight:||3,980 lbs.|
|Fuel economy, mpg:||19 city / 26 hwy / 21 combined|
Lexus made the new GS a remarkably tidy design, somehow managing to look smaller than it really is. The GS fights in the middle of the luxury market against chief rivals like BMW’s 535i, Infiniti’s Q70, Mercedes’ E350, Acura’s RLX and Audi’s A6. All these middleweight luxury cars are within inches of each other in length and wheelbase and within a few thousand dollars, give or take and depending on whether you value all-wheel-drive as a primary consideration.
Lexus’ product awakening of the past couple years is plainly evident in the GS. Crisp and pleasing to the eye, the GS’s front end is dominated by the now-familiar “spindle” shaped grille. The grille shape is much better integrated in the GS than some other Lexuses, though the areas under the headlights where brake ducting is suggested is a bit fussy. The body sides are less adorned with accents and multiple character lines than other sedans of late, giving the GS’s side profile a minimal presence somewhat akin to the classic 1960s Lincoln Continental sedan, itself a paragon of elegance through simplicity. Above the window sill/shoulder line, the GS’s greenhouse is generous, with a BMW-inspired Hoffmeister kink at the rear quarter window. At the rear, things come together with laid-down L-shaped taillights, a chrome strip above the license plate and exhaust ports embedded in the lower bodywork. The GS’s design is more harmonious than many current luxury sedans and herein lies the important bit. Car design is exactly the same as car systems engineering from the final-outcome standpoint: everything needs to work together. There’s little use having a 500 hp engine if you have brakes fit only for 100 hp. You end up with a horrible imbalance. Same with design. And this GS shows very thoughtful design balance.
The GS’s roominess is your first impression. In the rear, it offers quite a bit more room than the smaller IS250/350 sedan; four inches more legroom and two inches more shoulder room.
This space is accentuated for the driver by the dashboard’s flat shape and the center console’s low height. A truly enormous cutout for the 12.3-inch multifunction information display sits in the center of the dash. Some TV sets from the 1950s weren’t this wide. Navigation, audio, detailed climate control settings are all adjusted through a square, mouse-like user interface presented on the gigantic screen. While the rest of the world has taken to a rotary dial in the center console for adjustments and settings, Lexus uses a rectangular-shaped button to align highlighted settings per the visual on screen. For the rear passengers, the roomy sensation inside is helped by the window sills staying parallel to the ground and not rising, as it does on many sedans. More glass area equals a greater feeling of openness.
Powered by the 306-hp, 60-degree, 24-valve V6 used in other Lexus models, in the GS, the engine shows a split personality. In the smaller Lexus IS sedan, the car’s overall demeanor is dominated by the vocal V6. In the GS, it stays mute until you’re well into the Andretti zone.
Our GS350 F Sport had all-wheel-drive, normally a disadvantage in the curb weight stakes, adding about 200 pounds to the scale. It’s no Greek tragedy, however, as the 0-60 mph figure of 5.8 seconds is a mere .1 second slower than the rear-drive GS350, yet with two more fewer gear ratios. So the added surefootedness of all-wheel-drive in the loose stuff will more than make up for the tenth of a second deficit. All AWD models get a six-speed transmission where the rear-drive models get a new eight-speed autobox. If the difference in performance is this small between the two transmissions and the extra weight, it shows that the six-speed is damn fine.
Uprated F Sport suspension gear includes adjustable & adaptive shocks, larger 14-inch front brake rotors with high-performance pads and 19-inch wheels and tires, helping the GS hang with the cool kids in the handling department. The F package also includes a multi-adjustable sport driver’s seat, aluminum interior trim and a small rear spoiler, all of which is elegantly integrted.
The only legitimate user-focused ding anyone could ever level over the years against Lexus sedans – when measured through the prism of the sportier sedans in similar classes – is a lack of … sportiness. Synaptic driver involvement and reward. No longer. The GS350 in F Sport trim is a capable competitor to the best of the sport sedan class and offers ample rear passenger room, yet retains the trademark Lexus relaxed behavior when chauffeuring royalty. Or family.
by Jim Resnick
photos: Jim Resnick