2013 Lexus GS 350
2013 Lexus GS 350 Review:
Q: When is a Lexus not a Lexus?
A: When it arrives as the 2013 GS sedan.
The GS, a mid-sized, mid-luxury sport sedan, is the first of a new line of goods from the upscale division of Japan’s Toyota. It has an aggressive new face that will become the signature adornment of other Lexus vehicles to come. (Editor’s note: It will be available in February 2012.)
More than that, however, it is a different direction for a relatively young brand that has been successful from the get-go.From its inception in 1991, Lexus aimed to establish itself as an Asian luxury alternative to premier import brands like Mercedes-Benz, BMW and Audi. It succeeded, but mostly by being different.
Where the European cars—and their offshoot utility vehicles—focused on driver involvement, Lexus preferred to keep drivers somewhat at a distance. Its cars were crafted to do everything unobtrusively and well, like the storied English butler, to the point where many critics, and even some owners, griped that they didn’t feel involved with their rides.
It was the automotive equivalent of the dog walking you instead of you walking the dog.
The concept changed somewhat with the introduction in 2001 of the Lexus IS models—compact cars that poked at the 3 Series BMW, Audi A4 and Mercedes C-Class. But they caught on only with buyers who valued the Lexus dependability more than the Germans’ driving dynamics.
It’s a whole new game with the 2013 Lexus GS, which arrives in four different versions: 350, 350 luxury, 350 F-Sport and 450h hybrid. The GS represents a determined effort to seriously challenge the German brands on their own turf, and it largely succeeds.
Even the 450h hybrid, which trumpets fuel economy, is a hard charger on the road and the race track, with performance nearly indistinguishable from the standard GS and even the F-Sport, which has additional handling and braking enhancements.Zero to 60 miles an hour acceleration times, according the Lexus’s specifications, are in the sub-six-second range for all models, even those with all-wheel drive. Top speeds range from 131 to 142.
There no longer are any V8 engines in the GS models. The most powerful is the hybrid 450h, which delivers a combined 338 horsepower from its 3.5-liter V6 gasoline engine boosted by two electric motors. Even with all that power, the 450h boasts city/highway fuel economy numbers of 29/34 miles to the gallon.
Other GS models are no slouches, either. Their 3.5-liter V6 engines produce 306 horsepower. Rear-drive versions are rated at 19/28 miles to the gallon while all-wheel drivers come in at 19/26, although obviously not when accelerating to 60 in the claimed 5.6 seconds.
But the most noticeable difference in the 2013 GS cars is the interior ambiance and the handling feel. Not to insult the fine Japanese engineers, but all of the GS models mimic Germanic personalities—not unlike those of Mercedes, BMW and Audi.
They exhibit a solid, planted feel with a rigor mortis body structure, communicative steering, stupendous brakes and a firm but compliant ride. Lexus engineers incorporated a host of modifications to deliver the combination. Among them: high-strength steel and additional welds in the body, aluminum suspension components and an electric power steering unit in which the motor cuddles around the steering rack.
F-Sport models also are available with the Lexus dynamic handling system, which includes variable-ratio steering, rear-wheel steering and an adaptive suspension system in concert with traction and stability control, antilock brakes and 19-inch alloy wheels with rear tires that are wider than those in front.
All GS models also come standard with four driving modes—eco, normal, sport and sport plus—that work with both the hybrid’s gear-driven continuously-variable transmission and the standard six-speed automatic transmission, which has manual control and steering-wheel mounted shift paddles.
The sport and sport plus modes tighten the shock absorbers and the steering feel, as well as adjusting the transmission for more aggressive performance.
Of course, the track-style tuning enhancements are aimed at the hard-core enthusiasts. But the base GS, the focus here, has more than enough of everything for the main body of customers. Interiors are opulent, with embellishments like silky bamboo wood trim and concert-hall audio systems from high-end guru Mark Levinson.Optional power front seatbacks even bend in the middle to provide additional comfort for drivers, and there’s generous knee and head room in the back seat, although the driveline hump and rock-hard padding in the middle effectively excludes a fifth passenger. The trunk is generously sized and padded but oddly has an exposed C-hinge on only the right side that could damage luggage. The left hinge is shielded.
The entry-level GS has a starting price of $47,775. With options that included a navigation system, rain-sensing windshield wipers, the premium audio system, heated and cooled front seats and a power rear sun shade, the test car had a sticker of $50,910.
Especially in the GS F-Sport, Lexus has a credible contender against the mid-size German sport/luxury sedans. The only thing it lacks is an ultra high-performance engine like those in the BMW M cars, the Mercedes AMG and the Audi S.
Available in February 2012