New & Used Lexus GS: In Depth
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The Lexus GS is a luxury four-door just below the hallmark LS sedan and is part of a varied lineup making it a rival for vehicles such as the Cadillac CTS, Audi A6, Mercedes-Benz E-Class, and BMW 5-Series.
The mid-size GS sedan comes in a wide variety of models, from rear-drive six-cylinder versions, to a hybrid model, to versions equipped with all-wheel drive, and soon its first true performance variant, the 2016 Lexus GS F.
MORE: Read our 2015 Lexus GS review for pricing with options, gas mileage information, and specifications
Over time, the Lexus GS has been available with an array of eight- and six-cylinder engines to complement its handling-oriented layout. The current version was initially only offered with six-cylinder power, though that includes a hybrid companion model as well as an F-Sport performance handling option. For 2016, the GS will regain a V-8 option in the form of the high-performance GS F sedan, the first time the full F treatment has been visited upon the Lexus mid-sizer.
The Lexus GS first bowed in 1993 with an evocative shape penned by the Italian design firm Giugiaro. Dubbed the Aristo in Japan, the first GS sedan had an independent suspension, an in-line six-cylinder engine with normal aspiration or a twin-turbo version shared with the Toyota Supra (in Japan only), and an option for a V-8. The sleek sedan was paired with the new SC300 and SC400 coupes, and brought Lexus accolades for expressive design and performance. A Nakamichi sound system and walnut trim were among the high-dollar features installed in the GS.
In its second generation, the 1998-2005 Lexus GS added more performance options to its portfolio. Along with its six-cylinder and V-8 engines, it added four-wheel steering and a manual-shift mode for its automatic transmission, but four-wheel drive was not offered. Notable design features included egg-shaped headlamps that were echoed on the Mercedes-Benz E-Class, and Lexus's special "Optitron" white-lit gauges. Minor changes were made during this model's tenure, and sales dropped off as Lexus previewed the current GS range in a concept car at the 2005 Detroit auto show.
The third-generation Lexus GS went on sale as a 2006 model. It came in V-6 and V-8 versions, with a hybrid variant added as well. The third-generation GS was also the first model to feature Lexus's L-finesse styling upon its introduction.
The GS 450h was introduced at the 2005 New York auto show. It teamed the 3.5-liter V-6 from the GS 350 with batteries and motors and a continuously variable transmission for what Lexus calls a "performance hybrid." While it accelerated strongly, the hybrid version lacked steering feel, carried a price premium, and reduced trunk space--already a shortcoming of the GS. Fuel economy was also a lightning rod for criticism; many test outlets didn't observed any gas-mileage increase with the hybrid.
With either the 303-horsepower, 3.5-liter V-6 in the 2010 Lexus GS 350 or the 342-hp, 4.6-liter V-8 engine in the GS 460, these sedans moved authoritatively. The six-cylinder was teamed with a six-speed automatic; the V-8 got an eight-speed automatic shared with the larger LS. The GS 350 was additionally available in an all-wheel-drive version. Performance was strong in this generation, but limited headroom in front and a compromised rear-seat space marred the experience. Refinement was a strong point, and the GS scored well in front-crash tests, though side-impact scores were not as good.
The new Lexus GS
Lexus skipped the 2012 model year with its mid-size sedan and hybrid, introducing a brand-new GS for the 2013 model year. With a 306-hp, 3.5-liter V-6, paddle-shifted six-speed automatic, and a somewhat sportier setup than before—along with an updated wood- and leather-trimmed cabin—the latest GS 350 hit all the marks for performance and features, in a high-end sport sedan. A huge 12.3-inch wide-screen system was front and center, and could enable split-screen views for the nav system, or connectivity to apps like Pandora or Facebook. Lexus also brought back the GS 450h hybrid in 2013, but initially chose not to build another V-8-powered GS.
For 2015, Lexus upgraded the GS's infotainment setup to include the full Enform App Suite. This includes updates to iHeartRadio and the addition of streaming from the Slacker app. Cars with navigation get the same system that was fitted to the IS, which has improved map views, predictive traffic routing, voice recognition, and the ability to pause and rewind live radio within a 15-minute window. A touchpad controller replaces the previous mouselike infotainment interface piece, which was not well liked.
Today's GS performs well in safety testing. It is also the best-performing GS yet on the road, especially in the GS 350 F Sport, which uses a retuned suspension and chassis to inject even more enjoyment into the experience. Enhancements include 19-inch wheels, bigger brakes, and subtle styling tweaks. Lexus added an F Sport version of the GS 450h hybrid for the 2015 model year as well.
Lexus introduced the first GS F at the 2015 Detroit auto show. The new model will mark the return of a V-8 to the GS lineup and brings the first performance variant to the model, helping it take on the extra-powerful sedan offerings from Mercedes-AMG, BMW M, and Audi's Quattro GmbH. Similar to the smaller RC F coupe, the GS F will combine a high-powered engine with chassis tweaks and a more aggressive appearance, producing a sportier version of Lexus's sportiest mid-size sedan yet. The GS F should arrive as a 2016 model.