2011 Lexus GS 350 Review

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Bengt Halvorson Bengt Halvorson Deputy Editor
February 17, 2011

The 2011 Lexus GS sedans are fast, refined, and well-appointed; but low points include a cramped backseat and, for the 450h Hybrid, lackluster fuel economy.

The 2011 Lexus GS 350, 460, and 450h sedans take aim at the likes of the BMW 5-Series—and to some degree, the Cadillac CTS—but they're a little more muted in driving feel. Primarily rear-wheel drive, the GS models aren't as roomy inside as the comfort-oriented, front-wheel-drive Lexus ES 350. Instead, the GS models' strengths their sporty driving feel, along with convenience- and safety-oriented tech features.

The look of the 2011 Lexus GS sedans—inside and out—hasn't changed much in many years, though a couple of years ago it did get a slight refresh with restyled front, integrated side-mirror turn signals, and new wheel designs. And actually, the design still looks quite good—a gentle evolution of the Giugiaro-designed exterior of the standout 1990s-era GS models. With its arched roofline, cleanly styled front end and hunkered-back stance—along with very smooth sheetmetal—the GS looks purposeful yet graceful.

Inside, the GS has a curvier, more cockpit-like theme than the comfort-oriented ES and LS models, with an overall feel that's a little more European inspired. But the materials aren't totally on board with the GS's tech-laden sport-sedan mission; they keep with Lexus tradition and are somewhat conservative in appearance, with a new brushed-aluminum shift plate and dark gray bird's-eye maple wood.

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The 2011 Lexus GS sedans move authoritatively, no matter whether you get the 303-horsepower, 3.5-liter V-6 in the Lexus GS 350 or the 342-hp, 4.6-liter V-8 engine in the GS 460. With either automatic transmission—the 350 and 450h get six speeds, the 460 picks up eight—the powertrain has a silky, unobtrusive demeanor in normal driving, but paddle-shifters allow you to manually access all those ratios.

For those who want top technology, along with some green bragging rights, the GS 450h gets a full-hybrid powertrain pairing a 292-horsepower, 3.5-liter V-6 with an electric motor system, propelling the rear wheels and charging its battery pack when coasting and braking. Altogether, the hybrid powertrain makes 339 horsepower and it's tuned for performance much more than fuel economy; it can push the 450h to 60 mph in just 5.2 seconds—faster than the V-8-powered GS 460.

The 2011 Lexus GS has inspiring performance, a plush but well-controlled ride, and a tight, quiet interior. The otherwise inspiring performance in the 2011 Lexus GS sedans, however, is marred by limited headroom inside the cabin—even in the front seats—and a surprisingly tight backseat. Front-seat comfort is also limited by seats that feel a little short and flat for some tastes—especially when compared to those used in BMWs, for instance.

GS models ride quite firmly, and while it can be a little too firm for some surfaces, most will find the ride just right with some underlying softness but no wallowing. Refinement is top-notch as well; there's not nearly as much road noise in the GS compared to other sport sedans, and the engines are just as refined and smooth as they are powerful and responsive.

In looking through the feature sets for the GS 350, GS 460, and GS 450h, there's plenty of standard luxury and comfort with a little more tech than is typical. Intuitive park-assist system and an active stabilizer system—which provides the advantage of a heavier stabilizer bar almost instantaneously without sacrificing ride quality—are among the options. Other options include an Adaptive Variable Suspension (AVS) system, which gets four different firmness settings, plus laser cruise control, adaptive front lighting, ventilated cooled front seats, a power rear sunshade, and a DVD audio/video-compatible, 14-speaker Mark Levinson sound system.

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