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.

8

2011 Lexus GS 350

Styling

The 2011 Lexus GS models are smooth and handsome, if not daring, and their interiors don't always match its sport-sedan mission.

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. A wide center console helps create that feel, while more strongly hooded instruments and a more sculpted dash. The clean look of the instrument panel overall is surprising in a tech-focused luxury car—it's made possible by keeping seldom-used controls out of the way in a drawer.

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.

8

2011 Lexus GS 350

Performance

The 2011 Lexus GS has excellent straight-line acceleration and impressive poise, though its steering isn't as satisfying.

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 GS 350 and GS 460 are plenty quick, and they have a sort of muted poise that makes them enjoyable in all but the hardest driving. The GS 460 is capable of hitting 60 mph in only 5.4 seconds, so it's nearly as fast as the hybrid. Whichever way you have them, the GS sedans handle well, with impressive stability even over rough surfaces, thanks to a double-wishbone front suspension and multilink rear setup. The electric-assist, variable gear-ratio steering is quick and well weighted, but the lack of road feel could be an issue for hard-core sport-sedan aficionados.

The GS 350 is additionally available in an all-wheel-drive version.

7

2011 Lexus GS 350

Comfort & Quality

Tight interior and trunk space limit the GS models' appeal next to rival models, even if their refinement, build quality, and interior materials are all top-notch.

The 2011 Lexus GS has inspiring performance, a plush but well-controlled ride, and a tight, quiet interior. The only issue is that the GS's interior is tight for space as well.

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.

One other surprising limitation is trunk space. At just 12.7 cubic feet in non-hybrid models, shrinking to 7.5 cubic feet in the GS 450h, with a small load opening, it's certainly not one of the more useful trunks.

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.

Another positive is that the GS models are extremely well put together, and the brushed-aluminum and dark gray bird's-eye maple wood trim are at once classy and stylish.

7

2011 Lexus GS 350

Safety

Available active-safety features in the GS sedans go above and beyond, though its crash-test ratings aren't entirely impressive.

While the GS sedans haven't been tested by the federal government, they earn ratings from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) that are respectable, though not top-notch. The GS earns the top 'good' rating in frontal and side impact, but it only gets 'acceptable' ratings in rear impact and roof strength.

Standard features in the GS models include front side bags, side curtain bags, and dual front knee airbags; Lexus' more sophisticated VDIM stability control system and anti-lock brakes are also included across the line.

Active safety options include adaptive cruise control as well as an adaptive front lighting system that swivels the headlights and helps illuminate around corners.

With high-set seats, steep rear glass, and a rather high rear deck, rearward visibility, especially when parking, isn't so great.

9

2011 Lexus GS 350

Features

There's a vast set of standard and optional features in the GS models—and the emphasis is tech.

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.

Standard features on all the models includes keyless entry, Bluetooth, and plus automatic dual-zone climate control, and a HomeLink garage-door opener. The 450h includes the navigation system and rearview camera, while on the 2010 Lexus GS 460 and GS 450h, ventilated seats and adaptive lighting are among the standard features.

But that's not even the start of all the tech features on tap. 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.

6

2011 Lexus GS 350

Fuel Economy

The 2011 Lexus GS 450h is a standout if you plan to do a lot of city driving; otherwise the GS lineup is unremarkable.

The 2011 Lexus GS 450h, with its sophisticated hybrid system in addition to a 292-hp, 3.5-liter V-6, can push this model to 60 mph in just 5.2 seconds. With that kind of performance, it's all the more impressive that the GS 450h returns an EPA-estimated 22 mpg city, 25 highway.

Unfortunately, over a couple of drives, our editors have never been able to replicate those EPA figured in the 450h; we've seen 19 to 20 mpg averages in mixed driving—only a mile or two per gallon better than with the GS 350.

The rest of the GS lineup is pretty unremarkable. EPA ratings range from 17 to 19 mpg in the city and 24 to 26 on the highway.

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Styling 8.0
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