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The mid-size Lexus GS wants you to know--begs of you to know--it's still here. It's wandered on and off the radar in recent years, skipping 2012 entirely in the U.S., but it's back for 2013, fully refreshed, relaxed, and reinvigorated, and ready to take on the Mercedes-Benz E Class and BMW 5-Series yet again.
In that way, it's the Andy Roddick of sport sedans, fully capable of taking points off both of the leaders on any given day, but ritually clobbered by both on a regular basis where it counts--on the points board.
It's hardly Lexus' fault here. Some buyers don't want anything but a German car in the garage, and with new 5ers and E Classes coming all the time--cabriolets, GTs, AMGs and Ms, there's nary a breather for them to even consider something outside the usual. A new Lexus GS 350 would barely show up on their radar in a typical year.
This year, though, it might. In part, it's due to the "new face of Lexus," the styling language lifted right off the LFA supercar and applied somewhat out of context here on the GS. This GS now has predator fangs--boomerang jowls that frame the grille in a way no other car on earth can claim. That strong visual identity is something new for Lexus, something it can hang on to, along with the Nakamichi-minimalist interior fitted inside, and upholstered with lots of leather and LED lighting. It's a cool workplace that conversely feels very warm and inviting.
The GS' performance wouldn't appear to have seen much attention, since the 3.5-liter V-6 is only mildly uprated to 306 horsepower, and since the carryover six-speed automatic's only seen some shift-speed improvements and the addition of shift paddles and eco and sport modes. Those changes reap much from the big six: the GS 350 can peel off 0-60 mph times of 5.7 seconds, and Lexus even pipes in some of the soundtrack directly into the cabin, in an about-face of more than 20 years' worth of branding and positioning centered around quietness.
The change keeps coming beneath the skin, where even base GS sedans seem to plant themselves more firmly, and a new F Sport package dials in electric steering as good as any German-brand luxosedan, with the same near-zero tolerance for potholes in ride quality. Toss in optional active steering, and the GS' transitions are sharper, cleaner than any of the mid-size German sedans or the Cadillac CTS; it's a breathtaking difference in philosophy and in driving feel. Electronics are equalizing the differences here quickly, neutralizing some of the hallmarks of the great German sedans and erasing some of the deficits of the former also-rans from Japan.
The GS 350 hasn't expanded its definition of comfort very much, which is fine since it's hard to go anywhere from standard 10-way power seats--other than optional 18-way power front seats with heating and ventilation and semi-aniline leather in the loveliest of shades. The GS' rear seat remains tight at the knees in spite of some mild reshaping, and the trunk is a little shallow. Lexus' mix of wood and leather on luxury versions is sweetly rendered, and the high-tech F Sport trim looks fine, even if we're not sure what it's meant to simulate. Fewer trim pieces and types would heighten the performance-studio impression even more, we think.
For $47,775, the 2013 Lexus GS 350 comes standard with features that include ten airbags; a rearview camera; leather upholstery; satellite radio and iPod connectivity; Bluetooth with audio streaming; and Remote Touch, the mouselike controller that runs secondary systems. An optional navigation system brings with it a huge 12.3-inch LCD display for split-screen output of all kinds of data, including that from Enform, the connectivity system that enables in-car mobile apps like Pandora and OpenTable and Facebook. Among the purer luxury options, there's an 835-watt Mark Levinson audio system; espresso wood trim; heated rear seats; and a wood-and-leather steering wheel.
- Feels poised across the board
- Catchy styling hooks
- Eighteen ways to find front-seat comfort
- F Sport's crisp steering, transient responses
- Enform connectivity tops the class
Next: Interior / Exterior »
- F Sport ride gets harsh
- Gas mileage at the low end of luxury
- Roofline's more formal than before
- Back seat still snug at the knees
- Lighter trim=more plastic