2013 Lexus GS 350 Review

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Marty Padgett Marty Padgett Editorial Director
April 3, 2012

The 2013 Lexus GS 350 gains a little confidence and connectivity, while its competition gains some weight and complexity.

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.

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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.



7

2013 Lexus GS 350

Styling

Hurrah for the Lexus GS' boomerang grille and beam-straight dash; meh for the chin ruffles.

The mid-size GS has always been the most fashionable four-door of the Lexus lineup, but that's not paid any big dividends since the first-generation, Giugiaro-penned original. A slow seller since, the GS has been rebooted this year with a look that's polarizing in lots of ways--in our virtual office, in photos, even within the GS' skin itself.

It's competing for attention from all angles, this GS, from its own more formal roofline to the sharklike snout that's the "new face of Lexus." Like it or not--and some of do, quite a bit--the double-boomerang frames the grille and makes the shape instantly identifiable. It's not yet cliched, though we might feel differently once it wends its way across everything from the LFA supercar to the RX 350 crossover. That said, the striking effect gets undercut by the busy strakes and foglights that ruffle underneath on F Sport cars, by the LED underliner on the headlamps.

It's not entirely related to the rest of the car, either. Of all the GS sedans we've seen flow out of Lexus' studios, this one's the most upright. The side glass and the cut of the D-pillar echoes strongly of the 2002-2010 BMW 7-Series, where the GS' entire history put low, sleek lines higher on the honey-do list. At first glance challenging and bristling with detail and surface excitement, the GS 350 settles down quickly and comfortably into your brain.

The cabin does something similar, even as it executes a 180-degree turn from the softly rounded, smoothly deployed ghost of Lexus past. There's a spartan vibe underneath that emanates from the horizontally themed dash, something akin to a Nakamichi sound system, all work while it plays, while cool LED ambient lighting glows around the perimeter and a high-resolution display sucks in all the attention, away from beautiful, big gauges. Real wood trim softens the cabin up well, while F Sport cars wear metallic-printed plastic that sounds less appealing than it looks. Padded leather panels in rich, deep hues keep the subtext alive: we're looking at something that's more live-performance studio than traditional Lexus library.

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2013 Lexus GS 350

Performance

Even base versions are pleasantly firm; the F Sport with active steering's quick and neat as a paper cut.

The 2013 Lexus GS lineup is immediately notable for what's been taken out (the V-8 option) and for what's not been added (more gears, more transmissions even). After a few turns at the wheel, it's remarkable for what it's become: a credible handling rival for the mid-size Germans in base trim, and an incredibly composed carving tool when the bundle of F Sport bolt-ons are tightened into place.

With the former V-8 option gone, all GS sedans now sport a 3.5-liter V-6 engine. For 2013, it's tuned up to 306 horsepower through direct injection, four valves per cylinder and four cams, with variable valve timing. Still stronger on torque from about 3000 rpm and above, the engine's received a nifty aural boost with a muffler and sound generator that pipe the magic right into the GS' cockpit--exactly the opposite to more than two decades of Lexus tradition, of filtering out driving sensations wherever possible.

It's a strong clue as to where the GS' loyalties lie even before you shift the six-speed into drive and work its paddles to extract more than the usual from the powerband. The competition's moved on to seven- and eight-speed boxes, but to save time and money, Lexus simply updated this transmission with throttle-blipping, quicker shifting, and re-mapping with Eco and Sport shifting modes, plus a Sport + mode on top versions, for adaptive shifting behavior. All told, sending power to the rear wheels on the basic GS 350, Lexus quotes a 0-60 mph time of 5.7 seconds, or a few tenths slower with optional all-wheel drive. Top speed's set at 142 mph for RWD models.

The all-wheel-drive system, for the 40 percent who have to have it, varies its torque from a 50:50 split to 30:70 as needed.

Base versions sport electric power steering and an independent, multi-link suspension front and rear. Even here, the GS 350 digs a little more deeply, and extracts a little more from standard 17-inch, 50-series tires than before. Lexus credits a lighter-weight suspension and stiffer body, and we'll also give some kudos to relatively well-executed power steering that makes the base car pleasant to drive, with a more composed ride than it had in years gone by. Luxury models add the adaptive suspension, a pricey option for subtle differences in ride and handling, we think.

It's the progressive steps forward with the adaptive suspension and active steering combined in the F Sport package that set a new benchmark for the brand. Electronic controls for steering and suspension have turned out to be the great equalizer in the luxury-sedan segment: While the German competition struggles in its own ways to elevate electronic driving controls to their high standards of driving feel, the F Sport lifts the GS' game from its former junior-varsity league, making it feel smaller and sharper than ever.

To get there, the F Sport adds on stiffer springs, roll bars and bushings; adaptive shocks; variable-ratio steering; bigger front brakes; and as an option, active rear steering, which can dial in up to 2.0 degrees of steering angle at the rear wheels opposing the fronts, to slice off apexes more neatly, or steer in tandem with the front wheels at high speeds for better stability. Managing it all atop 19-inch wheels and tires, Lexus finally has drilled one home. It's dialed up instantaneous steering response and very tightly damped ride control, with very low tolerance for potholes and bad pavement junctions the price paid for its crisp handling. 

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2013 Lexus GS 350

Comfort & Quality

The rear seat hasn't grown much bigger or more comfortable, but hey--18-way power front seats if you want 'em.

With little change in dimensions from the last GS, Lexus says the 2013 GS 350 nonetheless has more head, knee, and leg room than before. Those improvements can be made by reshaping seats and resculpting interior trim, and in the front seat, they haven't done much to ruffle a comfortable driving position. The basic 10-way power-adjustable seats make it simple to find a good driving position, along with a power tilt/telescoping steering wheel and power-adjustable rearview mirrors. It's been a couple of model years since we've been in a GS--Lexus skipped the 2012 model year--but the horizontally drawn dash seems to have a wider center console than before. The premium-upgrade 18-way seats are wonderfully supportive and come along with heating and ventilation, a feature we've grown to appreciate for almost year-round seat comfort.

The rear seat doesn't seem much larger in any dimension from where we last left the GS, however. Knee room is lean, though head room may be a bit better because the seat cushion now sits lower. The nominal fifth seat in the middle of the back bench won't be comfortable for most adults we know, but the doors themselves are larger, which means it's easier to slide into the seats. Heated rear seats and rear-seat climate control are available as options.

Lexus says the trunk is about a quarter bigger than before. The opening is wide but somewhat shallow, with a pass-through for longer items. Inside the cabin, smaller items find a home in door pockets, in a fairly deep glovebox, and in a console bin with a lid that slides backward to expose audio ports. A big pair of cupholders sits at the front of the console under a lid--as does an ashtray, a relic of the GS' home-market tastes.

On the whole, the level of fit and finish in the GS 350 is very high. High-grade plastic trim now dominates the dash, from the console coverings to the metallic highlights that surround the analog clock. One annoyance we noticed is the Remote Touch controller's housing and its poor fit on the console: on the right side, it doesn't match the shape of the console, leaving a gap where all sorts of detritus is doomed to gather. On a brighter note, Lexus' GS gauges are big, crisp and clear, and lots of padded leather surfaces are stitched together with care--though they add up visually, making the dash look busy, seam by seam.

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2013 Lexus GS 350

Safety

The 2013 Lexus GS is a Top Safety Pick, and it has all the conceivable safety bases covered.

Lexus has upgraded the safety offerings in the GS lineup significantly this year, but because it's so new, neither crash-test agency has yet put one on the sled.

Since both the car and the tests themselves have changed so radically, there's not much relevance in the previous GS' good crash performance. And while the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) hasn't yet tested the GS, it's already earned Top Safety Pick status from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), with top 'good' results for frontal, side, and rear impact tests, along with the new roof strength test.

The new GS also gets a lot more progressive about the way it tries to prevent accidents. The airbag count goes up to ten, with dual front and side airbags joined by curtain and rear-seat side airbags as well as front knee airbags. Active headrests are standard, and so are a rearview camera and parking sensors--and Bluetooth, which we consider a safety device.

New safety technology makes its way into the GS 350 in option packages. The GS' standard cruise control can be upgraded to active cruise control with a pre-collision warning system and braking intervention. A head-up display and night vision are offered, as are blind-spot monitors. Finally, a new lane-departure warning system works with a lane-keeping system to gently steer the GS back into its lane if the car's sensors detect a drift out of its proper driving lane.

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2013 Lexus GS 350

Features

A new world of connectivity and big, bright high-end audio are some of the GS 350's best options.

No Lexus would be complete without the requisite luxury and convenience items. In the GS 350, that list begins with standard power windows, locks and mirrors; cruise control; automatic climate control; an AM/FM/XM/DVD player with HD radio; Bluetooth with audio streaming; text-to-voice readback; leather upholstery; and power front seats.

Remote Touch is also standard. It's the Lexus infotainment controller that uses a mouselike device on the center console to operate climate, audio, and phone functions via an eight-inch display, which also becomes the output for the standard rearview camera. When the optional navigation system is ordered, Remote Touch displays on a huge, beautiful 12.3-inch-wide screen that's wide enough to split in half to simultaneously show mapping information and for audio tracks.

The navigation system enables the add-on of the most advanced of GS options, Lexus Enform. Enform is a platform that enables the use of mobile applications through the car's controls. Drivers can search Bing, stream Pandora audio, search for restaurant reservations through OpenTable, all via voice commands or via steering-wheel controls enabled by Enform, which also updates Facebook status and works with Android, iPhone and BlackBerry phones. It's the new frontier in connectivity--whether we like it or not, it's safer than the way most drivers use their mobile devices on the go today.

More conventional luxury options include a 17-speaker Mark Levinson audio system with 835 watts of power; a Premium Package with heated and ventilated front seats and rain-sensing wipers; heated rear seats; and a Luxury Package with adaptive headlights, adaptive suspension, unique leather; 18-way power front seats; rear climate controls; and a wood-trimmed steering wheel. All told, a fully trimmed Lexus GS 350 can press the $60,000 limit.

7

2013 Lexus GS 350

Fuel Economy

Gas mileage is better than before, though lower than the best seven- and eight-speed competition.

The best fuel-economy ratings of the 2013 GS lineup are reserved for the GS 450h hybrid. As for the GS 350, it's scored by the EPA at 19 miles per gallon city, 28 mpg highway, and 23 mpg combined. Lexus says that's a 2-mpg improvement over the prior generation.

While that's far from class-leading, it's not at the bottom of the pack. Lexus carried over the GS' base drivetrain and its six-speed automatic, while other luxury brands have updated their offerings to include seven- and even eight-speed automatics. Even so, the seven-speed Infiniti M37 is rated lower than the Lexus GS 350 at 18/26 mpg, while the Mercedes-Benz E350 is much higher, at 20/30 mpg, and the eight-speed Hyundai Genesis sedan is pegged at 19/29 mpg.

When it's outfitted with heavy all-wheel-drive gear, the GS 350 is downrated to 19/26 mpg.

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April 16, 2015
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The GS 350 provides a smooth, comfortable ride with ample power. The safety features for that year's model were excellent but all cars should have the "full-stop" safety feature not just warning and braking... + More »
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Styling 7.0
Performance 8.0
Comfort & Quality 8.0
Safety 9.0
Features 9.0
Fuel Economy 7.0
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