- Poised, composed handling
- Styling has more catchy details
- Front seats are very comfortable, adjustable
- Crisp F Sport steering
- Connectivity complete with Enform
- Ride's stiff on F Sport
- Non-hybrid gas mileage is low
- A more formal look, overall
- Back-seat knee room is tight
- More plastic trim in cabin
The 2014 Lexus GS has more distinction and better handling to match improved connectivity; even so, it's still playing catch-up.
The mid-size Lexus GS was refreshed and reinvigorated in the 2013 model year, and it returns as the Lexus GS 350 and GS 450h hybrid again for 2014, ready to take on the likes of the Mercedes-Benz E Class, BMW 5-Series, Audi A6, and Cadillac CTS yet again.The GS has usually been an also-ran in that category, but it's made substantial progress in handling and styling. The new face of Lexus has been applied to its front end, and the GS now has a boomeranged frame for the grille that asserts a visual identity in a way no Lexus ever has. It pairs well with the Nakamichi-minimalist interior fitted inside, upholstered with lots of leather and LED lighting--a cool workplace that conversely feels very warm and inviting.
The GS 350 runs with a 3.5-liter V-6 that's now rated at 306 horsepower. Rear-drive versions now have an eight-speed automatic, while all-wheel-drive models carry over the six-speed automatic that's been around since the last generation, though with the addition of shift paddles and eco and sport modes. We expect better 0-60 mph times than the previously estimated 5.7 seconds, maybe by a tenth or two. 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.
Handling is a focus now, too, and even the base GS sedans seem to plant themselves more firmly. The 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 450h hybrid is a notably different beast. It blends V-6 and electric power to the rear wheels for improvements to the GS' EPA-rated fuel economy numbers, with some mild changes applied to its exterior and cabin to distinguish it from gas-powered models. But while the last-generation GS hybrid put its foot down for performance while sacrificing some gas mileage, Lexus is turning the equation around for the newest edition. The EPA of 29/34 mpg and 31 mpg combined compares to the GS 350's 19/28 mpg; today's hybrid thus puts more distance between itself than did the previous hybrid, an improvement of about 35 percent, according to Lexus. While fuel economy has improved, Lexus also says the 338-hp GS 450h hybrid is quicker: it will accelerate from 0-60 mph in about 5.6 seconds, and will reach a top speed of about 134 mph.
There's a wide gap in ride and handling, too. Lexus has opted to make its semi-active suspension standard on the hybrid, along with electric power steering and a drive-mode selector that programs the electronic continuously variable transmission (ECVT) to behave in eco, sport, sport-plus, and EV modes, as well as in normal mode. It now has eight pre-programmed steps, instead of six. The different driving styles adapt well enough to the GS 450h's demeanor, though it's still saddled with the lower end of the GS' performance abilities--the smaller sizes of tires, lower rolling resistance for better fuel economy, and a lighter touch to its steering all remove the feedback that's been carefully dialed into the sporty versions of the gas-powered GS 350. The brakes are the usual hybrid sore point, with lots of regenerative stiffness and little real braking sensation. This is the GS to drive if you're strictly concerned with a planet-friendly statement.
In comfort and spaciousness, the Lexus GS hasn't expanded its universe much--and that's 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. The GS 450h gets the usual blue hybrid badges, a choice of unvarnished bamboo, and hybrid-specific information screens.
For about $50,000, the Lexus GS 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. For 2014, LED headlamps and fog lamps are new options, as is a power trunk opener. Apple's Siri Eyes Free functionality is now included, but night vision has been discontinued.