- 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.
2014 Lexus GS 350
There's some visual clutter at ground level, but the Lexus GS' spindle grille and horizontally themed interior are very attractive.
The Lexus GS has been a slow seller for a while now, despite being the most handsome four-door in the Lexus garage. To spice up the sales, Lexus debuted a completely reskinned GS last year–with some polarizing design–but that's mostly for the better, we think.
Nearly every angle of the vehicle is strikingly different than it was before, from its conservative roofline to its new 'spindle' grille, now seen on so many other Lexus products. That's a look that some may have trouble acclimating to, but others like quite a bit–and it makes the GS instantly recognizable on the road. That very striking effect gets a little too busy with its foglights that get tucked away on F Sport cars, replaced by LED eyeliner on the headlamps.
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.
2014 Lexus GS 350
The Lexus GS F Sport is our pick, for its paper-cut precision--but even lesser versions have sharper responses.
There's no longer a V-8 option in the GS, but there are more gears in the transmission. Moreover, it's impressive to see what the GS has become: it's now a composed, athletic sport sedan, especially when you look to F Sport models with their extra performance accessories.
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.
With the former V-8 option gone, all GS sedans now sport a 3.5-liter V-6 engine. For 2014, 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. (An eight-speed automatic is due to become available on rear-drive models sometime in 2014). 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.
2014 Lexus GS 350
Comfort & Quality
Front-seat passengers get all the attention, including 18-way power seats; the back bench is still slight.
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.
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.
With little change in dimensions from the last GS, Lexus says the 2014 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. 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.
2014 Lexus GS 350
An IIHS Top Safety Pick, the Lexus GS earns excellent crash-test scores and has all kinds of optional safety technology.
The 2014 Lexus GS comes with a slew of safety technologies, some sold 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.
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.
In last year's assessment of the GS by the IIHS, it received a top rating of 'good' across the board in all tests, but without small-overlap crash data, it doesn't earn the Top Safety Pick award. The NHTSA has not yet rated the Lexus GS.
2014 Lexus GS 350
High-end audio systems and in-car smartphone connectivity gives the Lexus GS high-tech luxury credibility.
Every Lexus comes with the standard set of convenience features. For the GS, that includes power mirrors, locks and windows; automatic climate control; Bluetooth connectivity; cruise control; AM/FM/XM/DVD with HD radio; leather; and power front seats.
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.
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.
2014 Lexus GS 350
The Lexus GS gets better gas mileage in this generation, but it's still average.
While it's far from class-leading, gas mileage in the Lexus GS isn't at the bottom of the pack. When it updated the sedan in 2013, 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. (An eight-speed automatic is due on the rear-drive GS sometime in 2014.)
The EPA rates the GS 350 at 19 miles per gallon city, 29 mpg highway, and 23 mpg combined. Lexus says that's a 2-mpg improvement over the prior generation.
For comparison, the seven-speed Infiniti Q70 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, or 21 mpg combined.
The best fuel-economy ratings of the Lexus GS lineup are reserved for the GS 450h hybrid. It's scored at 29 mpg city, 34 mpg highway, and 31 mpg combined.