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.