- Handling and poise
- Voluptuous sheet metal
- Comfortable, supportive front seats
- Crisp F Sport steering
- Connectivity complete with Enform
- F Sport's stiff ride
- Responsiveness in GS 200t
- Mediocre mileage for GS 350
- Tight back-seat knee room
- Cabin's plastic trim
The 2016 Lexus GS F rivals the Germans for top-level handling, but hybrids and the turbo-four GS 200t pack fewer thrills.
This year brings the biggest news for the Lexus GS since its 2013 redesign as a turbocharged GS 200t joins the V-6-powered GS 350 and GS 450h hybrid in the lineup.
Unlike Lexus's ES sedans, which appeal to comfort-oriented buyers, the GS is a sport sedan, first and foremost. As the 2016 GS 200t, GS 350 and GS 450h hybrid, the mid-size Lexus four-door serves as sharper-edged competition for mid-size heavyweights like the Mercedes-Benz E Class, BMW 5-Series, and Audi A6. The hybrid's most direct rival might be the Acura RLX Sport Hybrid SH-AWD.
With the "spindle" grille that's now been introduced for the entire GS lineup, plus a boomerang-shaped frame for the grille, the GS asserts its identity among sport sedans in a way that's refreshing for the market, and for Lexus. We like the voluptuous, organic side sheet metal matched with the more calculated roof profile, and the way that it pairs with the Nakamichi-minimalist interior fitted inside, upholstered with lots of leather and LED lighting. As for the GS 450h hybrid, it gets the usual blue hybrid badges, a choice of unvarnished bamboo, and hybrid-specific information screens.
The new GS 200t features a turbocharged 2.0-liter inline-4 that makes 241 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque. It comes only with an 8-speed automatic transmission and rear-wheel drive, and Lexus claims it will reach 60 mph in 7.2 seconds. Acceleration is reasonably strong once underway, but stomping on the gas pedal under any circumstance results in a significant delay while the transmission and turbocharger decide what to do. This is true regardless of drive mode—Eco, Normal, Sport, or Sport S+—and even drivers who aren't performance-minded might find themselves defaulting to paddle shifters. With a starting price in the mid-$40,000s, the GS 200t is less expensive than the GS 350 by several thousand dollars, and fuel economy is better at 22 mpg city, 33 highway, 26 combined.
The GS 350, with a 306-hp 3.5-liter V-6 mated to an 8-speed automatic, is more satisfying in the sense of a traditional sport sedan. While all-wheel-drive variants continue to use an older 6-speed automatic transmission, those with rear-wheel drive have the newer 8-speed unit—so equipped, with the aid of shift paddles and sport modes, the GS doesn't feel completely out of its element on the track. Steering is quite good, and Lexus defies the traditions of its brand by piping engine and exhaust notes into the cabin. With rear-wheel drive a base GS 350 will hit 60 mph in 5.7 seconds, and return 20/29/23 mpg.
Sending total horsepower of 286 and 257 lb-ft of torque to the rear wheels, the GS 450h's hybrid powerplant makes it the quickest and most economical model in this group. Accelerating up to 60 mpg takes just 5.5 seconds, and it earns impressive fuel economy ratings of 29/34/31 mpg. The driving experience is a little less direct for this model, though the availability of an F Sport package gives it a decidedly sporty flavor.
There's also a quite sporty Lexus GS F sedan, which we cover separately.
In comfort and spaciousness, the Lexus GS feels warm and inviting. As you'd probably expect, you'll find 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. But what makes the GS a little less appealing is its tight back-seat legroom and rather shallow trunk. It's a matter of priorities, you see.
The base set of features in the 2016 GS 350 is impressive in itself, wrapping in 10 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. This year, with an infotainment upgrade, you get Slacker app-based streaming audio and upgrades to iHeartRadio; and navigation-equipped cars get the improved infotainment system that made its debut on the IS sedans last year is now added to the GS. It brings improved map views, predictive traffic, voice recognition, and even a 15-minute buffer feature for radio listening.
There's also a Siri EyesFree mode that, if you have a compatible iPhone, adds enhanced compatibility through the vehicle interface. And a new subscription-based service adds things such as remote locking and unlocking, a vehicle finder, status reports, and a "guest driver monitor" that might reveal your teenager's driving habits.
2016 Lexus GS 350
The handsome Lexus GS is one of the best-looking sedans in the luxury midsize segment--though some might not love its distinctive spindle grille.
The Lexus GS isn't just the most handsome sedan in the Japanese automaker's lineup, it's one of the best-looking sport sedans in the mid-size luxury market.
Front-end details are striking, although the tucked-away foglamps and LED eyeliner for the headlamps add up to a bit too much complexity in the F Sport models. At first glance challenging and bristling with detail and surface excitement, the Lexus GS settles down quickly and comfortably into your brain.
Its design is at once squared-off and voluptuous, with sheet metal that undulates rearward from a corporate "spindle" grille to a tail characterized by strong, horizontal lines. Atop it all is an conservative roofline with a greenhouse that strongly recalls the the 2002-2010 BMW 7-Series. Of all the GS sedans we've seen flow out of Lexus' studios, this one's the least soft and the most upright.
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.
Materials are clearly a step ahead in many of the builds of the GS, compared to German luxury benchmarks. 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. Real wood trim softens the cabin up well, while F-Sport cars wear metallic-printed plastic that sounds less appealing than it looks.
2016 Lexus GS 350
With a trio of engines on offer, there's a GS for just about every performance priority.
For 2016, the GS lineup offers three options: the four-cylinder GS 200t, the six-cylinder GS 350, and the hybrid GS 450h.
The new GS 200t features a turbocharged inline-4 we first saw in the NX 200t—it's now making an appearance across the Lexus range. Making 241 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque, it's mated to an 8-speed transmission and available only with rear-wheel drive. As in other Lexus models we've sampled, this powertrain has an unfortunate characteristic of responding to full throttle input with a moment of indecision before the transmission kicks down and the turbocharger engages. This happens whether accelerating from a stop or at speed, and isn't mitigated even by Sport+ mode. The transmission can also be fussy in uphill driving, quick to upshift, and noticeable downshifts with the slightest pressure on the gas pedal. Even drivers who aren't particularly performance-oriented may find themselves paddle shifting to avoid the commotion. The 200t isn't a fast car—0 to 60 mph takes more than seven seconds—but power is reasonably good once underway.
The situation is better with the GS 350, which mates an 8-speed transmission to a 306-horsepower V-6 in rear-wheel-drive guise. It's a fully modern engine, with direct injection, four valves per cylinder and four cams, plus variable valve timing. This engine is definitely stronger on torque from about 3,000 rpm and above, and its 8-speed automatic transmission makes this model fully competitive on the numbers; but it's the throttle-blipping, quicker shifting, and Eco and Sport shifting modes—plus a Sport+ mode on top versions—that makes the GS a sportier character. All-wheel drive GS models use an older 6-speed transmission, and acceleration time is fractionally slower than the rear-wheel-drive's 0-60 mph time of 5.7 seconds. The GS defies ultra-quiet Lexus tradition by piping engine and exhaust notes into the cabin.
The rear-wheel drive GS 450h hybrid pairs a special Atkinson-cycle version of the V-6 with a 147-kw motor and 30-kw nickel-metal-hydride battery pack—altogether making 338 hp. This hybrid delivers strong acceleration, as well as comfortable and quiet low-speed all-electric operation, but its driving experience feels more detached—though this is somewhat mitigated with the F Sport package.
All versions of the GS now sport electric power steering and an independent, multi-link suspension for the front and rear. Thanks to some impressive tuning, a lighter-weight suspension, and a stiffer body, the GS extracts a lot of performance from its standard 17-inch, 50-series tires. We'll also give some kudos to relatively well-executed power steering that keeps the base car pleasant, nimble, and communicative, while offering a more composed ride than either the previous GS or most current rivals.
On Luxury models, you add an adaptive suspension, a pricey option for subtle differences in ride and handling, we think. It's the more progressive steps forward with the adaptive suspension and active steering, combined into the F Sport package, that set a new benchmark for the brand. While rivals from Germany struggle in their own ways to elevate electronic driving controls to their high standards of driving feel, the F Sport delivers a driving experience that doesn't at all feel remote or "digital."
In all, the F Sport adds stiffer springs, roll bars and bushings; adaptive shocks; variable-ratio steering; and bigger front brakes. Active rear steering is available, and it can dial in up to 2 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.
There's a wide gap in ride and handling with the hybrid. 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 to behave in Eco, Sport, sport+, and EV modes, as well as in normal mode. It now has eight programmed steps. 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.
Lexus now builds a very quick GS F sedan, which we cover separately.
2016 Lexus GS 350
Comfort & Quality
Seat comfort is a stand-out characteristic in an elegant cabin with excellent fit and finish.
When Lexus last redesigned the GS for 2013, it retained existing exterior dimensions while boosting interior room. The driver and passenger benefit from revisions to seat and trim design. Finding the right driving position is simple with 10-way power-adjustable seats, a power tilt/telescoping steering wheel and power-adjustable rearview mirrors. The premium-upgrade 18-way seats are wonderfully supportive and include heating and ventilation, a feature we've grown to appreciate for almost year-round seat comfort. Sport seat on F Sport cars could use additional bolstering, though, for spirited maneuvers.
The rear seat doesn't seem much larger in any dimension from the last GS, however. Knee room is at a premium, though head room is reasonable for adults of average height. The center seat won't be of much use to anyone but a small child—head room and leg room are both severely limited. Large rear doors do ease access, however, making entry and exit easier. Heated rear seats and rear-seat climate control are available as options.
The trunk's opening is wide, and while the cargo area is somewhat shallow, there is a pass-through for longer items. Inside the cabin, smaller items find a home in door pockets, in a fairly deep glove box, 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.
The 2016 Lexus GS boasts generally excellent fit and finish. GS gauges are big, crisp, and clear, and high-grade plastic trim dominates the dash, from the console coverings to the metallic highlights that surround an analog clock that is stylish but difficult to read at a glance. Padded leather surfaces are stitched together with care—though they add up visually, making the dash look busy, seam by seam.
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.
2016 Lexus GS 350
The Lexus GS boasts an array of advanced safety tech, and earns top "Good" ratings in most categories from the IIHS.
The 2016 Lexus GS has an impressive set of safety credentials—underscored by excellent handling, plus a series of options that can be an asset when you let attention lapse.
The GS sedan earns "Good" ratings in tests for roof strength and side and moderate-overlap frontal impacts from the IIHS. It's not rated in the tough new small-overlap frontal test. The NHTSA hasn't tested the Lexus GS.
The GS comes with a full complement of standard safety features. There are 10 airbags altogether—front, side, curtain, and knees—as well as active headrests, a rearview camera, and parking sensors. We could argue that Bluetooth also counts as a safety feature, by facilitating hands-free functions, even if some might still be distracting.
There is also a slew of high-tech safety options. The standard cruise control can be upgraded to active cruise control with automatic emergency braking that's rated "Advanced" by the IIHS. Other available features include a head-up display, night vision, and blind-spot monitors. A lane-keep assist will gently steer the GS back into its lane if the car's sensors detect wandering that's usually due to drowsiness or a lack of attention.
2016 Lexus GS 350
The Lexus GS represents an excellent value proposition in the segment—it's well-equipped to start with, and doesn't get as expensive as German rivals when you add options.
While the 2016 Lexus GS is priced like German rivals, it tends to come with more standard features and fewer options that can send its price into the stratosphere. While a fully loaded GS will probably top out around $60,000, a comparably equipped BMW 5-Series or Mercedes-Benz E-Class can get even more expensive.
Every Lexus GS comes with standard convenience features including power mirrors, locks and windows; automatic climate control; Bluetooth connectivity; cruise control; AM/FM/XM/DVD with HD radio; leather; and power front seats.
Remote Touch is also standard. It's a mouse-like device on the center console that operates climate, audio, and phone functions via an 8.0-inch display, which also becomes the output for the standard rearview camera. Ordering the optional navigation system includes a huge 12.3-inch widescreen that's wide enough to split in half to simultaneously show mapping information and for audio tracks. Although the controller works intuitively, generally, it can be oversensitive and may take a few tries to place the cursor with precision. Its menu structure can be maddening, too.
Upgrading to the Enform App Suite gets Slacker app-based streaming audio and iHeartRadio; and navigation-equipped cars get the improved infotainment system that brings improved map views, predictive traffic, voice recognition, and even a 15-minute buffer feature for radio listening.
Siri EyesFree mode enhances iPhone compatibility with the vehicle interface. And a new subscription-based service adds things like remote locking and unlocking, a vehicle finder, status reports, and a "guest driver monitor" that could be used as a parental safety net.
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.
2016 Lexus GS 350
Despite a turbo-4 and a hybrid, the GS lineup isn't especially fuel-efficient.
Few buyers in the market for a sport sedan like the 2016 Lexus GS probably place a priority on fuel efficiency, but the GS 450h is the most obvious choice for the eco-conscious. Its hybrid powertrain is rated for 29 mpg city, 34 highway, 31 combined. Not bad if you do most of your driving in town—out on the highway, though, you'd get better mileage with a diesel-powered E-Class Bluetec or BMW 528d.
The new GS 200t is the least expensive model in the lineup and the next-most efficient GS. The EPA estimates that it will return 22/33/26 mpg. In F Sport guise, this will drop to 21/30/24 mpg.
The EPA rates the GS 350 with rear-wheel drive at 20/29/23 mpg. Each of those numbers drop by 1 mpg in the GS 350 F Sport. When it's outfitted with heavier all-wheel drive components and the 6-speed automatic, meanwhile, fuel economy take a hit to 19/26/22 mpg.
For comparison, the 7-speed Infiniti Q70 is rated lower than the Lexus GS 350 at 18/26/21 mpg, although a number of comparable non-hybrid models do better—like the Mercedes-Benz E350, at 20/29/23 mpg.