Thumbs Up: Remarkable build quality, significantly more entertainment value than previous model.
Thumbs Down: Suspension tuning needs more refinement, could use more power.
Buy This Car If: You want a luxury sedan with performance aspirations that will likely last for decades.
If you’re shopping for a midsize luxury sport sedan, chances are good the Lexus GS 350 isn’t on your short list. While previous generations of the car delivered a reasonable amount of luxury (and a reputation for bulletproof reliability), they failed to deliver anything resembling a true sport sedan’s handling. Even power, while adequate, wasn’t exactly class-leading.
Forget everything you know about the Lexus GS 350, because the new-for-2013 Lexus GS 350 really is a step in the right direction for Toyota’s luxury division. It pulls harder, despite just a modest power increase to its 3.5-liter V-6 engine, hitting 60 from a standing start a full second quicker than the model it replaces. Its wider track, revised suspension tuning and stiffer body result in handling prowess previously unassociated with Lexus GS models, yet the carved-from-a-single-block-of-granite build quality endures.
And then there’s the GS’ revised styling, which is edgier than we’ve see on any model short of the IS-F. Up front, the now-unmistakable spindle grille dominates the styling, flowing back in graceful lines across the hood. Headlights are larger and more conventionally shaped than current fashion dictates, but we’d call them timeless in design, much like the rest of the car.
In profile, the GS errs on the side of caution. Don’t look for bold character lines, side skirts or a rising beltline here; instead, owners get a bit of subtle chrome trim around the daylight opening, with slight styling flourishes at the base of the A and C pillars. Even the 18-inch, silver-painted alloy wheels included in the Luxury Package are understated, adding to the GS’ conservative appeal.
The rear of the car matches the front in boldness of design. Tail lights wrap from the side of the car, flowing under the chrome-trimmed trunk lid. A black lower fascia is dominated by large, metallic-trimmed exhaust ports, giving the car an almost menacing look from behind.
For Lexus, the styling is a bold departure from the blandness of the previous generation GS, and one thing is perfectly clear: the new GS is meant to draw younger buyers into the fold, and it’s meant to go head to head with any other midsize luxury sedan on the planet.
As good as the exterior of the new Lexus GS is, the interior is even better. Fit and finish isn’t just impressive, it’s stunning, and we’ve driven cars costing twice as much that aren’t screwed together nearly as well. The dash is a near work of art, wrapped in pebble-grain, soft-touch vinyl and trimmed in dark wood veneer and brushed aluminum. A large infotainment system dominates the center of the dash, and the intuitive controller falls to hand when you rest your arm on the center console. We’re not sure if the interior of the GS is the nicest we’ve ever experienced, but we’re absolute certain that it’s the nicest we’ve seen in the car’s price range.
The same holds true for the upgraded 18-way power front seats, part of the Luxury Package included on our Lexus-supplied tester. Three segments of the backrest are adjustable, and the amount of side bolstering can be dialed in to suite a driver (and passenger’s) preferences. There’s a movable and inflatable lumbar cushion, too, as well as an adjustable thigh support. The front seats are heated and ventilated as well (as long as you check the Premium Package option box), making them an ideal place to spend time regardless of season.
Rear seat passengers don’t have things quite a plush, but few will complain about being relegated to the GS’ second row. Back seaters get their own climate controls as well as their own audio controls and side-window sunshades as part of the Luxury Package. There’s plenty of head and leg room for outboard rear seat passengers, though the middle rear seat isn’t meant for long-distance comfort.
Power comes from a 3.5-liter V-6, tuned to produce 306 horsepower and 277 pound-feet of torque. That doesn’t sound like much, but it’s up from 303 horsepower and 274 pound-feet of torque in the previous model, while highway fuel economy also increases from 26 to 28 mpg. Weight is down from the previous generation, which is really the only way we can explain the new model’s improved performance. The run from 0-60 mph now takes around 5.5 seconds, which is a full second quicker than in the previous model. Like the Volvo S60 R-Design, however, the powertrain could improved with the addition of a quicker-shifting gearbox (or better still, a manual transmission option).
The EPA says to expect 19 mpg city, 28 mpg highway and 23 mpg combined from rear-drive GS models, and that matches the indicated 21.6 mpg we saw in mostly-city driving. Opt for the all-wheel-drive GS, and you can expect to see 19 mpg in the city, 26 mpg on the highway and an average of 21 mpg combined.
On the road, the personality of the Lexus GS 350 is largely determined by the Driver Mode Select switch. Opt for Eco mode, and the GS will smooth out throttle response and shorten shifts, sacrificing acceleration in the name of fuel economy. In Normal mode, things get a bit better, but most enthusiasts will prefer to keep the car in Sport or Sport + mode. Sport quickens shifts (and raises the shift point) while delivering the best throttle response, while Sport + stiffens up the suspension for improved handling. Some will find the Sport + mode to be too stiff for their liking, while others will deem it too soft for best handling. To us, it was a noticeable improvement over the softer settings, without being punishing the way that Lexus’ F Sport models can be.
Push the GS 350 hard in corners, and you’ll be impressed by how much higher the new car’s limits are compared to the model it replaces. Even the steering is improved from the previous car, and stopping distances seem shorter, too (likely a function of the new model’s lower weight). It’s still not as engaging to drive as a BMW 5 Series, but it’s no longer the Japanese Buick the last car was in terms of handling and driver feedback.
While we’d stop short of proclaiming the 2013 Lexus GS 350 a legitimate sport sedan (since it’s still focused largely on occupant comfort and could use an infusion of horsepower), it is a giant leap forward in progress compared to the previous model. If you’re in the market for a midsize luxury sedan with legendary reliability and build quality, but don’t want to compromise on entertainment value, the 2013 Lexus GS 350 is worth taking a close look at.
Lexus supplied the 2013 GS 350 for our review. List price on the rear-drive GS was $47,795, including a destination charge of $895, and options included the $5,750 Luxury Package (Adaptive Variable Suspension; Adaptive Front Lighting; Driver Mode Select; 18-inch split nine-spoke wheels; wood and leather steering wheel; Linear Espresso wood trim; semi-aniline leather; 18-way power front seats with position memory; tri-zone automatic climate control; rear-seat audio controls; rear door manual sunshades), the $1,400 Premium Package (rain sensing wipers; heated and ventilated front seats; power rear window sunshade), the $242 Preferred Accessory Package (cargo net, trunk mat, wheel locks), the $1,735 Navigation System and the $1,380 Mark Levinson audio system for a total sticker price of $58,302.
For comparison, a similarly-equipped BMW 535i would sticker for $72,470, while a comparable Infiniti M37 would price at $60,245.