The GS introduced us to Lexus' new "spindle" grille design, a stylistic touch that's working its way across the brand's entire lineup. But styling is only part of the way the GS is set to inspire a transformation at Lexus.
After a few years of neglect, does it look as though the GS is, once again, ready for primetime?
What is it?
A five-passenger sedan, the GS fits in a segment occupied by middle managers who reward themselves with a vehicle that coddles but still has the "nads to throw down, should the need arise.
To that end, ours was equipped with the brand's well-received 3.5-liter V6 port and direct-injection engine with 306 horsepower at 6,400 rpm, and 277 lb-ft of torque at 4,800 spins-per-minute. This same engine also provides the basis for the fuel-thrifty. hybrid powertrain in the GS 450h.
GSs also include Lexus' new Drive Select dial, which offers a quartet of drive modes designed to allow drivers a variety of choices. A spin of a wheel sets the GS 350 in Eco, Normal, Sport and Sport Plus modes, all of which tailor the throttle and steering inputs, as well as the adaptive variable suspension.
What's it up against?
The GS 350 runs up alongside such default, primarily German competition as the BMW 5-Series, Audi A6 and Mercedes-Benz E-Class.
From Japan, the Infiniti M37 is worthy of consideration, while Detroit's Cadillac CTS tickles the GS from a lower price point.
How does it look?
The spindle grille is slowly growing on us, but from there the design starts to fall a little more flat.
There is a legendary story about the early generation of Lexus vehicles being inspired from organic shapes that resulted from filling balloons with plaster of Paris.
The design staff would drop them from various heights to present shapes from which certain design details could be refined. We wish at times that Lexus's designers would adopt that practice once again.
Instead, we have crisply creased sheetmetal that remains true to the basic design of the original, Giugiaro-penned GS, but too much of the detailing leans toward unoriginal. We see everything from Subaru to Mazda, which gives the GS a "trying too hard" haphazard look that verges on over-stylized.
And on the inside?
In contrast to its overwrought exterior, our GS 350 featured a lovely two-toned interior in tan and black leather.
There are LCD displays everywhere, but the largest is a 12.3-inch diagonal display atop the center stack. Navigation is optional, but we were disappointed to see no bird's eye view on the display screen, a feature that manages to find its way into cars like the Hyundai Sonata and Nissan Altima. Another disappointment was the layout of the various controls that were operated via the joystick. Using an anything-but-familiar set of icons, we found ourselves regularly consulting the bulky owner's manual. An added annoyance was the lack of a back button to return to a previous screen.
While we won't call it a fail, the touch screen joystick is an epic something. With a cursor that moves waaaay too fast, it distracts by pulling the driver's eyes away from the road.
Nestled between the tachometer and speedometer was an LCD screen for various trip computer functions. Despite the GS' high tech interior, the screen is blandly simple rather than at least a little showy.
Other touches that can really only be appreciated at night include an analog clock and subtle ambient light around the cabin at night. Heated and ventilated front seats offered adjustable bolstering, and a welcomed cool breeze.
The rear seat has plenty of legroom for three passengers with pass-through to the roomy trunk.
But does it go?
The one thing that our GS350 really managed to do is scoot. And at that, we mean all day long.
Mechanically, the engine is more than powerful enough, with great pickup that would have been commonplace from a V8 engine a decade or so ago. Secondly, it has an awesome throat that accompanies the skinny pedal. Tuned sound from the intake manifold and special exhaust baffles really makes it roar when underway. While in sport mode, its six-speed automatic transmission provides for rev-matching downshifts. Zero to 60 miles per hour ticks off in 5.7-seconds.
The six-speed automatic transmission performed flawlessly, but was much more fun when gated over to the manual mode or by using the steering wheel-mounted paddle shift levers.
The GS rides on a double-wishbone front setup with multi-link rear. The adaptive variable suspension gave us a ride that fit almost every road surface we encountered. In Sport mode, that meant our ride firmed up considerably, tightening up any perceived body roll, but not to the point of harshness. The electrically assisted power steering offered decent road feel with a certain numbness at center. Speed sensitive, it managed to tighten up at higher speeds while easing up during parking and low speed maneuvers.
In the Normal setting, the ride is typically Lexus in nature, offering isolation, smoothness and a totally quiet environment. That is, until you decide to step on the accelerator, which unleashes the demonic sounds from under the hood. With a curb weight of 3,795 lbs., the mill better have the goods. The EPA tags it at 19/28 mpg. During a combination of city and highway driving, we observed an average of 23.8.
Out in the hinterlands, we managed to do some quick reconnaissance passes along highways with long straights and sweeping turns. The GS managed rapid acceleration on the straights and offered a firm, confident feeling through the sweeps. At the end of the road, the binders brought all that forward motion back under control.
The engine is heavily cladded but still a nicely detailed piece of art. The car is very quiet overall but when we closed the doors, the car didn't have the same "clunk" that we have come to expect from Lexus.
Still, the spousal unit says with a purr, "I'll take one."
Why you would buy it:
Because you desire a sport-luxury vehicle that doesn't verge on German harshness.
Why you wouldn't:
Overwrought outside, the GS isn't the prettiest ride on the block.
Leftlane's bottom line
The third-generation of the Lexus GS350 shows that the brand still knows how to do sport-luxury.
At the same time though, it feels that the design department might have become complacent - or too conservative - in their station. We'd like to see Lexus work out some kinks in its new design language.
2013 Lexus GS350 base price, $46,900. As tested, $57,309.
Luxury Package, $5,750; Mark Levinson audio, $1,380; Navigation, $1,735; Intuitive Park Assist, $500; Cargo net, $64; Trunk mat, $105; Destination, $875.
Words and photos by Mark Elias.