Now in its fourth generation, the Lexus GS mid-size luxury sedan can be had in two distinct forms: the hybrid GS 450h and the gas-powered GS 350. Both models are designed to be more stylish inside and out than their somewhat bland predecessors, and the GS 350 ups the performance ante with an available driver-focused F Sport package.
For the latest model year - the GS 350's second on the market - the sedan benefits from an efficient new eight-speed automatic transmission for rear-wheel-drive models. Other tweaks include a color display for the optional Heads-Up Display, the addition of Rear Cross Traffic Alert and power-folding mirrors to the available Blind Spot Monitoring package and an optional power trunk opener. The previously optional Lexus Night View system has been discontinued.
The GS 350 sports Lexus' new corporate "spindle" grille that juts inward to emphasize the stylized "L" badge at its center. Underscored by hood detailing and pointed headlights, the grille is distinctive and visually signals that the GS 350 is not just another staid Japanese luxury sedan. Elsewhere, some of the car's detailing is derivative - the LED accent lights were pioneered by Audi, while the side windows terminate in yet another interpretation of BMW's famous Hofmeister kink - but overall the look is far more likely to incite double-takes than the outgoing model.
Inside, the GS 350 takes cues from both the LFA supercar and CT 200h five-door hybrid with an elegant five-passenger cabin highlighted by an enormous (optional) 12.3-inch split screen navigation display. A three-spoke steering wheel and meaty side-view mirrors signal the car's sporting intentions, while elsewhere items like an understated analog clock and tasteful contrasting stitching help to create an air of refined, high-quality luxury. The dashboard contains relatively few buttons due to a mouse-like knob that handles audio and navigation adjustments. Many buyers find that the somewhat fiddly knob is a love-it-or-hate-it item, so shoppers are strongly encouraged to try before they buy.
The GS 350's interior is exceptionally quiet except when the accelerator pedal is thrust all the way to floor, at which point intake plumbing sends extra underhood music into the cabin.
Let's Talk Power
The GS 350 is powered by a largely carryover 3.5-liter V6 that features D-4S port and direct injection technologies and produces 306 horsepower and 277 lb-ft of torque. The mill sends power to the rear wheels through a new eight-speed automatic gearbox that increases fuel economy to 19 mpg in the city and 29 mpg on the highway.
An optional all-wheel-drive system makes the car all-weather capable but carries 200 pounds of extra weight, entails a less efficient six-speed automatic and ultimiately reduces highway mileage 26 mpg. The system sends 30 percent of power to the front during normal circumstances, but slushy conditions can see a 50/50 split when needed.
F Sport Package
The optional F Sport Package ratchets up the performance factor with a host of technologies designed to improve handling. These are highlighted by the Lexus Dynamic Handling system with Dynamic Rear Steering, which monitors vehicle speed, steering direction and driver inputs in order to calculate the optimum steering angle for all four wheels. The system can independently manage both front and rear wheel steering angles to help improve turn-in response, rear grip, vehicle control and overall agility when cornering.
Lexus says that an Adaptive Suspension system included in the package helps front and rear wheel control and provides agile, sharp and confident driving behavior with a more direct response to the driver's actions.
Visual changes include more aggressive air intakes on the lower front fascia, a unique rear lower valence, a rear lip spoiler and F Sport mesh grille inserts. Special 19-inch wheels shod with meaty tires round out the upgrades included in the package.
Luxury Comes Standard
The GS 350 comes standard with perforated-leather upholstery, genuine wood trim, 10-way power-adjustable front seats, a power sunroof, an eight-inch high-resolution multimedia display, a backup camera, a 12-speaker audio system, automatic dual zone climate control, cruise control, a USB audio device input, Bluetooth phone connectivity and audio streaming, HD radio with iTunes tagging, a backup camera and more.
For customers desirous of an extra dose of luxury, Lexus offers several GS option packages.
The Premium Package includes rain-sensing wipers, heated and ventilated front seats and power rear sunshade.
The Luxury Package includes Premium Package features plus Adaptive Variable Suspension, an Adaptive Front Lighting System, unique high gloss espresso wood ornamentation, semi-aniline leather, 18-way power front driver and passenger seats with articulated back, side bolster and thigh support controls, four-way lumbar, butterfly headrests, passenger seat memory, rear HVAC and audio controls, rear manual side sunshades, 18-inch alloy wheels and wood and leather-wrapped (or trimmed) steering wheel.
Besides the massive 12.3-inch screen, the optional navigation system allows access to Lexus's Enform Application Suite, which pairs with the owner's iPhone, Android or Blackberry to provide local searches through Bing and utilize voice-enabled apps to make restaurant reservations through OpenTable, get movie tickets via MovieTickets.com or tap into internet radio, including Pandora or iHeartRadio.
The system also provides ability to check-in on Facebook and search for various business reviews including restaurants on Yelp. SiriusXM data services offer information on stocks, traffic, weather, sports and fuel prices.
Audiophiles will appreciate the available 17-speaker Mark Levinson premium surround sound audio system. The system provides 7.1 channel surround-sound through 10 channels using a new class D Digital amplifier with a clean 835-watts from 20-20,000 hz at only 0.01 percent total harmonic distortion. Green Edge speakers, a Lexus first, are lighter, more energy-efficient and have less distortion than conventional units.
The GS 350 is equipped with 10 airbags, including a knee airbag for both driver and front passenger. Outboard rear seats have seat-mounted side airbags, and all four outboard occupant seating positions are equipped with side curtain airbags.
New Whiplash Injury Lessening front seats reduce the space between the occupant's head and headrest to help limit excessive head movement and help decrease the severity of whiplash-type injuries in certain types of rear end collisions.
Available options to help further enhance occupant safety include a Pre-Collision System (PCS), which uses the Dynamic Radar Cruise Control System to provide early warning of upcoming objects that might result in a collision. The system also uses an infrared camera with new scanning technology to monitor the driver's eyes - in the event that the driver does not appear to be looking forward when a collision appears imminent, the system will initiate the warning at an earlier threshold. If the driver still does not respond and make the appropriate maneuver, the system will initiate braking intervention up to 1.2 seconds prior to impact to help lessen the severity of the collision.
Other optional safety systems include a Heads Up Display; a Blind Spot Monitor (packaged with Rear Cross Traffic Alert and power-folding mirrors) that helps detect vehicles in rear/side blind spots; and Lane Keep Assist (LKA) with Lane Departure Warning (LDW). LKA provides a small amount of active steering torque to help maintain course, while the LDW feature alerts the driver if the system detects that the vehicle is beginning to drift out of the lane.
Some of the Lexus GS 350's main competitors include the luxurious but conservative Mercedes-Benz E-Class and the elegant and technology-laden Audi A6. Those its handling isn't as focused as that the of the outgoing model, the latest BMW 5-Series is still a strong choice and offers a class-exclusive manual transmission.