Move over E-Class, there’s a new Top Dog in town
The GS350 F-Sport projects a good presence on the roads – I had a lot of people checking it out.
The original Lexus GS dates back to 1993, released after the successful and groundbreaking original LS400. That car shook up the flagship luxury market and sent the competition back to the drawing board. The GS was set to go after the midsize German rivals and did reasonably well, offering modern powertrains, lots of technology, and aggressive pricing. With an attractive design, styled by famed Guigiaro, I always found it to be a good-looking car that has stood the test of time. The GS has continued on to its fourth-generation with a significant departure in styling and inherent risk undertaken by Lexus.
The GS represents Lexus’ middle-tier model in their ever-growing lineup. Flanked by smaller hybrids (CT200h), compact sport sedans (IS), and flagship luxury sedans (LS), does the GS make a good enough case for itself in Lexus’ own lineup as well as among some tough competition? I was handed the keys to a Starfire Pearl White 2014 Lexus GS350 F-Sport, in rear-drive trim.
I always thought the new GS was a sharp looking car, and the F-Sport package kicks the aggression factor up several notches. The standard GS makes good use of the now-standard Lexus “Spindle” grille, without managing to overdo it. LED daytime running lamps with standard high-intensity discharge headlamps flank the grille with an aggressive look. Out back, bright chrome exhaust finishers integrated into the rear bumper get your attention. The F-Sport package adds an aggressive front grille, adding several air intakes and cooling ducts, but deletes the fog lights. A low-profile rear spoiler is added, and a little F-Sport badge is added to the front fenders. That’s about where the aesthetic upgrades stop, because most of the goodies that matter are underneath the pearl white skin.
The F-Sport package adds many enthusiast-oriented options to the GS350. To me, it is a must-have option package that makes a very noticeable difference in the seat of your pants. The Drive Mode Select gains a fourth Sport+ mode which re-configures a variety of parameters to really wake the car up. Sport+ mode firms up the compression and rebound damping on the adjustable dampers significantly and reconfigures the throttle and transmission mappings for better response. As this is a rear-drive GS350 (all-wheel drive is available), Lexus outfits F-Sport equipped cars with a much more aggressive wheel and summer tire package all around. Up front are 235-section tires, and out back are 265-section tires, all on 19” wheels. The F-Sport package also adds 4-wheel active steering, which improves maneuverability at low speeds, and high speed stability at high speeds. The rear wheels turn slightly in the opposite direction to the front wheels at low speeds, and at high speeds, the rear wheels turn in the same direction as the front wheels, almost like a crab walk.
Inside, the GS350 F-Sport enjoys a fully equipped interior. My tester featured the Garnet Red leather interior. I quickly grew to appreciate the contrast between the white exterior and the red interior. Soft-touch surfaces are everywhere, even down at knee level. The cooled seats were very useful in the heart of the summer. Some do not like the Lexus Remote Touch interface; I am in the camp that prefers it over stabbing a touchscreen all the time. Not only does it keep fingerprints away from the enormous 12.3” screen, but it also removes the need for some to reach over the centre console to interact with the screen. I especially like the haptic feedback that bumps the mouse interface when hovering over a button on the display.
Under the hood lives Toyota’s workhorse direct-injected 3.5L V6, producing 306 horsepower and 277 lb-ft of torque. While not as fancy as some of the turbo-charged competition, this motor is about as refined as it gets, while being able to put down some serious performance when asked. Silky-smooth and docile most of the time, this V6 makes its deep and throaty presence known thanks to the intake sound resonator that is piped to the firewall. All you need to do is get on the throttle for the good music to flow. Managing the power delivery to the ground is a six-speed automatic transmission. It is smart enough to be unobtrusive during your commute and is smart enough to be an ideal dancing partner when driving enthusiastically. In the Sport and Sport+ modes, hard braking will instruct the transmission to downshift to provide additional engine braking. To help stop the car: I especially liked the 14” two-piece front brake rotors: brake feel was great and all four discs do a very good job at scrubbing off speed. I would have hoped for additional brake cooling ducts where the fog lights used to live, but this is not the case.
The GS350 F-Sport projects a good presence on the roads – I had a lot of people checking it out. The pearl white paint looks great in the sun, and the Garnet interior isn’t too gaudy. When tooling along in traffic, the softer suspension setting (available in Eco, Normal, and the first Sport setting) is preferable as it does a much better job at soaking up large bumps. The firmer Sport+ setting makes the ride a little busy in the city. I left the GS in the first Sport mode most of the time. The dynamic rear-steering feature is great for tighter spots and makes the car drive smaller than it actually is. Instead of dreading three-point turns, U-turns are easily possible. At high speeds, it almost feels that the car is moving around laterally rather than just being pointed by the front end. It is a slightly strange feeling but it works in practice. There’s little reason why a car this large should handle this well.
The GS350 F-Sport, in rear-drive configuration is rated at 10.7L/100km in the city, 7.1L/100km on the highway, and 9.1L/100km in a combined cycle. I was able to manage an average of 11L/100km in mostly city driving. I attribute the slightly higher number to wanting to hear the motor at full song whenever the road opened up. The motor’s powerband is very flat and very usable in nearly every gear, so it’s easy to make good use of it (in a safe and controlled manner, of course).
Lexus prices the GS350 at a base of $51,900. There are really only two option packages: the F-Sport Package (which gives you everything), and the Navigation Package for those who want that sort of integration, but without the go-fast F-Sport goodies. The F-Sport package will set you back $7,050 bringing us to a subtotal of $58,950. This compares favourably against the BMW 535i xDrive which starts at $64,900 (without any options!), and the Audi A6 3.0T, priced at $63,000 with a few options to match the F-Sport Package offered with the GS350. Even if you add all-wheel drive to the GS350 F-Sport, the subtotal squeaks in at just under $60,000. Lexus has traditionally provided better value for the money than its German counterparts, and this pricing continues the trend.
By the end of the week, I came to the conclusion that the GS350 F-Sport is one of the most well-rounded cars in its class. It is a little more affordable than its competition, lighter than its competition (sometimes by several hundred pounds – this has many positive benefits), is just as well equipped as the rest of them, and delivers a very polished and exciting driving experience. The styling has been a point of contention for some, most focusing on the Lexus spindle grille. Paired up with the F-Sport bits and contours, I think the overall styling language works very well. People liked to dismiss Lexus and Toyota for producing bland machines, so this risk they are taking with their new design language is something to keep watching in the future. Being the middle child in the family can sometimes lead to more attention on the smaller and larger siblings, but I think the GS does a great job of defining its own identity within the Lexus lineup and amongst its competitors.
2013 Lexus GS350 F-Sport Gallery