For years, the task of flinging big, luxury-packed four door sedans completely sideways down mountain roads has been up to the Germans. Putting a premium comfort cruiser low to the ground and fitting it with high amounts of horsepower is something that Europe just seems to understand and in all honesty, they could care less if sometimes their products get called “hard.” There may be rivals around the world with luxury cars carrying far better ride quality and more sophisticated manners, but the likes of the BMW 5-Series and Mercedes-Benz E-Class have been the ones to get for hot rod shenanigans on a love seat. For some odd reason however, the company most associated with quiet and calm recently unveiled a car with 300 plus horsepower, rear wheel drive, 19 inch wheels and a “sport-tuned” suspension. Challenging the Germans straight on, the 2013 Lexus GS 350 F-Sport isn’t just a big Camry but it’s a whole new kind of luxury.
Born in the 1990s, the Lexus GS has always been the most “radical” offering from Toyota’s premium brand. When the second generation U.S.-spec car hit the market, it sported a brawny V8 engine and was pictured on the cover of automotive magazines doing something no other Lexus had done before: a burnout. Aimed at satisfying the getaway driver inside, the GS could chirp tires, burn rubber, grab apexes and hustle down freeways at triple digit speeds but it did so with a catch. Unlike its rivals from Germany, it promised long maintenance intervals and unmatched reliability. For the most part, it delivered but as time went on, the 5-Series and E-Class got better and better. Now in its fourth generation, the GS makes its way into the ring with new looks, new options, more efficiency and sharper moves.
Appearance wise, the 2013 carries a family strong silhouette but it is in the details the separate the new car from GS models of yore. With its hour-glass grille, sharp and slanted headlamps, big-mouth air ducts and swooping side view mirrors, the 2013’s face is certainly one to create sudden lane changes. It isn’t overly aggressive like some AMG Mercs and it isn’t so flowing that it looks boring; it simply fits and matches the car’s personality perfectly. It’s quiet and strong all while being sly enough to steal your wallet without you even noticing. When the GS comes into profile view, the smooth door panels give it a sense of fluidity but slows down at the aggressive and hunkered-down rear. When fitted with the optional F-Sport package, each bit and piece of the Lexus is altered ever-so-slightly that it simply looks strong. The previous GS was rather handsome and the 2013 carries on those charming good looks with added bits of muscle and tone.
To find out what the latest Lexus is all about, we got behind the wheel of a 2013 GS 350 F-Sport. Currently, there are just “two” GS models to choice from: the base 350 and the hybrid activated 450h. If high rpm gear changes move your soul faster than high mpgs, than the gas burning 350 is the way to go and it starts at $46,900. For that price, a buyer gets standard features such as Bi-Xenon headlamps, LED running lights, leather seating, power moonroof, dual zone climate control, voice recognition, satellite radio, iTunes music tagging, bluetooth device pairing, power tilt and telescoping steering wheel and Lexus Homelink Universal Transceiver. Added to our Nebula Gray Pearl test car was the $5,690 F-Sport Package which included such items as rain sensing wipers, heated and cooled front seats, power rear sunshade, 19 inch wheels with staggered fitted summer Potenza REO50A tires, F-Sport tuned adaptive variable suspension, variable gear ratio steering, a Sport + Drive selector, 14 inch front brake rotors and a F-Sport body package. Also fitted to our GS was the $500 Lane Keep Assist system, $1,735 navigation with 12.3 inch screen, $500 Park Assist system, $2,000 Pre-Collision assist with radar cruise control, a $64 cargo net and a $105 trunk mat. Final asking price for our 2013 GS 350 F-Sport with destination charge came to be $58,369. Compared to similarly equipped BMWs and Mercs, the Lexus manages to be just a tad bit cheaper but it still can’t match a certain hot-rod Korean for its guts-t0-cash factor.
For 2013, a lot of the GS 350 is new and most of it can be found underneath the car’s body attached to its chassis. It may still be front engine, rear wheel drive, and ride on a 112.2 inch wheelbase but the new car’s suspension geometry is all-new and wider than before. Assisting the new design is the F-Sport’s Variable Gear Ratio Steering system that changes feedback depending on inputs, road conditions and the car’s velocity. When paired with the adaptive dampers and selective drive mode, the GS can go from slow Sunday driver to mountain carver in the blink of an eye. Unlike other “F” cars, the GS F-Sport doesn’t feel uncomfortable and notchy but instead, just right. There could be more communication between the car itself and the driver, but at the end of the day, Lexus will be selling more GS350s to executive commuters than autocross goers. It may be one of the best handling Lexus sedans to come out yet, but it still can’t match the hand-in-hand feel of a 5-Series.
The 2013 GS has only been on the market for a few months now so the folks at Lexus are making do with one engine and one transmission on all non-hybrid variants. Recycled from 2012, albeit with revised engine mapping and more efficient breathing, is the third generation’s 3.5 liter V6. Pumping out 306 horsepower and 277 lb-ft of torque, the direct injected dual cam six spins the rear wheels via a six speed automatic transmission with manual shift mode and steering wheel mounted paddle shifters. Despite on-paper output numbers on the low side for its segment, the somewhat light weight F-Sport can hustle its way to 60 mph from a standstill in under six seconds. That’s plenty quick, especially in the real world but unlike other eight-cylinder rivals, the Lexus needs to revved hard for all its potential to be put on the table. A higher output GS will certainly be in our fast approaching future but whether or not it carries trendy forced induction or old school, naturally aspirated wonder will be up to the stars to decide.
One aspect of the luxury car market that Lexus seems to get unlike any other is safety and the technology behind it. Fitted to our test car was a myriad of watchful eyes that for the most part, go unnoticed. When the adaptive cruise control is set on, a pre-collison system monitors the road ahead for impending doom and can act accordingly to remedy any potential harm. The system will pre-tension the seatbelts and if needed, the massive brakes will bring the GS to a halt automatically. The lane departure system works wonders and can be shut off if desired while the crystal clear navigation system can be activated without ever lifting a finger off the leather wrapped steering wheel. Accompanying technology and safety is world-class luxury with supple leather, elegantly brushed trim and stylish accents scattered throughout the interior. We grew especially fond of the antiquarian analog clock smack dab in the middle of space aged technology. It’s just a little something that makes in the GS feel special.
Since 1993, the GS has been earning American buyers’ respect with its solid road manners, supple luxury, reliable nature and cunning moves. It may be a Japanese version of the BMW 5-Series and Mercedes-Benz E-Class, but the GS quickly became its own car and has done so for three generations. With the fourth iteration now on the market, that same consistent success will more than likely stay consistent as the 2013 is every bit as solid and fantastic as ever before. Lexus is one smart automotive brand and will without a doubt, create various other GS models in the near future. When that happens, any gripe of faster acceleration and more tire shredding torque should be silenced as history shows both a “base” and “upgraded” GS powerplant. Until that happens, the GS350 F-Sport is plenty capable of satisfying any one looking for their next getaway vehicle. The car looks fantastic, drives fantastic and is loaded with technology all for a competitive price. What it lacks in chutzpah and connection, it makes up for it with reliability, certainty and classic comfort. Putting a 2013 Lexus GS350 F-Sport in your driveway is simply a smart move to make.
Photos: © Copyright 2012 Ossamah Shabbir