Lexus GS 350 — No bad cars, but some better cars

By Al Vinikour

There’s a common belief that anymore there’s no such thing as a “bad car.” I tend to agree. But that doesn’t mean that there aren’t “better cars” and lately I’ve put a fair amount of miles on one of the best — a 2013 Lexus GS 350.

The Lexus GS Family has always been thought of as the “performance” group of Lexus and the GS 350 doesn’t argue with that. Stepping on the gas and livening up 306 horsepower with its buddy, Mr. 277 pound-feet of torque, tells you that you’re at the command of a powerful V8 that basically owns the highway.

But guess what, Jim? The joke’s on you because all that power is found in a V6 that when combined with the deep-throated dual exhaust sounds (and acts) so much like a V8 that you’d argue this case to the Supreme Court.

Its six-speed sequential automatic transmission comes with paddle shifters and sport driving functions for enhanced driving pleasure. It’s really a hoot to be the wheel of an all-out performance car whose sole purpose is getting from here to there at speeds that defy gravity. But guess what, Ted? The joke’s on you because first and foremost, the GS 350 is a Lexus, and you know what that means. (Hint: look up “luxury” in the dictionary.)

In keeping with its “Superman” role the new GS 350 features four driving modes that can be operated by toggling the new Lexus Drive Mode selector — Normal; Eco, that revises various things for better fuel economy (and whose setting causes the meter lighting to change to blue); SPORTS, that revises transmission shifting priorities to fully exploit the capabilities of the powertrain (and whose meter lighting turns to red); and SPORT S+, available with Luxury packages, that enhances handling via a sport setting of the adaptive variable suspension, steering system and Vehicle Dynamic Integrated Management (VDIM) that works in combination with the powertrain enhancements of the SPORT S mode.

Just like Forrest Gump the new GS 350 can run…run like the wind.

The 2013 GS 350 features standard 17-inch alloy wheels and optional 18-inchers equipped with 235/45R 18 tires.

The aforementioned VDIM anticipates loss of vehicle control and governs all of the vehicle’s dynamic handling systems (anti-lock braking system, brake assist, vehicle stability control and traction control) with the electronic throttle control system.

VDIM employs these systems collectively and seamlessly to help corrections while allowing higher dynamic capability. It emulates the effect of a limited slip differential. Add all this to such safety/security features as 10 airbags (including a knee airbag for both driver and front-seat passenger), new Whiplash Injury Lessening front seats, optional Night Vision System, Heads Up Display, Blind Spot Monitor, Lane Keeper Assist and a plethora of other optional and available features and you are basically riding around in a “supersonic Brinks armored truck.

The new GS 350 styling includes the signature spindle grille with its trapezoidal contours that fully integrate into an aggressive front bumper thus allowing for efficient airflow. It has some really nice flowing side lines and I’m happy to report that the once-gawky C-pillar on older GS models has been stylized and is a real visual asset as opposed to detracting from its appearance.

My test vehicle was painted the most awesome shade of red (Riviera Red in Lexus-speak) that I’ve ever seen. During several bright and sunny days some neighbors were looking around the car like bumblebees circling a flower. And the great thing was that unlike its European brethren there was no extra charge for the special paint.

Also, the rear bumper contains a pair of handsome exhaust tips that would tell a vehicle novice that there’s something special further-on upfront. The trunk lid swoops upward to give the vehicle a stylized spoiler.

Under the hood may hold the mechanical goodies but inside the passenger compartment is really where the GS 350 is at. First of all, if there is any road noise the occupants wouldn’t know it. It’s one of the quieter vehicles I’ve ever driven.

For a brief time I wondered why there seemed to be such a noticeable amount of wind noise emanating from the rear. Well…you’d have a noise emanating from your rear too if your grandson was fiddling around with the power window switch and left the window slightly ajar because he figured he’d better let go before Grampa caught him.

Step inside. Engineers improved the driver’s seating position for increased comfort, better forward visibility and overall command of the road. To enhance this the steering column angle was changed from 23-degrees to 21-degrees. Technology-wise the cockpit resembles Mission Control in Houston.

What-you’d-expect-in-a-Lexus features include standard entertainment and connectivity advancements, standard DVD audio and video compatibility, HD Radio with iTunes tagging and three-month trial subscription to SiriusXM Satellite Radio, optional navigation system that includes an industry-first 12.3” simultaneous split-screen of a large map display plus audio, climate or other vehicle information.

There are also pull-up sun screen shades at each rear passenger door and a power sun screen that shields the rear passengers from becoming burned. (Hey…I just thought of a routine addition for Jeff Foxworthy; “You might be a red neck if you don’t drive a Lexus GS 350.”)

EPA fuel mileage estimates come in at 19 mpg city, 26 mpg highway and 21 mpg combined. The new Lexus carries a good warranty; 48-month/50,000-mile basic limited warranty with roadside assistance for 48 months/unlimited miles; 72-month/70,000 mile powertrain and restraint system coverage; and 72-month/unlimited mileage corrosion perforation protection coverage.

MSRP of the 2013 Lexus GS 350 is $49,450. With options and inclusion of the Luxury Package (a $6,530 premium that’s worth every penny) the bottom line of my test vehicle was $59,759 (including $875 delivery, processing and handling). For a vehicle in this segment with all that it contains this is a wealthy person’s bargain.

My only complaint about the pricing is the separate listing of a trunk mat for $105 and a cargo mat for $64. My advice to Lexus is to bury the cost and do NOT list it individually because it gives the appearance of nickeling and diming the purchaser and the GS 350 doesn’t need that stigma.

You can buy a more luxurious Lexus if you want to go up to the LS strata. You can hop down the scale and buy a less-expensive Lexus. You can even purchase a GS with a hybrid. But if you want a variety of Lexus vehicles wrapped up into one package you won’t go wrong buying a 2013 Lexus GS 350.