Lexus GS 350 — A sports sedan with mind-boggling technology

By Jim Meachen and Ted Biederman

It’s no secret the mere mention of the word Lexus connotes luxury. Not so well known is the fact that some Lexus models, while loaded with the usual upscale amenities its owners have come to expect, are also drivers’/enthusiasts’ cars as well.

The newest case in point is the all-new 2013 GS 350 sport sedan. Lexus has thrown all its gee-whiz technology into a completely redesigned mid-size GS.

Lexus' objective was to elevate the model into competitive status with BMW's gold standard, the BMW 5-Series. That's been the goal for 20 years since its introduction in 1993, but each effort has fallen slightly short. This time around may be different.

We discovered at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway a few months ago that the GS has impressive handling chops. That's a trait we would not have fully realized in routine driving on home turf during our usual stop and go city jaunts, a few 65-to-75 mph highway hours and a short stint on our favorite winding rural stretch of road.

What we discovered during those 250 miles and seven days behind the wheel was a very balanced luxury sedan that brings a high level of driving enjoyment to its owner.

In fact the 2013 GS 350 gave us the most enjoyable week of sedan cruising we've encountered over the past year. As significant as that statement is, it doesn't address the question, is the new GS truly a sports sedan that elevates itself above the traditional Lexus sports sedan experience.

For most people we don't think it really matters. But for the chosen few it might make the difference in a vehicle purchase. If you opt for the F Sport package and put it to use, the new GS does indeed approach the sports sedan territory staked out by BMW. F Sport brings an injection of performance adding 19-inch wheels, special steering and suspension tuning, larger front brakes, a rear spoiler, and — the icing on this tasty performance cake — rear-wheel steering.

Measured by slalom times on a special road course at the Las Vegas track, we think the new GS stands up to the German competition. If buying a cutting-edge sports sedan is your goal, we suggest you test drive a F sport model.

But even as we marveled at the many attributes of the newest Lexus on the track we wondered again whether Lexus has done enough to clear the German hurdle. The fourth-generation GS will not get a V-8 engine — at least initially — and it will solider on with a six-speed automatic while the Germans — The Audi A6, BMW 5-Series and Mercedes E-Class — sport new seven-and-eight-speed dual-clutch automatic/manual transmissions.

The six-speed includes paddle shifters and incorporates many features adopted from the Lexus IS F high-performance sedan — faster shifts, earlier torque converter lockup, and downshift throttle blips. There are four driving modes that can be operated by toggling the new Lexus Drive Mode selector. In addition to Normal, the driver can set an ECO mode, SPORT S mode and SPORT S+ mode.

The GS uses the carryover 3.5-liter four cam/four valves per cylinder V-6 engine with dual Variable Valve Timing with intelligence (VVT-i) that puts out 306 horsepower and 277 pound-feet of torque and will hit 60 mph in 5.7 seconds. All-wheel drive is also available.

GS customers can surely find something they want among its four trim levels – GS 350, GS 350 Luxury, GS 350 F SPORT and GS 450h Hybrid. There are so many ways to equip the 2013 GS with the various Lexus packages that it’s practically a custom-made car, to the point of technology overkill.

Styling-wise the 2013 GS sports a signature spindle grille with its trapezoidal contours that are fully integrated into the aggressive front bumpers. The rear encompasses the familial look of Lexus sedans.

The cabin is designed around the driver. A horizontal-themed instrument panel emphasizes its wide layout. The 2013 model has more headroom, knee room, leg room and foot space than the current generation. Front and rear door openings have also been revised for easier ingress and egress. Trunk space, measured at 14.3 cubic feet, has been increased by almost 25 percent and can easily accommodate four golf bags. Trunk access is improved with a 6 1/2-inch wider opening.

The sports sedan is loaded with technology. It can be mind boggling for old and crusty brains like ours. What is called the multimedia interface revolves around the giant 12.3-inch high-resolution split-screen liquid-crystal display. It's impressive.

Accessing the information is done through a Remote Touch multimedia controller, which is a small mouse-like device on the center console that navigates the menus and apps in the system via a computer-like cursor. There are a myriad of things to navigate. The problem is that even simple things like some audio controls need to be done with the cursor.

Do Lexus engineers know how difficult it is to move a cursor into position without taking eyes off the road while hurdling down the interstate at 75 mph? At times we have trouble moving the cursor on our desktop computer.

The one feature we liked most, a $1,380 option, is the Mark Levinson 17-speaker 850-watt 7.1 surround sound system. It is brilliant. We haven't heard a better system in a car.

At first blush the GS looks affordable for a car of this magnitude. Base price is $47,775 for rear-wheel drive including destination charge and $50,325 for all-wheel drive. If you can live without options the GS gives you everything you need.

But there is a load of desirable features that are optional and many of them come bundled in expensive packages. For instance, out test car was outfitted with an $8,390 Luxury Package that includes a host of features including night vision, heated and ventilated front sears and three-zone climate control. Add to that navigation ($1,735) and the upscale sound system and the bottom line was $63,349.

But if you are in the market for a technology-loaded luxury sports sedan that will reward you with a pleasing driving experience every time you crank up the engine, you need look no further than the newest Lexus.

Base price: $47,775; as driven, $63,349
Engine: 3.5-liter V-6
Horsepower: 306 @ 6,400 rpm
Torque: 277 foot-pounds @ 4.800 rpm
Drive: rear wheel
Transmission: 6-speed automatic
Seating: 2/3
Wheelbase: 112.2 inches
Length: 190.7 inches
Curb weight: 3,795 pounds
Turning circle: 36.8 feet
Luggage capacity: 14.3 cubic feet
Fuel capacity: 17.4 gallons (premium)
EPA rating: 28 highway, 19 city
0-60: 5.7 seconds (Edmund's)
Also consider: BMW 5-Series, Audi A6, Infiniti M Class

The Good
• Sharper handling then previous generation
• Cutting-edge safety and entertainment technology
• More interior space
• High-quality interior

The Bad
• Too much eyes-off-the road detail in operating joystick

The Ugly
• Bundled options can send price soaring