By on December 2, 2011

When it rains, it pours. Both Alex Dykes and I were lucky enough to get a slot in the West Coast media introduction for the 2013 Lexus GS350, GS350 F-Sport, and GS450h. Rather than do a “Take One” and “Take Two”, we decided to handle it the way OutKast would. Alex, like OutKast’s BigBoi, will be delivering a robust, well-rounded album, er, review, chock-full of on-road impressions and wide-angle interior photography. I will play the Andre3000 role (of course) and share with you The Love Below: performance-related impressions from driving four different GS variants, along with the Mercedes E350 and BMW 535i, through Las Vegas Motor Speedway’s short road course.

Put the needle on the record and the pedal to the metal: it’s time to meet the new Lexus.

The GS has been the lonesome loser in the Lexus lineup since it was introduced. Quick history lesson: Once upon a time, Giugiaro’s ItalDesign firm created an unsolicited design for a future Jaguar, calling it the Jaguar Kensington Concept. Here it is:

Jaguar wasn’t buying, but Toyota was, and they used the basic design for a home-market Crown Aristo in 1991. That car ended up being available with all sorts of bad-assed machinery including a turbocharged straight-six and all-wheel-drive, but the North American market received it in 1993 as the rather sedate, normally-aspirated, RWD Lexus GS300. The next generation was styled in-house with quasi-Benz four-eyed headlights; the (current) one after that was a generic “L-Finesse” blandwagon. They’ve never sold worth a damn, perhaps because they’ve never offered much of a value alternative to the German competition. Go price out an S550 and an LS460, then repeat the comparison with the E350 and GS350. Whoa, right?

Lexus can’t change what they’re charging for the car. The content, the yen, the blah blah blah. So instead they’ve decided that the new GS will compete on traditionally German attributes. It will be styled more aggressively, contain more wacky features, and be better to drive than the BMW, Benz, and Audi. Any mention of Infiniti is carefully avoided. They’re second tier, dontcha know.

Alex will discuss the styling; my opinion is that it’s yet another Japanese take on the long shadow of Chris Bangle’s flame-surface ideas, with a pleasing homage to the 1984 Celica Coupe’s taillights. Let’s get to the comparison with the E350 and 535i, shall we?

Start with the interior: it’s noticeably more cramped cozy than the Germans. Bangle’s with us here, too, in the horizonal wood-and-polished-metal layout, but Lexus has married that idea with a traditional center console, complete with J-pattern shifter. It’s tougher to get in and out of than the Benz or Bimmer.

Around LVMS’s short course, the base GS immediately impresses. Rather than split the difference between the E350 and 535i’s control efforts, Lexus has chosen to go hardcore. Through the initial slalom, the Lexus carries more speed than the others. Unfortunately, the engine does split the difference, and it’s closer to the poky Benz than the torquey BMW. Thanks to a dopey “engine sound generator” attached to the intake, you get plenty of aren’t-we-sporty growl, but the E350 delivers similar thrust in a more dignified fashion. The BMW? Well ahead. If the GS were a “ghost car” on our test course, like in Gran Turismo, we would see the BMW beat it to the final gate handily on power, while the Mercedes requires a minor lift before that last gate that the others simply don’t.

Reaching the long, sweeping back corner, the BMW is ahead, but the Lexus claws a lot of the gap back! How? Simple: it has more front-end grip. The Benz, meanwhile, proves to be a trustworthy companion, accurately conveying the traction situation despite light steering. Light doesn’t mean bad, you know. All three cars are surprisingly neutral given their weight and size.

They also all have adequate braking for this short, low-speed (well under 90mph tops) course, even as the journo-hacks tirelessly corner-brake again and again over the course of hours. The second half of our test track consists of two fast corners and another evasion gate. Again, the BMW shows the beauty of its engine, while the GS displays its ability to choose and maintain a line throughout the turn. It’s funny, really. A Lexus, delivering a more neutral balance than a BMW. What we could really use here is a combination of everyone’s best assets. A turbo GS, or a big-motor GS.

What we get instead is a hybrid. On the LVMS course, the GS450h is useless. It handles just fine, but the nature of the event doesn’t let the battery charge. The result: instead of being a GS with more power (338hp combined, while the standard GS has 306) it’s a GS with more weight. Make no mistake, though, this is no Prius. It’s probably just as fast around the course as the E350, even with a depleted battery.

The star of the event was the GS350 F-Sport, which adds 19-inch wheels and optional rear-steer to the mix. Rear-steer? Oh, yes. The Japanese love rear steer the way they love “success cats”, and Toyota has engineered a nice, compact electronic system. The F-Sport could be driven flat-out from the starting line to the exit of the slalom/gate system down the first straight. In my hands, the F-Sport was very, very quick in direction changes, as you’d expect. It’s as simple as turning the console suspension knob to “S+”, (any relation to BMW’s “Sport+ setting is strictly intentional) giving the F-Sport slow, precise steering motions, and letting the back wheels simply complete the motion around the pointer cones. More agility with less steering input. I love it.

Riding right-seat with another journo, I saw the system work very differently. This fellow would saw at the wheel, causing the rear-steer to respond with very big motions at the back. After a moment or so of lurid sliding, the stability control would intervene and calm everything down. My colleague hated the rear-steer. The lesson: it’s a finesse tool. Use it appropriately. Alex Dykes, by the way, was quite rapid around the course in the F-Sport and easily outpaced many of the people who claimed to be “fast”. The key? He has slow, controlled steering motions. If Lexus really wanted my business, they would let me use the wacky mouse controller on the armrest to dial-in my preferred degree of rear-steer on the fly. Top speed freeway run? Turn it off. Local autocross? Set phasers to kill.

Speaking of autocrossing… Lexus set up a 35-second cone layout for us to all try the GS350 AWD model, which was not available on the road course. No competitive vehicle was available. I set fast time of the day (at least until I left to catch my flight) but couldn’t bring myself to love that car at all. It was the slowest, piggiest, and least pleasant GS. Save the driven front axle for your grandmother or the hopelessly inept. Give me the F-Sport.

Actually, don’t give me the F-Sport. While it was the car of choice at LVMS, on the open road I found the GS450h really came into its own, particularly with its dirt-cheap, Chinese-grown-and-harvested environmentally-responsible bamboo trim package. Here’s the problem. The F-Sport whipped the (Lexus-provided) BMW and Benz on the road course, no sweat. Unfortunately for Lexus, the sales race is decided in showrooms, not on coned-up racetracks, and once you get to the showroom, you’re likely to find that it’s actually cheaper to lease a neighbor-impressing German mid-sizer. Why pick the GS over cars which have more street cred and do everything else just as well? Only the hybrid has the answer. With an expected 30mpg combined mileage (confirmed for me by the 30.8 the “h” reported during my street drives), a uniquely-themed interior, and all the anti-conspicuous-consumption emotional baggage you can possibly pack into a $60,000 car, it’s simply the most satisfying model available, and it’s the only Lexus GS that says anything to anyone — other than “I just saved $2000 on my luxury car.”

In a segment virtually defined by forty-something social climbers trying to eke out the most bling possible from a limited budget, Lexus is playing a losing hand. If I had to keep any of these cars for 200,000 miles, of course I would pick the GS. Does anybody really do that? Proabably not. If you do, however, feel free to purchase the Lexus, with my blessings… and I never, ever, ever thought I would write it, but consider the hybrid, okay?

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54 Comments on “Review: 2013 Lexus GS350 and GS450h, Part One...”


  • avatar
    segfault

    I find their attitude that Infiniti is second-tier to be very pretentious. If you really wanted to raise their hackles (and possibly never be invited to another Lexus press event), you could have made a comparison to the Genesis or Eqqus.

    • 0 avatar
      Jack Baruth

      A comparison to the Genesis, I beleive, will be forthcoming in Alex’s article. :)

      • 0 avatar
        segfault

        Sweet!

      • 0 avatar
        klossfam

        SWEET is right…As much as I appreciate the Toyota/Lexus effort to ‘get into the game’, when spending this type of coin, there are simply a lot of choices.

        Leaving Infiniti out is humorous too…I own a 2008 G35S and having driven BMWs like there is no tomorrow i.e. 6 times at the Performance Driving School in SC via my employer. I find the real world gap between a 335i and a G35/37 a matter of preference at best (and $10,000 in sticker price at worst).

        Back to Hyundai, the Genny Sedan, I bet, will be a near equal to a ‘regular guy’ GS (esp with the new 5.0L) and that price difference isn’t even worth talking about.

    • 0 avatar
      Byron Hurd

      Driving the M35h this week for SSL and this is one hell of an automobile. Given the weight advantage and might-as-well-be-identical gas mileage, I think you’d have to hold a gun to my head to get me to pick the Lexus (450h) over the Infiniti .

      (Edited for clarity)

      • 0 avatar

        I drove the M hybrid last week for CarEnvy.ca and it couldn’t hold a candle to the LAST gen GS450h. Much busier ride, clunky engine engagement, and disappointing performance from the Bose sound system. My money goes to the GS every day for the difference in ride comfort alone. That the M35h is programmed to turn the heater off in EV mode makes it an offense to the Canadian national spirit.

    • 0 avatar
      pb35

      @ Segfault I agree that it is pretentious but after owning a G35 for the past 7 years (since new) it has had every known issue the car is known for. I am currently at 61k and just recently my CD changer went out for the second time (dealer quoted $650 to replace) and now my power drivers seat no longer moves fore and aft ($1400 quoted). Other common issues that I have experienced during my time of ownership were compression rods (suspension) and the throttle chamber went out causing a limp home situatuon for my wife. I bought this car because I didn’t want any maintenance headaches that the european marques are known for.

      I’m no Lexus fan by any stretch but the replacement for the G35 will not be another Infiniti, nor will it be a Lexus. The cost cutting by Ghosn (back then, at least) is quite evident IMHO.

  • avatar
    FreedMike

    So…did they finally get rid of the Playstation electric steering? That was the one truly glaring fault of the outgoing model…well, that, plus the fact that you had to thrash the hell out of the engine to get any power.

    And personally, I think the old model looked better (this one, like the IS, looks tall and tippy). The design smacks of Toyota trying too hard.

  • avatar
    thesal

    You claimed to write like “The Love Below”, but you sure picked out “I like the way you move” from Speakboxx for this Lexus!

  • avatar
    Vance Torino

    Good day, sir!

    I do declare I am stumped!
    Pray tell what is meant by “success cats” and the apparent Japanese affection for them!

    Something like this?
    http://www.swapmeetdave.com/Humor/Cats/WithHat.htm

    • 0 avatar
      orick

      I think it’s those cat statures with beckoning paw you see at sushi restaurants a lot.

      Jack, you got it bang on. Cars in this price range is all about how much you can impress the neighbours. Lexus still doesn’t do that well compared to the Germans.

    • 0 avatar
      Felis Concolor

      An image search with “maneki neko” will yield all the visual information you need.

  • avatar
    peteinsonj

    Regardless of how this handles and drives — its absolutely hideous. “15 year old sketching (what they think)cool cars” design school I’d say. Really awful

  • avatar
    mike978

    Should the GS F-Sport be compared against not a standard BMW 535i but one with sports package? Would that make the comparison closer?

  • avatar

    Thanks, Jack. I keep hoping that Toyota is going to “get it”; as much as I love my 335, the third fuel pump doesn’t bode well for long term reliability even though they’re covered by extended warranty. Sadly, Toyota, and virtually everyone else, seem entirely unable to develop the blend of driving dynamics and luxury which BMW repeats over and over again.

    As to the design, it’s almost as if BMW mercifully shook Chris Bangle out of their cars, yet he fell right into Lexus.

  • avatar
    NormSV650

    Wholey body roll! That ride would have my neck sore trying to maintain level eyes.

    Isn’t the F-Sport like Cadillac’s V-series? At least GM invites the competition.

    Rear steer sounds like the 300ZX version…replace it with a solid bar.

  • avatar
    Spartan

    I love how Lexus has avoided any confrontation with Infiniti and has always aimed straight for Benz and BMW. The Infiniti M is a much more exciting car and just as reliable. The GS has been second tier in the midsize luxury segment for a while.

    • 0 avatar
      Byron Hurd

      I love the M, and if I needed to buy a luxury midsizer, it would be my choice all day, every day, but I feel that the GS is a better luxury car in the truest sense of the word. The M is an unapologetic sport sedan, and that doesn’t suit all luxury buyers.

      Honestly though, what kills me is that Infiniti has no M/F/AMG competitors. I find it odd that the Japanese BMW is outclassed by the Japanese Cadillac when it comes to building a true performance sedan.

    • 0 avatar
      Spartan

      Jack, Did you drive the M56S or the standard M56? Not that it would make a huge difference, but the two cars do drive a bit different.

      Byron, Infiniti has quietly released the Infiniti Performance Line (IPL) which is more or less a NISMO line for Infiniti. The G37 IPL hasn’t gained much praise since it’s some intake/exhaust/tuning tweaks for an 18 HP gain.

      Granted I’ll happily admit my bias, as I own a G37 6MT Coupe and find it to be the best car in its class $ for $. Even still, I’d chose the GS competitors all day long over the GS because I find most Lexus vehicles isolate the driver entirely too much.

      • 0 avatar
        Jack Baruth

        Good question… it was the car in this video:

        http://www.leftlanenews.com/infiniti-m56-road-test-review.html

        Looking back at said video, clearly the “it looks just like a LaCrosse” gag didn’t come out as well as I’d hoped. :(

      • 0 avatar
        Byron Hurd

        That’s a non-S, which isn’t saying much really though. The base suspension and tire/wheel package on the M are fairly aggressive. The Sport package is overkill, I think.

    • 0 avatar
      bd2

      The irony in all this is that the Toyota Aristo had the more upscale powertrain – V-8 option and AWD, which the 1st gen GS did not have.

      Don’t want to be compared to Infiniti, but maybe the Lexus GS shouldn’t have been compared to its Toyota counterpart back in the day.

  • avatar
    70Cougar

    Next time you have two guys at an event, how about some cell phone video of Jack showing everyone who’s boss.

  • avatar
    ZCD2.7T

    I guess they were afraid to let the new (UGLY, with a capital UG!) GS be compared with the Infiniti M and Audi A6.

    臆病者!!

    (Cowards!)

  • avatar
    krhodes1

    Hmmm. S-class bubble fenders. Check. Audi-esque big honking LED marker lights. Check. BMW Hoffmeister kink. Check. Squinty pissed-off Pokemon face. Check. It’s done, ship it. I think it is on the far side of hideous. Can’t the Japanese come up with anything original?

    I’ll second the question of how do the more sporting versions of this car compare to a Sport Package 5-series? And how would it compare to the V8 5-series? Or is that out of the price range?

    • 0 avatar
      Jack Baruth

      The GS450h is likely to be priced within a thousand dollars of the 550i, so it’s a very fair question to ask.

      The big-motor BMW and Benz simply blow the GS450h away in a straight line. Handling… maybe not so much.

      If I could put my Traqmate on all three on a racetrack somewhere, I could come up with the data, but that kind of access is limited to the color mags, who have to hire Randy Pobst or someone else to get the numbers and tell them what to say in the article :)

    • 0 avatar
      bd2

      That “pinched” grill comes from Holden, except they did it better.

  • avatar
    ponchoman49

    The Sci-fi channel called. They want there Star Trek grilles back.

  • avatar

    I think one reason why outgoing GS sold so poorly may be that it was expensive and delivered little additional value over IS. When my wife and I were buying her the IS in 2010, I made a quick look at GS… The stickers were above $50k on every one of them. That’s 50% above IS for about the same car.

    • 0 avatar
      bd2

      More like poor value over the ES (the IS is really too small to be a comparison).

      Most Lexus buyers traditionally have not been into the sporty/performace-thing and when confronted with the choice of an ES which has more interior room AND is cheaper will usually pick the ES (these type of buyers don’t care about FWD vs. RWD).

      • 0 avatar

        We considered ES too. Her reaction was: “Do you want me to look like a housewife?” “But.. you _are_ a housewife” “But I don’t want to look like one”. So, IS it was. The question of RWD never came up. It’s true that IS is small inside, but she’s small too, so it fits just right.

  • avatar
    needsdecaf

    Great review Jack. Question, do you happen to know the equipment level of the BMW you drove in comparison? Was it a 2011 or a 2012? Base, sport or M Sport, or one with Dynamic Handling Package?

    Thanks. I realize this may be a bit specific for you to have caught but thought I’d ask.

    • 0 avatar
      Jack Baruth

      2011, retailed for about $62K, and since it had the “Sport Plus” option I believe that means it has Sport and Dynamic Packages.

      • 0 avatar
        needsdecaf

        Thanks Jack. BMW’s Byzantine options setup means that the sport plus option is available even without the dynamic package, but comfort is only available with Dynamic.

        Of course, all this changed in 2012. Ain’t technology wonderful?

  • avatar
    philadlj

    Leave it to Jaguar to decline nearly as many great designs as they come up with – they also passed on a recent concept by Bertone with suicide doors.

    I see a lot of the original GS in the Kensington, but I also see the Daewoo Leganza, as well as the (Pininfarina-designed) Maserati Quattroporte.

    • 0 avatar
      bd2

      Ha, I’ve been saying that for years.

      Regarding the Daewoo Leganza, it’s no coincidence since the Leganza was also penned by Giorgetto Giugiaro of Italdesign.

      Seems like Giugiaro pulled a little bit of the “Sparky the Choreographer” move (from the film “Bring it On”) – selling basically the same formula to a no. of parties.

  • avatar
    jonnyguitar

    My daughter goes to school with the son of Andre 3000.

    That grill is very very ugly. I could not buy that car regardless of any other features.

    “”it’s the only Lexus GS that says anything to anyone — other than “I just saved $2000 on my luxury car.” ” – very funny. To some people though, it also says, “I’m the smart money.”

  • avatar
    Davekaybsc

    How were the seats, Jack? The 16-way chairs in the F-sport version seem like Lexus’ first attempt to actually care about seat design in any way. How do the standard seats compare?

    I do have to say that this is the first Lexus in a LONG time that I’m interested in. The previous GS models were always bland to look at, bland to drive, and had bland interiors with pathetic levels of technology and ’90s design. This time, FINALLY that green ’80s digital clock is gone. FINALLY the old fashioned gear indicator in the IP is gone. FINALLY it looks like somebody actually paid attention to the details. There’s no hideous “eyebrow” display, and there are no cartoon colors in the IP. The interior at least is German car serious. The HVAC controls are a bit matter-of-fact and boring, but I’ll take basic function over the Infiniti’s hot mess of controls and too Japanese for its own good interior design.

    The only reason to buy the GS used to be out of warranty concerns about the Germans. Most buyers in this class lease, so most new shoppers don’t care about that, hence the lack of sales for the GS. This time I think they’re on to something.

    I may be in the minority, but I don’t care about impressing the neighbors with the badge on my hood. If KIA made a better car than the A6 3.0T or 535i, I’d buy it. They don’t. If Lexus has beaten Audi and BMW this time, I’ll buy a GS.

  • avatar
    daveainchina

    So let me get this straight. If they made the GS-F with more real ponies(not a speaker making noise) under the hood, this would be the best choice?

    But the lack of ponies just makes it good, but not a winner?

    Lastly, why on earth would anyone want a car that needs an electronic speaker to make engines sound good? And yes I know other manufacturers do something similar, doesn’t mean I care for the practice.

    I can honestly say I’ve never been tempted by any Lexus, but if they continue to go in the direction they are heading, maybe the next platforms I might be interested. Right now, when I get back to the USA, I’m just eying a Cadillac CTS-V wagon manual. That won’t be for a couple of years though so who knows, in that time maybe Lexus can make me interested.

    • 0 avatar
      Quentin

      Uhh, the BMW is the one that uses the speaker to make engine noise. The Lexus just pipes the natural noise into the cabin. And it isn’t just a run of the mill BMW. It is the M5 that Jack is referring to.

  • avatar
    ozzypriest

    thanks Jack, for the Randy Probst reference – I went to his website and read his musings – very interesting stuff.

  • avatar
    Lightspeed

    A couple years ago I bought a 2000 GS400, my first really nice car and a bit of a reward. I love how the 2nd gen GS looks like nothing else on the road, I think the design has gotten better over time the way cars like the Jaguar XJS did. It’s a bit quirky, but holds together. Unlike this derivative piece of junk. You’re right about the GS being the orphan of the Lexus line, most people have no clue what my car is until I tell them. Instead of trying ape BMW, Lexus should have done what they did when they built the 2nd gen car which was to build the worlds fastest (automatic) sedan. In other words, they needed a measureable goal.

  • avatar
    gasser

    I saw the new GS at the L.A. auto show…..UGLY. It has lost the former “less machinery” look that Lexus used to have vs. the German autos. I think Lexus’ biggest problem is the yen. The brand found traction by selling a luxury car for 3/4 s of the price of the Germans’ competing models. Now that is Hyundai territory. Here in L.A. Lexus has two volume sellers, RX and ES. Now that a new Camry is out, a new ES should follow, hopefully with an interesting style. Other problem here is that the ES is perceived as an older person’s car. I have had 5 Lexus in the past 20 years, but I think that next car will probably be E350 since Lexus has no advantages in style, performance or value.

  • avatar
    Mrb00st

    How is it that the 2013 Lexus GS has 6 more horsepower than the 1998 Lexus GS(400)?

    As per Lexus saying the Infiniti is second-tier… pffft. I suppose to the L’s marketing department. I don’t see any reason to get a GS350 over an M37, or a GS450h over the M35h.

  • avatar
    Travis

    Pretty sure the only reason Jack wrote this piece was so that he could secure himself a ‘long term’ IS-F tester. Don’t lie to us Jack. The Truth will save you.

  • avatar
    joe_thousandaire

    “Engine sound generator” – remember when engine sound was generated by the actual engine?

  • avatar
    Spike_in_Sydney

    2013?????????? Give me a break. What a ridiculous concept. These vehicles will be obsolete before their release year actually gets here!!!

    • 0 avatar
      faygo

      please realize that 2013 model year vehicles can be sold on January 1st 2012 in the US. without any other new entries into this segment expected in the next year or so, I’d say the GS appears to be be pretty competitive.

  • avatar
    jimmyy

    This Lexus, as well as the BMW and MBZ it is compared with, are all a total waste of money. I wonder what is wrong with people that spend money on that stuff.

  • avatar
    BlackDynamiteOnline

    Infiniti is 2nd-tier everywhere
    Audi is 1st-tier everywhere, except in the U.S., because we just don’t like VW’s and their lack of durability
    BD


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