By on February 10, 2012

Someone (I can’t find it, our search function sucks) once said that “when Bertel Schmitt reviews a car, he does it from the back seat, with a driver.” Which is true.

Heads of state will agree, being driven is the most dignified mode of transportation. Add to that the fact that the Lexus GS 350 has been driven and reviewed multiple times by Jack Baruth AND Alex Dykes, and you will understand why I chose to review the Lexus GS 350 from a position of power: From the back seat. Which, after all, is the most appropriate perspective to view a luxury vehicle from.

My normal driver Matthias had to remain back in China, due to visa problems. Thankfully, Martin Koelling, East Asia correspondent of  Germany’s Handelsblatt, volunteered as a stand-in. I’d say he looks the part of a Brooklyn livery driver. I climb into the back seat, and off we go.

Let’s inspect my area first. Nice leather seats, burgundy red. I would have preferred black leather in a black car, but this is the F Sport version of the GS 350. If you had to ask, in Japan, this car would set your trust-fund back 6.8 million yen ($87,500) for the rear-wheel drive version, and $90,000 for the all-wheel-drive version.

When the rear seat center armrest is down, a hatch is revealed that lets you access the trunk of the car. Comes in handy if you work for the Yakuza, and you want to demonstrate your compassion by feeding peeled grapes to the two people you had locked in the trunk.

There is plenty space for both.

There is no TV screen in the back. It would not be necessary. The 12.3 inch high res display in the dashboard, the world’s largest in a mass-production vehicle, is big enough to be read back from where I sit.

I sit in comfort. Headroom is perfect for this 6 foot frame. Legroom is ample, especially when the front seat is pushed forward. Legroom behind the driver’s seat: Not so much. It’s lonely at the top.

Meanwhile, driver Martin has found his way out of the lush park that surrounds the Grande Ocean Resort, and it is time to demonstrate our empathy for the help by inquiring how he’s doing up front. He answers:

“That mouse takes a little getting used to. I am used to a touch screen, not to a mouse. It’s not bad, it’s different. Whenever you learn something new, you need to negotiate your way through it first.”

When driver Martin talks about  “the mouse,” he refers to a button in the center console. It moves a cursor on the screen, like a mouse on a computer.

The map was sent by voice: Martin talked to an operator, said he wanted to go from Miyazaki to Kagoshima, but please via the scenic route, and dozo, the map was sent to our screen. Very convenient.

Asked about the ride quality, driver Martin says:

“The ride is taut, yet gentle. Japanese motorways have many seams, because of the earthquakes, the roads have to be able to move, via interlocked steel bands. That’s why in the olden days, Japanese cars always were softer sprung than their German equivalents.”

A car for executives must be able to accelerate without breaking the back of the principal. You want him to be happy, not being smashed into the backrest by exploding g-forces. Martin thinks the Lexus is doing a fine job.

“The acceleration is fine. We are in Sport+  mode. I drove the Nissan Fuga Hybrid the other day, and it has an acceleration fitting for a jet fighter, not for a chauffeur driven car, it pulls your socks off. The Lexus accelerates with verve, but not as brutally and unrefined as the Nissan.”

Martin likes his workplace:

“This cockpit is something for people who don’t like to fuss around. Nice armrest, you can steer with your fingertips, everything is within reach of your fingertips, you barely have to raise a hand. This is my first time in this car, and all is where it should be.”

He likes the attention to detail that allows the car to be driven by touch alone. He points at two buttons in the steering wheel – Martin thinks they are for the cruise control – and says:

“Look, the up button has a raised label, the down button has the label sunk.”

If you spend as much time in a car as a professional driver, you want good seats. And, says Martin,

“the seats are super, especially compared to the old Lexus. Seats feel like made to measure. I could work here all day without getting tired – something I definitely cannot say for the old GS.”

The super–wide screen is more than just a cinemascopic view. According to Martin,

“with a regular screen, the map goes away if you operate, say, the radio. Here, a window on the side goes up, and the map stays. I like it.”

Martin doesn’t just like the screen, he likes the whole car.

“Spoken as a chauffeur, l would say this is the perfect chauffeur’s car.”

I like how Martin drives. Should forest-based media completely go away, there is always the possibility for a second career.

My legroom was fine, but I would like to have a companion sometimes who can stretch her finely shaped legs.

The next day, I inquire with Lexus chief Kiyotaka Ise (the engineer) about the possibility of a long version. He does not like the idea. It would destroy the finely tuned balance of the car, Ise says. Sure, sure, but what about China? An upscale car must have a long version for China, no? Ise answers carefully

“For China, we may have to rethink our strategy in this regard.”

Lexus paid for airfare, hotel, gas, food,even the toll. 



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26 Comments on “Review From The Backseat: 2013 Lexus GS 350 F Sport (Japanese Spec)...”

  • avatar

    The rarest form of automobile luxury is spaciousness in the rear seat, affording La-Z-Boy like seating and a roof high enough for one to wear a hat. Most luxury cars are just well-upholstered sporty fastback sedans.

  • avatar

    Methinks this should be a new style of review ‘Bertel get to ride in…” Although I would never have the money to A) afford this car or B) have my own chauffeur, I’m sure there are people out there who want to find out how nice it is to ride around in the back of a car. Perhaps next week you could get a RR Phantom…
    “For China, we may have to rethink our strategy in this regard.”
    It seems everyone is capable of changing their mind when enough money is involved. Perhaps it should read;
    “For China, we would gladly sell our own Grandmothers if there is enough money in it.”

  • avatar
    DC Bruce

    Although the review’s primary goal seems to be humor (nicely done, I would add), it brings to the fore a frequently neglected characteristic of most enthusiast reviews: What’s it like to ride in this vehicle? Which, for everything but two-seaters, is a fair question. After all, one buys a car to carry more than its driver, at least some of the time.

    And, freed from having to focus on driving, its just possible that a passenger-reviewer will notice things which the driver misses.

    Of course, Herr Schmitt will need the services of a regular driver to accomplish this, otherwise his reviews may be unduly influenced by the skill — or whatever — of his driver.

    I don’t think Baruth should volunteer for the job. ;-)

    Seems like a nice car . . . but at that price, it sure ought to be.

  • avatar

    +1 for the Yakuza trunk humor snipe. I can end my blog reading with the beginning of a smile.

  • avatar

    A couple points:

    1. Trustaffarians do not ride in the back of $90K sedans. They DRIVE $90K Porsches while doing hookers and blow. My experience anyway, having grown up with fair numbers of the spoiled rotten little buggers (yes, that is pure jealousy speaking).

    2. If there is not room in the back for TWO long legged people, then it is not suitable to be chauffuer driven, full stop.

    3. For myself, the back seat matters very little, other than I expect it to be at least usable in my daily driver. Anyone who sits back there and complains about the accommodations is more than welcome to arrange thier own transportation. When I am old and gray and want to be driven, I will buy a used LWB S-class. :-)

  • avatar

    Did you notice if the trunk has a glow-in-the-dark release on the inside? Some Lexii that I examined had that feature for whatever reason. Yakuza would probably want to remove that handle.

  • avatar

    Nice review, Bertel; I like the unique perspective. More rear legroom seems imperative in a car like this.

  • avatar

    The license plate says “Toyota” for Toyota city. Nice.

  • avatar
    Speed Spaniel

    Beautiful automobile and nicely written article. This could be a contender for my next car. I appreciate the subtle elegance and detailing of this design. Please don’t make a gold package for this car.

  • avatar

    Indeed, a fresh perspective on car reviews, from the back seat. :-)

    I actually like the red leather, in the black, it looks snazzy and the whole car has an understated elegance about it that I like and I’m not generally into 3 box sedans but this one is very nice indeed.

    The chauffeur for the day is definitely easy on the eyes. :-)

  • avatar

    The A6L is very popular with Chinese government types, right? I don’t see many of those folks opting for a Lexus…

    • 0 avatar

      Of course they don’t, because the GS is roughly 3.5x the price of the A6L.

      The A6L started Chinese production very early on and sold for less than an imported A4, just to give you an idea.

      Whatever name they use in China do not correspond directly to their identical named counterparts in foreign countries. VW’s “Jetta” name is probably the most confusing of them all.

  • avatar
    Amendment X

    Nice greenhouse! We still have hope…

  • avatar
    Robert Schwartz

    What ever happened to the Toyota Crown V12 limo?

  • avatar
    Japanese Buick

    Bertel, you’re rigut that TTAC’s search function sucks but there is an easy workaround: Google. Just preface your search with “” and it will search your site better than your own search.

  • avatar

    Cool review! Going slightly off topic now I think the problem Lexus, Acura, and Infiniti all share is that while they can mimic the engineering of the German sports sedans, and even offer more luxury and better technology, they CANNOT get the same elegant design language. I felt this when I saw the new M37/56 and again when I see this car. This will continue to prevent most BMW/Audi/Mercedes people from cross shopping.

  • avatar

    Just curious, if this is a Japanese spec Lexus, no problem to have English display on navigation system?
    Just bought new Honda near Nagoya and had to stay with everything in Japanese for Honda factory systemm

  • avatar

    The interior is a grand slam home run — that LCD screen is a beauty.

  • avatar

    I paid attention to review especially as im considering buying the same car and I would like to write few things i have noticed as an driver who drove the same car last week.

    – English Map please
    As person who lives in Japan but who doesn’t speak Japanese well, its essential to have Maps in English.
    And guess what, Lexus doesn’t have.

    Lexus US has it, so its obvious it’s just a software thing, but in JP they dont pay enough attention I guess.

    I have driven last week also A5 Sportback and BMW 528 as I’m looking to buy new car in this month, and both German cars have maps written n English.

    – When synced via Bluetooth, all navigation buttons are in JP. As my address book on iPhone is in English when i synced with Lexus Navi I could search by Katakana/Hiragana (JP alphabet), which means I could not search properly.

    Yes, I could see recent calls on my Iphone/etc, i could set memories of people I like to dial, but not even close or easy to German cars. Both complaints are software stuff and its easy to make it work, but..

    Of course for anyone living outside of JP this is irrelevant.

    – Lexus dont have idle (stop/start) button.

    Imagine you are in traffic or stopped at lights, you need to keep on pressing brake, leg will hurt you sooner or later and then you will put gear in either neutral or parking.

    Both German cars have little button, which can be on all the time. So as soon as you hit traffic light or congestion, you can release brake pedal and car will not roll. Its great stuff. I heard it also save the fuel.

    – Lexus have HUGE navigation monitor, but new BMW has almost the same in size.

    What is more important that BMW navi screen showing the map can go wide across whole size, while Lexus map will be around 7″ (like 4:3 instead very wide like on BMW).

    – Lexus have snow button next to armrest. Hm , i would rather have electric handbrake there, currently handbrake is on the left under steering wheel, and very difficult to hold.

    About snow button, you know I live around Tokyo and in last 6 years since i have been here, we never had snow on the road here.

    – Lexus GS F costs 50% less in US then JP.
    How come? Car is made in Japan!!! And JP Yen was high all year around.

    New Lexus GS fitted with leather seats its just amazing. It very nice and easy to drive and very comfy.
    When you sit inside, you know that its very special. And it looks so much better inside and out then Germans. Also Lexus service is the best.

    I have owned BMW 5 series V8, Audi A3 T and I currently owe Lexus IS 250Sport.
    My Lexus is 5,5 years old and got 70.00KM, never single problem.. With BMW I had some failure every 3-4 months.

    If there was no for my complaints above I would buy GS even last week, now I am thinking which one of those 3.

    Most likely A5 Sportback Turbo. But both Germans offering big discount while Lexus no…

  • avatar

    You could call this new series of reviews:

    “Bertel Likes It From The Rear…of a (insert car here)”

    Honestly, I loved the review. I most frequently ride with my wife and my mother. They prefer to both sit in back and converse, leaving the front to me. This is very good.

    I am 6’4″ and 250lbs. Wife and Mom are both 5’4″. Since I love them, I want them to be comfortable and happy. But since I never ride back there, I don’t know what will make them happy. (Neither do they.)
    Making this a regular feature will help prevent me getting an Avalon (their current favorite).

    While I am stragely glued to the ups-and-downs of the international car business news, this is the most relevant thing (to me) that Bertel has yet written. Thanks, Bertel. And help!

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