Review From The Backseat: 2013 Lexus GS 350 F Sport (Japanese Spec)

Bertel Schmitt
by Bertel Schmitt

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.

Bertel Schmitt
Bertel Schmitt

Bertel Schmitt comes back to journalism after taking a 35 year break in advertising and marketing. He ran and owned advertising agencies in Duesseldorf, Germany, and New York City. Volkswagen A.G. was Bertel's most important corporate account. Schmitt's advertising and marketing career touched many corners of the industry with a special focus on automotive products and services. Since 2004, he lives in Japan and China with his wife <a href=""> Tomoko </a>. Bertel Schmitt is a founding board member of the <a href=""> Offshore Super Series </a>, an American offshore powerboat racing organization. He is co-owner of the racing team Typhoon.

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  • Elvin Elvin on Mar 01, 2012

    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. Positives? 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…

  • Caboose Caboose on Mar 21, 2012

    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!

  • EBFlex At the summer property putting boats in the water, leveling boat lifts, cleaning the lots for summer, etc. Typical cabin stuff in the most beautiful place on the planet
  • Lou_BC I've I spent the past few days in what we refer to as "the lower mainland". I see Tesla's everywhere and virtually every other brand of EV. I was in downtown Vancouver along side a Rivian R1T. A Rivian R1S came off as side street and was following it. I saw one other R1S. 18% of new vehicles in BC are EV'S. It tends to match what I saw out my windshield. I only saw 2 fullsized pickups. One was a cool '91 3/4 ton regular cab. I ran across 2 Tacoma's. Not many Jeeps. There were plenty of Porches, Mercedes, and BMW's. I saw 2 Aston Martin DBX707's. It's been fun car watching other than the stress of driving in big city urban traffic. I'd rather dodge 146,000 pound 9 axle logging trucks on one lane roads.
  • IBx1 Never got the appeal of these; it looks like there was a Soviet mandate to create a car with two doors and a roof that could be configured in different ways.
  • CAMeyer Considering how many voters will be voting for Trump because they remember that gas prices were low in 2020–never mind the pandemic—this seems like a wise move.
  • The Oracle Been out on the boat on Lake James (NC) and cooking up some hella good food here with friends at the lake place.