The full-size car segment is littered with vehicles that excel at one thing and suffer at another. It’s a tricky market to get into and sell well, especially in this modern era when so many people want everything for nothing. Granted, cars nowadays are offering more for less, so we can thank the technology movement for that.
But for those looking for that extra something, there is a greater gap between what’s affordable and what’s luxurious than ever before. If you want quality, you’ve got to pay for it, and there’s nothing wrong with that. But if you aren’t looking at spending upwards of $100k on a full-size, sport luxury car, how many options do you really have?
Without much thought, it’s easy to write off the majority of luxury marquees. Beautiful as many of them are, after taxes you’ll easily be popping your wallet open for some serious cash – and deservedly so. But among the numerous German and English nameplates, one Japanese automaker has consistently found themselves in the mix of full-size cars that offer a splash of style, sportiness and elegant styling with a not-so-doughy price tag.
Standing second from the company’s flagship LS, the Lexus GS 350 received a major facelift this past year. A bold new front fascia, low-slung grill and a great accent package have helped solidify the modern identity of the Japanese automaker. Day or night, you can tell the entire lineup is unequivocally Lexus. Give it the F-Sport treatment and it’s just that much more.
I’ve driven an F-Sport just once previously in SUV form (the RX 350), and I was pleasantly surprised. Despite number shortages in the horsepower department, it performed amicably well in every situation, provided great handling and looked equally as sharp.
This time around, I’m bumping it up a notch and driving something lower to the ground, which is almost always better in my books. While this GS 350 isn’t going to be a track destroyer by any means, I’m expecting it to handle its fair share of speed and precision. For starters, it is rear-wheel drive. It’s also slotted itself alongside many of those German names and is emblazoned with the word “Sport” right on the body.
Dressed in factory Crimson Red, the F-Sport trim stands out conspicuously against the base model GS with a unique front lip, rear spoiler and larger 19-inch gunmetal wheels dressed in 235/40 R19 rubber up front and 265/35 R19 in the rear. Staring at the car head on, it looks like it wants to eat you whole, which makes it all the more enticing to get in.
That demeanor carries itself seamlessly to the interior, giving you the feel of spacious elegance, with enough of an edge that you know you’re not going to pull alongside a retired couple ready to pack their bags for the Florida sun.
The seats are equally as comfortable as I remember in the RX SUV, offering the driver 16 ways of adjustability and fantastic lumbar support. These heated and cooled seats aren’t standard fare for the GS, but upgrade to the F-Sport and you’ll be comfortably locked in. The GS suits my 6’1” frame nicely – and because I have longer legs, the power-adjustable telescopic steering wheel makes everything that much better. Your passenger can also enjoy nearly equal amenities with a 10-way adjustable seat.
Eyes up, it’s hard not to notice the gargantuan display screen sitting in the middle of the dash. This thing is huge, and completely welcome. At 12.3 inches of LCD goodness, the system is set up to effectively show both entertainment and vehicle info. Want to see how your mileage has been for the last 10 minutes while checking your route? It’s easily dialed in, as are audio, climate and phone, along with Lexus’s new App Suite – so you can even make dinner reservations en route.
Controlling the entire system is something of a glorified mouse ball called “Remote Touch.” It was something I used previously on the RX, but admittedly had a harder time getting acquainted to than I like. Similarly on the GS, I note the movable toggle, which stops at given points depending on what’s displayed, is a great idea, but could be implemented better in two ways. First, if it weren’t as sensitive to touch and, second, if the mount design integrated itself better to the interior aesthetic. But the climate and multimedia OS operates intuitively, and sounds fantastic with the help of the 12-speaker premium Bluetooth voice and audio sound system.
On the driving side, the GS F-Sport package is loaded with a 3.5-litre, 24-valve V6 that purrs throughout the range and does little to disturb the cabin. At 306 horsepower it’s not going to crush the competition, but it will handle most of what you throw at it with relative ease. A six-speed automatic paddle shifters and ‘Drive Mode Select’ allows you to switch between Eco, Normal, Sport and Sport+ mode, making the drivetrain and suspension customizable for whatever you need.
Depending on the mode you select, the adaptive variable suspension will react to speed and turning radius while four-wheel active steering (similar to the new Porsche 911) helps push the car around corners in an impressively small radius. It makes the car feel much smaller than it is, and definitely helps in underground parking and right hand turns in Downtown Toronto rush hour.
Lexus also uses a unique adaptive steering system that varies steering response depending on speed. Going slow, steering becomes quicker and more agile; on the highway, things tighten up. It’s an ingenious idea to help avoid obstacles while still offering performance handling when you need it. The wheel noticeably takes less effort in the city than on winding country roads.
I spend the majority of my time driving in manual Sport+ mode to test the reaction of the paddle shifters and get as natural a feel for the RWD as possible. The car handles itself tastefully and really doesn’t feel like the traditional RWD cars that I’m used to. The back end is glued to the ground and paddle shifting is quick – not sports car quick – but you can go up and down and know exactly what’s going to happen. The rev-matched downshifts are equally as fast for those times you want to push it without getting uncivil. From commuting to the occasional track day, it’s a car that will perform well and do it confidently.
Essentially, the GS 350 F-Sport is a sport-inspired full-size luxury car without all the fat. It is quick to grab your attention and makes you forget that you can fit your family, luggage and maybe even a set of golf clubs in the trunk. You get industry-leading driving technologies, premium infotainment and 11.3 L/100 km average fuel economy while minimizing wallet damage. But that’s not what luxury cars are about anyways.
2013 Lexus GS 350 RWD F-Sport
BASE PRICE: $51,900
PRICE AS TESTED (BEFORE TAXES): $61,080.20
ENGINE: 3.5L 24-valve six cylinder
HORSEPOWER / TORQUE: 306 hp / 277 lb-ft
TRANSMISSION: 6-speed sequential shift automatic (ECT-i)
FUEL ECONOMY RATINGS (L/100 km): 10.7 / 7.1 / 9.1 (city / hwy / comb.)
OBSERVED FUEL ECONOMY: 11.3 (comb.)
BASIC WARRANTY: 48 months / 80,000 km