Other automakers are increasingly going to direct-injection engines for the increased efficiency, and dealing well with the extra engine noise. Lexus should lose the complexity of this system and just go to straight direct injection.
This engine produces 306 horsepower and 277 pound-feet of torque, generally satisfactory but at times not enough to get the nearly 2-ton GS 350 out of its own way. CNET's car came with all-wheel drive, an option that adds about $3,000 to the total price, and the F Sport package, which brings in an extensive amount of performance gear, including an adaptive suspension.
A large dial on the console changes the drive modes between Eco, Normal, Sport, and Sport Plus. In Eco mode, the accelerator is detuned, a helper designed to force slower starts, and therefore better fuel economy. The EPA estimates put the GS 350 at 19 mpg city and 26 mpg highway, but I rarely saw the average fuel economy rise above 20 mpg. After a week of driving, its average came out to 19.4 mpg. A couple of extra gears in the transmission should raise the average.
The Sport and Sport Plus settings are new features for Lexus, and not as aggressive as similarly labeled settings in competitors' cars. Put the GS 350 in Sport mode and the six-speed automatic transmission holds its gears longer, and downshifts aggressively in response to braking. Put it into Sport Plus, and the suspension takes on a more rigid character. The GS 350's Sport Plus does not go quite so far as BMW's similar mode, which changes the traction control profile.
Taking advantage of the full Sport Plus setting, I enjoyed the performance of the GS 350. Letting the transmission shift automatically, it held high engine revs as I pounded the gas pedal in the straights, letting the engine sound off with its satisfying growl. Getting into the brakes ahead of a turn, I found the transmission downshifted fast, keeping the revs up so I had power through the corner.
In the turns, the GS 350 gripped well, letting me keep a good amount of speed. The all-wheel drive must have also been doing its job, helping the front wheels claw for some grip to aid the overall handling, but I couldn't really feel the effect. With the rigid suspension setting, the car tried to remain flat, but there was still slight roll, the car's weight being too much for the suspension to hold back. I never really got a feeling of rotation in the turns.
A few other problems with the GS 350's performance made themselves known, suggesting it will never be a real track competitor. Getting close to the limits in the turns, it showed understeer, losing the responsive steering character it had at moderate speeds. And the engine just did not have enough oomph to push it convincingly out of the turns. Clearing an apex with a good straightaway ahead, I slammed the gas, but even with the revs well above 5,000 the engine didn't have the power for a fast exit.
In really tight corners, the car became terribly bound up by its own traction control. The system reacted to a lot of wheel turn by stripping out the power, leaving me with no response on the accelerator. That behavior may also be due to the all-wheel-drive system, as some can bind at steering lock. The all-wheel drive also has the effect of raising the car height half an inch, which will adversely affect handling.
With the dial set for Normal mode while cruising down the freeway, the GS 350 showed all the luxury I would expect from a Lexus. The ride quality is very nice, although prone to oscillation over wavy roads. Unlike typical Lexus power steering, where you can turn the wheel with one finger, the GS 350 feels more responsive and in touch with the road at all times.
To ease long-range driving, CNET's GS 350 came with radar-based adaptive cruise control. Typical for these systems, it let me choose among three following distances. It also brought the car to a complete stop when a vehicle in front of me slowed for a right turn off a highway.
The Lane Keeping Assistant was a nice complement to the adaptive cruise control. When I let the car drift over a lane line, it first beeped, then tugged the wheel to put the car back in its lane. The car also had a blind-spot detection system, lighting up an icon in the side-view mirror when another car was obscured by the GS 350's C pillar.
Lexus offers some real cutting-edge tech in the 2013 GS 350, from Enform app integration to the driver assistance systems. CNET's car lacked some of these features, such as the head-up display and the Mark Levinson audio system, but I was impressed by what it did have. The new voice command system is also very capable, and the sheer size of the LCD is impressive.
For performance, the GS 350 with the F Sport package sits near the IS F as one of the few Lexus models that can really hold its own in the corners. Fun on a country road, it lacks the power and handling at the limits to be taken seriously on the track. Fuel economy is also well short of impressive.
|Model||2013 Lexus GS 350|
|Power train||Direct- and port-injection 3.5-liter V-6, 6-speed automatic transmission|
|EPA fuel economy||19 mpg city/26 mpg highway|
|Observed fuel economy||19.4 mpg|
|Navigation||Optional hard-drive-based, with integrated traffic data|
|Bluetooth phone support||Standard, with contact list integration|
|Disc player||MP3-compatible single-CD|
|MP3 player support||iPod integration|
|Other digital audio||Pandora, iHeartRadio, Bluetooth audio streaming, USB drive, auxiliary input, satellite radio, HD Radio|
|Audio system||Standard 12-speaker system, optional Mark Levinson 835-watt 17-speaker system|
|Driver aids||Adaptive cruise control, lane departure prevention, blind-spot detection, head-up display, rearview camera|
|Price as tested||$60,824|