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Lexus gives its GS sedan an 'F' in performance

When Lexus slaps an F-badge on the back of its GS 350 sedan, you should know that it means fast, not fail.

Lexus GS with F Sport package
Lexus pulls the wraps off of the GS 350 sedan's new F Sport package. Antuan Goodwin/CNET

LAS VEGAS--A letter F on a report card is usually a bad thing. However, when Lexus slaps an F-badge on the back of one of its vehicles, you should know that the automaker means fast and not fail.

Actually, the F stands for finesse, but let's not split hairs. The GS 350 sedan with F Sport package that Lexus debuted at the 2011 SEMA Show is no mere appearance upgrade, it should also be faster than the standard model.

Lexus GS 350 F Sport
The F Sport packages replaces the the GS 350's rolling stock with 19-inch wheels. Antuan Goodwin/CNET

However, the extra performance comes in the form of suspension, aerodynamic, and chassis upgrades, as the GS 350's 3.5-liter V6 still outputs the same 306 horsepower as the standard model. That power flows through a six-speed sequential automatic transmission that borrows a few tricks from the Lexus IS-F's gearbox. The transmission can be manually controlled using paddle shifters and features shift programs that can be toggled using the Lexus Drive Mode selector. ECO emphasizes fuel economy, while Normal is the default program. S-mode firms up the shifts and holds the revs longer. Finally, S+ is the most performance-oriented setting, which interfaces with the traction control systems and adaptive suspension to deliver the most grins per corner.

The GS 350 with F Sport package can be had in rear- or all-wheel-drive variants, and, for the first time, Lexus is offering the GS with the Lexus Dynamic Handling (LDH) system, which coordinates the functions of the Anti-lock Braking System, Traction Control, Vehicle Stability Control, and Adaptive Variable Suspension. LDH also adds Lexus' Dynamic Rear Steering (DRS) system to the handling mix, which countersteers the rear wheels by up to 2 degrees below 50 mph to shrink the turning radius and steers the rear wheels in concert with the fronts above 50 mph for more stable highway lane changes.

The F Sport package also adds Cabernet Red leather sport seats with power adjustable bolsters, metal trim around the cabin and, of course, F badges aplenty. Externally, the GS 350 F Sport gets a more aggressive exterior aesthetic with 19-inch wheels that (on RWD models) feature staggered widths for better rear-end grip.

Project GS by Five Axis
If Lexus ever decided to build a GS-F, it might look something like this Five Axis custom. Antuan Goodwin/CNET

As aggressive as the GS 350 looks with the F Sport package, it's fairly tame compared with the sedan that sat adjacent in Lexus' booth. Designed by longtime Toyota/Lexus partner Five Axis Design, the Project GS custom hints at what a possible GS-F could look like if Lexus ever decided to take the extra step and build a hard-core GS from the ground up.

Project GS features an extremely angry aesthetic that is accented by Five Axis' wide body conversion. The chassis received a coating of Glacier White paint before being lowered over the 20-inch Five Axis S5:F alloy wheels on an AirRunner suspension system that almost allows the bumper to touch the booth's plush carpet. Of course, within those massive wheels are equally impressive Stoptech big brake kits that feature 15-inch rotors and six- and four-piston calipers on the front and rear axis, respectively.

Check out our photos from the floor of the 2011 SEMA Show in Las Vegas for a closer look at Lexus' new model and unveiled customs.