Buyers of luxury sport sedans may never take their vehicles to a track or enter them in an autocross event but they certainly want to know they can. Lexus understands this and has been attempting to provide a mid-luxe model capable of offering a sound alternative to the German stalwarts but have always come up a bit short – until now.
The fourth-generation Lexus GS sport sedan is no game changer but it finally puts the luxury division of Toyota in the game.
Arriving in February, the 2013 GS 350 and GS 450h will introduce a new corporate look for the division while also providing the best partnership of sport and luxury from this Japanese automaker.
“The 2013 GS is the new Lexus,” said Mark Templin, Lexus group vice president and general manager. “The whole package comes together in one great looking sports sedan and shows the GS offers the best of all worlds with its performance, connectivity, and available options that will suit the needs of many drivers.”
Gone is a V-8 offering as Lexus is content to let its new 338hp GS 450h fill the power void while also producing some of the best fuel economy figures in this segment with a big jump over the previous GS hybrid. Lexus expects 29 mpg city and 34 mpg highway from the new ride, up from 22/25 respectively.
The GS 350 still draws its power from a 3.5-liter V-6 engine but power has been tweaked to 306 ponies and it is backed by a slick six-speed automatic gearbox with manual and sport modes and steering wheel shifter paddles. When questioned about why engineers chose to equip the car with a six-speed transmission while the competitors have gone to seven and eight gears Lexus stated they were able to achieve performance targets with this arrangement while an eight-speed gearbox had the powertrain “hunting” for the right gear too much for their tastes.
GS 350 models will be available in rear-wheel or all-wheel drive configuration with the 450h models arriving in rear-wheel drive only. Trim levels for the GS 350 include Premium, Luxury, or (my favorite) F SPORT packages.
We also see the debut of the Lexus Enform 2.0 Application Suite (Toyota calls it Entune in its vehicles). Enform is an infotainment technology package that pairs drivers smartphones (iPhone, Android, and Blackberry only) with their vehicles and this Lexus version offers Yelp and Facebook over and above its Entune counterpart.
At the heart of this technology interface is the voice-recognition software (Lexus uses Voicebox whereas SYNC/MyFord Touch uses Nuance) and just like with the Ford and Lincoln vehicles Enform demonstrated a few minor glitches during our testing.
Interior and exterior appointments and styling in this new GS are stellar, especially when adorned with the new F SPORT package and thanks to updated battery technology (Toyota/Lexus still using Nickel Metal Hydride as opposed to Lithium-Ion) trunk space has been improved in the GS 450h. And check out the new “spindle” nose design – almost looks like Lexus engineers “pinched” the vertical grille bars for something a bit out of the ordinary.
While wheelbase and overall length remain the same the 2013 models get two more inches across and rear seat comfort is greatly improved. And in true Lexus form we found more acronyms in our press kits, this time being LDH (Lexus Dynamic Handling) and DRS (Dynamic Rear Steering) which come as an option on GS 350 F SPORT models. LDH monitors vehicle speed and yaw rate, steering angle and speed, and lateral G-force to calculate any required rear wheel steering input needed for enhanced vehicle stability and handling. The DRS system can alter the rear wheels up to two degrees. At most speeds below 50 mph the front and rear wheels turn in opposite directions while at speeds over 50 mph the wheels turn in
the same direction.
Lexus was not shy about introducing the 2013 GS models to the media as the Las Vegas Motor Speedway served as our venue. Driving opportunities included a timed autocross course and a very spirited road course on the infield track. So confident was Lexus with the new ride that they actually brought out examples of the German competitors to test the GS against.
Going up against the E350 from Mercedes-Benz and the 535i from BMW the Lexus did just fine, thank you very much. Each of the competitors did have sport packages so the testing was pretty much apples-to-apples. The GS, even the hybrid model, stuck the corners great and when driving an F SPORT with LDH and DRS engaged the Lexus was unbeatable.
Driving enthusiasts rejoice as you now have a Lexus alternative to those European snobs (just don’t bring up M, AMG or even V).
No word on pricing just yet but this fourth-generation GS is going to really stir things up, especially as Lexus expects half of its sales to be conquests from other brands.