It’s been a while since Lexus turned many heads. But the new design language from the luxury Japanese automaker is nothing short of spectacular and has allowed the sleepy “L” to leap back into the same league as the many breath-taking designs coming out Germany.
Of course, dominating any market is never an easy endeavor, yet Lexus managed to do so for years. What’s more, they did it with seeming effortlessness that one can only imagine irritated its clear-cut rivals. But like its parent company, Toyota, Lexus has suffered as of late. In 2011, we saw the brand suffer and slip down the pecking order, with many of the German luxury brands, such as BMW and Audi, compelling customers to jump ship.
After having taken a break in the U.S. market for the 2012 model year, the Lexus GS 350 is back for 2013. Has the Japanese luxury marquee finally decided to show up to the dance and appeal to the more visceral sensibilities of its customers — or will it continue to play it safe and forgo what has driven customers to its rivals?
Building bold and stylish momentum
People don’t often like to admit it, but looks matter — especially with an automobile. Even if they can go fast, handle like a dream, and sport some insane sound system that reverberates throughout every inch of your body, that “dream car” needs to be easy on the eyes, or nobody is going to think twice when something prettier comes along. We’re superficial creatures in a lot of ways – and that’s OK.
For the 2013 GS 350, it seems like Lexus is finally hip to this harsh truth; the GS 350 is a beautiful creature, one that immediately grabs your attention and refuses to let go. A lot of that credit has to go toward what Lexus is calling its new spindle grille.
Like BMW’s iconic double kidney, Audi’s interlocking rings, and Mercedes three-pointed star, the new up-front design element Lexus has added instills a flair and character we assumed was long forgotten at the company — though we have seen glimpses of life over at Lexus recently, in the form of the LFA supercar and IS sport sedan.
For the better part of a decade, however, Lexus has been operating on cruise control. Lexus has always built quality, reliable cars. But for the price, people want more than just that. They want fun. They want passion. And they want something that’s going to turn heads. Honestly, when was the last time you were truly impressed by how great a Lexus looks…that far back, huh? Yeah, that’s what we thought. Thankfully, the invigorated style of the GS has breathed new life into a brand that seemed content to wallow in exceptional mediocrity.
In addition to its mean mug, the GS 350 features a host of styling refinements that we truly appreciate. Our undying love for smartly lined LED lights has not gone unanswered, with the GS 350 featuring an integrated strip just below the headlamps. The dimensions up front have been widened by a couple of inches, which helps give the car a more aggressive look head-on, while to the side and rear designs offer more subdued styling. Some might argue that the design isn’t bold enough, but we disagree. Come off too harsh and Lexus would miss its mark. And, like it or not, that spindle-grille has been described by the company as “the new face of Lexus,” so expect to see it on many more upcoming models.
In the end, the exterior design of the 2013 GS 350 manages to be a lot of things: aggressive, elegant, athletic, and subdued. There really is something here to satiate a wide array of tastes. But more than anything else, it’s fun and fierce — and those are two adjectives we haven’t used to describe a Lexus in way too long.
The momentum continues…
We’ve grown accustomed to compromise while reviewing cars. As with most things, there are aspects we enjoy and others we don’t. This is typically dealt with a modicum of civility on our part because, after all, nobody is perfect. This unfortunate reality is often most prevalent when examining the exterior and interior of a vehicle. Thankfully, this isn’t an issue in the 2013 Lexus GS 350.
The styling momentum carries over from the exterior into the cabin of the GS 350. Lexus has long been known for its quality cabins. And while traditional styling sensibilities can be witnessed throughout, there is a far greater degree of modernity as well. Whether it’s the soft and contemporary hue of the ambient LED lighting throughout the cabin, the electro-luminescent gauge cluster, or the 8-inch LCD control display with touchpad interface (more on than in a bit), the cabin is as smartly dressed as it is comfortable.
Adjustable 10-way power seats come standard on the 2013 Lexus GS 350, but our loaner upped the ante to 18 courtesy of its Luxury Package ($6,530). And while that might seem like overkill, the GS 350’s firm seats up front manage to cradle both driver and passenger making it the most comfortable cabins we’ve sat in to date, with the BMW 335i coming in at a close second and the Land Rover Range Rover Evoque awarded the bronze.
Altogether, there is cabin space aplenty, both up front and in the rear. For the 2013 model year, rear passengers have been afforded nearly three more inches of hip room, and leg room is hardly an issue, measuring at 36.8-inches. While cargo space has been an issue in past iterations, Lexus has managed to address that thanks to the new redesign, which now allows for 14.3 cubic feet that should fit a set of golf clubs or a decent amount of luggage.
We wouldn’t expect a Lexus cabin to look cheap, and this one doesn’t. The mix of leather and real wood enhances the cabin a great deal, and breaks up the endless sea of leather found on the seats and wrapped around almost the entirety of the dash.
The price is wrong… for navigation
There isn’t exactly a tech drought when it comes to mid-size luxury sedans. And considering our review car hovers north of $60,000, we assumed our loaner would naturally fall into that category. Unfortunately, that isn’t the case here. While our review unit features some bedazzling tech of its own, curiously absent was the optional navigation system, upgraded 12.3-inch wide LCD display, and Lexus’s Enform system, which is similar to BMW’s iDrive.
This, more than anything, has us rather miffed. The 2013 GS is a strong showing from Lexus. But overlooking one of the most quintessential technology features found in even the most pedestrian of vehicles nowadays is unacceptable. Apparently 60 grand will get you a lot, but it won’t get you a navigation system. Rubbish, Lexus, simply rubbish.
That gigantic misstep aside, the GS 350 does manager to muster an impressive showing in the tech department. While Lexus Enform offers its own apps suite with Pandora, Yelp, and a host of other integrated apps, moderately savvy owners can work around this by utilizing the vehicles simple Bluetooth connectivity feature to connect a smartphone or tablet.
On top of effortless voice commands to make hands-free phone calls, you can also stream music apps like Pandora and Spotify with ease. The GS 350 features a USB port housed in the middle console, so charging your smart device is easy. But be warned: operating apps like Spotify, or even connecting your iPod in order to listen to your library of music, doesn’t always work as smoothly as it should. Lexus’s system has a hard time keeping pace with track changes, and will often display the wrong track altogether. Often we were told to wait while the system accessed our iPod’s library. It’s annoying. This type of problem isn’t just confined to Lexus vehicles. However, given the vehicle’s price, it’s much less easy to overlook or forgive.
The GS 350 also features Lexus’s handy Remote Touch interface. This square-shaped controller sits in front of an elevated wrist pad, and makes navigating the vehicle’s menus a breeze. While it’s not quite as accurate as a mouse, which is the closest comparison we can think of, it does offer an unprecedented level of control and accuracy for an in-car computer system. There is a corresponding icon that shows up on the display, and selecting various functions is as simple as clicking down on the button. This is, by far, the best system we have had the pleasure of operating, and we hope more automakers follow suit.
The 2013 Lexus GS 350 is powered by a 3.5-liter V6 engine that produces 306 horsepower and 277 pound-feet of torque. Transmission options are limited to a six-speed automatic with manual shift paddle controls, but customers can opt for either a rear-wheel drive or all-wheel drive system. EPA rating for the rear-wheel-drive version is 19 mpg in the city, 28 mpg on the highway, and 23 mpg combined. Our all-wheel drive review unit earns a little less at 19 mpg in the city, 26 on the highway, and 21 combined. For comparison, the BMW 535i xDrive with 3.0-liter turbocharged six-cylinder and the Audi A6 with Quattro all-wheel drive and a 3.0-liter V6 earn comparable returns with 21/30/24 and 19/28/22, respectively.
We were pleased to discover that the GS 350 isn’t hindered by the ghost of its subdued forbearers. The engine is exquisitely vocal, and the rumble and growl crept ever so blissfully into our aural canals at every push of the ignition or spool of torque being blasted through. However, it never manages to match the sound sensation emanating from some of its German rivals — namely, BMW’s 3.0-liter turbocharged six-cylinder — but is a raucous step in the right direction for Lexus.
A refined road warrior
The 2013 Lexus GS 350 features some truly impressive driving dynamics, and in many ways keeps pace with the German performance-based luxury sedans. Its uncanny ability to grip the road, even when power is being sent viciously to the wheels, is admirable and offers a truly engaging ride for those that seek it out. When not stopping the accelerator, the GS 350 provides a supple and composed ride. And although we expected as much, the ability to weave in and out of each driving scenario was a feat, and sensation, that instilled in us even more confidence that Lexus has the potential to rival the best of what Germany has to offer.
That said, we still have a minor qualm: The GS 350 has a tendency to release its revs too early in the powerband, even when in manual shifting mode. This becomes more of a nuisance for enthusiasts that want to push their vehicle harder than most are likely to do — but it’s something Lexus should better tune for upcoming variations.
Speaking of upcoming variations, while we thoroughly enjoyed Lexus’s finely-tuned 3.5-liter V6, the fact that it is only available as a six-speed automatic reeks of a rush job. So many of its competitors are swapping in seven- and eight-speed transmissions, and the GS 350 should be no different.
At the risk of sounding cheesy, the 2013 GS 350 is not just a new model — it’s a statement. As with its remarkable LFA concept, Lexus is looking to show the world what it can do. We might be able to accuse the luxury automaker of many things, but it finally seems we can no longer criticize it for resting on its laurels and being smacked around by rivals it managed to best with relative ease for so many years.
In the 2013 GS 350, we have a real contender in the mid-size luxury segment. It features bold styling, a finely-crafted interior, and a satisfying mill that has left us incredibly impressed — even if it does need some further refinement to truly content with those pesky Germans and their proverbial symphony on wheels.
And yet, for all its quality, the GS 305 can do more. Mileage and powertrain efficiency needs to be ironed out. And while we are smitten with its design, we can’t help but think Lexus has a greater degree of room with which to explore.
Suffice to say, Lexus has our attention once again and rightfully so — now that it does it must hold onto it. That may prove easier said than done. But if the GS 350 is anything to go off of, that goal appears well within Lexus’s reach. For those seeking out a solid performer across the board, we recommend the 2013 Lexus GS 350. For those of us seeking out an edgier, more raw experience, however, it might serve us well to hold off on emigrating from the Rhineland for a while longer.
- Style — yes, a modern Lexus with style and flair!
- Solid performer across the board
- Excellent interface controls
- Comfortable and stylish cabin
- Exceptional road manners
- Lack of navigation system despite luxury package add-on
- Somewhat recycled powertrain
- Unimpressive fuel economy