By Special Contributor Ken Glassman
Photos Include the 2015 GS350 F Sport Crafted Line
Refreshed in 2013, the Lexus GS350 remains about the same for the 2014 model year. For whatever reason, the mid-size Lexus has never been a great selling model, maybe because it goes up against some stiff competition from the European models like the Audi A6, Mercedes E-Class, BMW’s 5-Series, and even the excellent Cadillac CTS. But the GS350 and its GS hybrid cousin are still very fine automobiles, and should appeal to anyone looking for a mid-size luxury car.
The power comes from a 3.5 liter V-6 engine that is good for 305 horsepower, and 277 ft. lbs. of torque @4800 RPM. There is no V-8 option. The gas mileage is rated at 19 City and 26 highway, which puts it in the middle of the pack against the competition. If gas mileage is your thing, then you can choose the GS450h hybrid which will improve those mileage numbers considerably, up to 29 City and 34 Highway.
I had the chance to spend a week with the hybrid, and while I liked increased the gas mileage, I preferred the standard gas model. The hybrid runs on smaller harder low rolling resistance tires, and has lighter steering effort that feels numb. Also, the regenerative brakes are stiff and have numb feel, and the hybrid’s suspension also felt less crisp and refined overall.
Rear drive GS models have the new 8-speed transmission, while the AWD version keeps the 6-speed, but adds paddle shifters, and Eco and Sport buttons. The sport setting lets you get more grunt out of the motor, but the paddle shifters are programed for smooth shifts rather than fast ones, so it takes some of the sportiness out of the system. The test car was fitted with the $6,580 Luxury Package, which includes the upgraded Adaptive Variable Suspension, and 18” alloy wheels.
Still, luxury ride quality is favored over sportiness. That said, this GS350 still has good road manners, without excessive body lean in turns, and enough power to make running a series of sweeping curves enjoyable. And the AWD system, which varies its torque from a 50:50 split to 30:70 as needed, will make the driver feel secure on wet and snow covered pavement, but if you are looking for a more athletic handling machine, I would imagine that the F-Sport version would be the model to look at.
The cabin is a very luxurious place to spend some long hours on the road. The front seats are very comfortable and well supported. The gauge package is handsome and informative, and there is soft touch materials everywhere you’d want them. Rear seat room is good for 2 adults, and the seats are comfortable with ample head room. There is also good storage in the door pockets, glove box, and center console, with a slide back lid that exposes USB and 12-volt input jacks. The Luxury Package includes Adaptive front lighting, LED fog lamps, wood interior trim, three-zone climate controls, rear power sunshade, and 18-way power front seats that are both heated and cooled.
One gripe we’ve had with every Lexus we’ve tested is with the cooled seats. They simply don’t work. I’ve tried them in the IS Convertible and couldn’t tell they were on, even when wearing shorts and a T-Shirt. And this GS is no better. A friend of mine took his Lexus back to the dealer several times to complain that his cooled weren’t working. He was told that they were working, and that’s the best that he could expect. Shame on Lexus for having such a poor working feature. Another disappointment was the heated steering wheel. The only part that heats up are the small leather portions located at the 3 and 9 o’clock positions, which is not where most driver’s hands are located when driving.
Lexus, and most Toyota products for that matter, have never been accused of having cutting edge styling. But this GS is one of Lexus’ best styling exercises, and a major upgrade from the previous model. Walking around the car offers some visual excitement from any angle and the split grill front end has a more powerful presence. The rear end offers some interesting lines and styling cues, and the jewel like taillight section fits in nicely.
The electronics in the test vehicle were extensive. The $1,380 Mark Levinson 117 speaker audio system with 835 watts of power is simply outstanding. One may find themselves taking unnecessary trips in this car just to listen to the music. And considering that Audi offers a Bang and Olufsen sound system that costs 8 grand, this one seems like a bargain by comparison.
Other electronic goodies include Bluetooth and satellite radio, input jacks for iPod and other devices, and Lexus’ Advanced Voice Recognition. It’s supposed to be one of the best systems out there, but there is still a lot more work to be done with voice recognition, from all automakers, to make that feature work well.
The $700 Blind Spot Monitoring System is an option, but in a car of this price range, it should be standard. I had a $17,000 Mazda that had the same feature as standard.
The $900 heads-up display is expensive, but it’s a great feature. It has been around for a long time now, and it still surprises me that more cars don’t even offer it.
For $1,735 you get a 12.3” Navigation screen and Lexus Enform system with Destination Assist and eDestination. The large screen is outstanding, both for sharp visual clarity, and the ability to have a lot of ancillary information on the screen while still having a large view of the Nav map. But one major drawback to working all the systems from Nav to radio, to the HVAC controls is the little mouse-like joystick on the center console to work all of those things.
It is hair-trigger sensitive. So each time I wanted to navigate from one screen to another screen, or choose a radio preset, any slight movement of the mouse could take you from one side of the screen to the other, instead of the ½ inch move I wanted to make. And inputting an address into the Nav is as frustrating as trying to speak the address into the system and have the voice recognition keep repeating the wrong street name so you have to do it manually. Carmakers still have a long way to go to balance the capabilities of all the electronics they want to put into their cars, and at the same time, make then less distracting.
The rear wheel drive Lexus GS350 starts at $46,456. The AWD model bumps up to $49,950. The test car stickered for $62,700 with all the options, including freight.
By Special Contributor Ken Glassman