2013 Lexus GS: First Drive

A safe first step towards sport

Lexus wants to add some dynamism and excitement to its lineup, beginning with the luxury sedan it hopes is ready to take on German rivals head-to-head. The 2013 Lexus GS represents the Japanese luxury brand’s new focus on driving dynamics, along with a new design that will migrate to the rest of the lineup. And frankly speaking, it’s the GS’s bold grille that could take the most getting used to.

Love it or hate it, the controversial front fascia finally gives Lexus something to talk about other than J.D. Power ratings and whisper-quiet cabins. For the first time in a long time, a showroom fresh Lexus doesn’t feature an exterior that immediately fades into the background of the luxury market. And with the exception of the look-at-me grille, the rest of the new GS is well proportioned and classy.

The same is true of the cabin, even though one base model I tested felt noticeably heavy on black plastic. There is lots of stretch out space both front and rear, and I felt immediately comfortable with the layout of the controls. For anyone who judges a car based on a quick test-drive at the dealership, the new GS should score plenty of bonus points for its user-friendly interior.

Performance isn’t too shabby either. The base engine in the GS350 is a 306-horsepower 3.5-liter V-6 coupled to a smooth-shifting 6-speed automatic transmission (with manual controls for when you feel like taking control). Lexus reps told us to pay attention to the exhaust note and, sure enough, the GS emits a nice growl when you punch the gas pedal.

The driver can use a control located on the center console to choose between different driving modes: ECO, SPORT S, and SPORT S+ on models equipped with luxury or sport option packages. I pretty much avoided ECO mode, which felt like it throttled back power way too much for a modest bump in fuel economy. The GS felt much peppier when kept in SPORT S or SPORT S+. The handling – while occasionally a little artificial in its weighting – is a noticeable step in the right direction for the Lexus brand.

Lexus will also offer four-wheel-drive, as well as a hybrid model. The GS450h combines an electric motor with the standard 3.5-liter V-6 for a combined output of 338-hp. According to Lexus, this is enough for a 0-60 mph time of 5.6 seconds. Unlike the outgoing GS450h, which was noticeably short on cargo space, the new version repositions the battery pack so it doesn’t devour trunk room. Fuel economy is an impressive 29/34-mpg during city and highway driving.

Given that Lexus wants to toughen up its image, I spent the majority of my driving time with the GS350 F Sport. This model boasts a firmer suspension, larger front brakes, staggered 19-inch alloys, and revised aerodynamics amongst other changes. The F Sport immediately feels a degree or two more dialed into the road, without getting unsettled over bumps and ridges. Yet without any actual increase in horsepower, choosing the F Sport could come down to whether or not you prefer its edgier exterior design.

The GS range arrives next February. Pricing has not been officially announced, but expect a base GS350 to start around $47,000 while F Sport and Hybrid variants should begin somewhere in the region of $55,000.