Are Six Speeds Enough? - 2013 Lexus GS 350 Long-Term Road Test

2013 Lexus GS 350 Long-Term Road Test

2013 Lexus GS 350: Are Six Speeds Enough?

May 16, 2013

2013 Lexus GS 350

The BMW 5 Series comes with an eight-speed automatic transmission. You'll find eight forward gears in any all-wheel-drive Audi A6. Jaguar has just dropped eight speeds into all of its 2013 XF sedans. Heck, you can get an eight-speed auto in a Dodge Charger now.

Then there's the 2013 Lexus GS 350. Spinal Tap's Nigel Tufnel would be very disappointed that its transmission only goes up to six.

When I'm driving our long-term GS 350, I don't find its transmission to be a liability. In Drive, it upshifts smoothly and downshifts promptly. And while we've noted previously that the manual-mode downshifts shifts are kind of slow, they are rev-matched in the Sport mode and seem within the realm of acceptability for speed to me.

Basically, I wouldn't ever mention the transmission as a negative to you if you expressed interest in buying a GS 350.

That said, I don't think there's any question that the GS 350 would be even better if it had a quality eight-speed automatic. The eight-speed automatic used in the cars listed above (it's built by aftermarket supplier ZF) shifts so smoothly and unobtrusively that you'll rarely notice there are eight gears being juggled about. Fuel economy would also likely improve incrementally compared to the GS's six-speed.

And I suppose from a luxury car marketing standpoint (just like guitar amps), more is always better.

Brent Romans, Senior Automotive Editor @ 16,243 miles


  • agentorange agentorange Posts:

    Short answer, yes. If the motor has sufficient torque/weight then cars drive just fine with six speeds. Are you getting then ultimate in terms of fuel consumption is something I cannot answer.

  • quadricycle quadricycle Posts:

    Depends. In my experience, most of the 8-speed transmissions just use six more tightly spaced gears for normal driving and two overdrive gears for highway speeds. There are advantages and disadvantages just like anything else, and there can also be good or poor applications. My opinion is that although we're seeing an arms race in gear count, anything more than 8 or 9 is going to see returns that diminish very quickly, as well being harder and more expensive to design and manufacture. Add that more and more vehicles are using turbocharging to broaden their power-bands, and we'll this craze die down.

  • fordson1 fordson1 Posts:

    The Japanese brands, for some reason or other, are always behind the curve a bit with regards to transmission technology - I don't know why. Seemingly they want to perfect yesterday's technology, and they do that really well...most reviews you see stress that Honda for example does a really good job with five speeds in the Civic and CR-V automatics, but they're still only 5 speeds, and Hondas don't have a notably wide power band to begin with. Subaru up until very recently had 4-speed automatics and the Corolla still comes with a 4-speed auto (not that Corollas are setting the world on fire anywhere but rental lots).

  • duck87 duck87 Posts:

    It's not really just the 8 gears, it's the "step" between the gears and the overall gear spread that's important. ZF has publicly stated themselves that 8 or 9 speeds is about as far as it goes. I still have trouble wrapping my head around the different clutch engagements and planetary gearsets, but needless to say their transmission is definitely a benchmark, not only being extremely versatile (used from trucks to sports cars with different calibrations for shift speeds and smoothness) and has had a huge impact on the character of the cars they're in. In the case of Chrysler, you can arguably say it's partially what turned them into a true competitor practically overnight. The problem/reason why Honda is gun-shy about new transmissions is because of their (relatively infamous) V6 transmission issues from back around 2000, coupled with the fact that for the most part they have their own unique designs from other manufacturers. Recently they seem to be favouring the CVT route.

  • bankerdanny bankerdanny Posts:

    I think it depends on the engine power band. If you have a robust engine with a strong flat torque curve then 6 is probably fine. If you have a small peaky, low torque engine, then 8 is probably better.

  • drjohn43 drjohn43 Posts:

    I've had my GS350 for over 20,000 miles now and my six speed tranny has never been a problem. There are a lot of two lane black tops around here with 55 mph speed limits and folks who love to drive them at 45. Flooring the GS to get around these slowpokes unleashes unbelieveable power immediately. I wouldn't drop an 8-speed into what I have because, as they say, "if it ain't broke, don't fix it!" Shine on, Dr.John

  • fordson1 fordson1 Posts:

    306 hp is unbelievable now?

  • quadricycle quadricycle Posts:

    ^Depends where he came from. If he used to drive something like one of the aforementioned 4-speed, 120hp Corrolas then yes, 300hp has quite the push.

  • darthbimmer darthbimmer Posts:

    How many gears you need depends on powerband. Years ago I had a Jeep that did okay with a 4 speed auto. Its 4.0L inline 6 engine made gobs of torque starting down low and had a broad peak, so widely spaced gear ratios suited it just fine. 4th speed was tall enough enough to cruise at 75 at just a bit over 2500 rpm. Our other car at the time had a small engine and a 5 speed manual. The ratios were closer together to keep the engine on boil, and as a result 5th was too short for comfortable cruising on open roads. At 75mph the engine was screaming at nearly 4000 rpm. It would have benefited from a 6th gear.

  • akula1 akula1 Posts:

    @fordson That's just an ignorant remark worthy of your name. Lexus was the first to bring an 8-speed to market w/ the LS in 2007. Obviously they are saving the 8-speed for a V8 GS-F.

  • hans007 hans007 Posts:

    there is an 8 speed in the new 2014 is350. i would assume it will be in this car soon

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