2013 Lexus GS 350: How Did We Get Here?
September 28, 2012
I like driving the 2013 Lexus GS350, really I do. Or at least I like driving it fast, as the F Sport rear-wheel steering makes it ever so much better than a BMW 5 Series or a Mercedes-Benz E-class.
But the way it looks gives me the horrors. Since I still remember the introduction of the second-generation GS at Calty Design here in Los Angeles, when the car seemed like a miracle of good design -- the first-ever Toyota sedan that looked world-class great -- it makes me wonder how the GS?s design language has become so garbled.
Of course, it all started with the Toyota Cressida of the late 1980s, a fast car with an inline-6 engine, a five-speed manual transmission and rear-wheel drive. It had a serious case of Nissan Maxima envy, even though it looked like the Hyundai Equus of its day. Giorgetto Giugiaro and his people at Ital Design began to sketch a sleek Euro-style body for the hardware in 1988, combining themes from the Lexus LS sedan and Lexus SC coupe, just then in the design stages themselves.
When the S140-type Lexus GS 300 finally came to America, we all thought it was just a version of Ital Design?s 1990 Kensington concept car, which had been built with a Jaguar inline-6 engine (though Ital Design later officially denied it). In any case, the first GS with its 1980s-style monochromatic paint treatment and unified, aerodynamic shape was an artistic success but a commercial failure, great to look at but stodgy to drive.
The S160-type Lexus GS just knocked us down in 1997, and Toyota must have been pretty excited as well, since it opened the gates at Calty Design for us to see it, one of the first times that journalists had been permitted access to the company?s design studio in L.A. The quad headlights came from the Lexus SC coupe, and the fender blisters and rear wing reflected the concept, which Lexus called ?HPS,? (High Performance Sedan). With the LS 400?s 4.0-liter V8, the GS 400 was the fastest sedan in the world until the latest BMW M5 was introduced a year later. No wonder the S160 was built until 2004 and you still see so many on the road today.
The S190-type Lexus GS came along in 2005, and it introduced a new design language for Lexus that was called L-finesse. There was a lot of controversy about the whole idea of L-finesse at the time, as less adventurous elements at Toyota tried to rein in the Lexus division. In any case, the monolithic, fastback shape of the new GS didn?t win any friends, even though the chassis had been worked over with some serious high-performance intentions, as it would be shared with the Lexus IS sedan. More power, a six-speed automatic transmission and all-wheel drive fulfilled the car?s high-tech mission. Nevertheless, it never caught on despite very successful sales, and aside from a introducing a fastback profile that soon became familiar from many different manufacturers, it didn?t prove memorable.
Now we have the L10-generation Lexus GS, and you can see some of the same design themes in the short front overhang and vaguely fastback roofline, while the GS 350 F Sport has a tricky rear-wheel steering system. Yet on the whole, the car seems even more monolithic than before, thick-waisted like a BMW 7 Series only with a more upright cabin. Meanwhile, a zippy cheese-grater front cap incorporates some of the styling licks from the Lexus LFA, while the rear wears a sci-fi bubble. Meanwhile, the interior tries to be inventive, yet it seems traditional instead of modern. This is a car that looks heavy and bland, though it?s trying desperately to be something else. Maybe it?s no wonder that Toyota chairman Akio Toyoda had strong reservations when he first saw the car in its early design iterations.
When you look at the details, the 2013 Lexus GS should add up. It still has a unique combination of high-performance technology that serves the ideals of comfort and convenience as well as speed, and this is what has always made the Lexus GS the ideal car in which to get quickly across town without being exhausted when you arrive. Yet the car looks heavy and plain, even though you can see in detail that it?s packing a lot of visual baggage. And it looks as if it?s riding its front tires like a front-wheel drive car, instead of leaning back on its rear tires in the way that the first two generations of the GS did so effectively.
If I were trying to fix the way the Lexus GS looks, I?m not sure that I?d know just where to begin. Maybe just paint it red, eh?
Michael Jordan, Executive Editor, Edmunds.com @ 2,993 miles