One run through our slalom course was all it took to feel just how different the 2013 Lexus GS 350 F Sport is from the previous three generations of GS. "Damn!" was how our incredibly eloquent test-driver put it.
An early prototype drive had given us an indication of the GS 350's improvements. But we didn't have any performance data to back it up. Now we do.
It Runs the Numbers, Good Ones
A few runs later and the 2013 Lexus GS 350 F Sport had done nothing less than tie the smaller and more singularly focused 2011 Lexus IS F with a speed of 69.7 mph through the slalom. That's 4.5-mph quicker than the last GS 350 we tested in 2008. The new car also generated 0.88g on the skid pad.
Bear in mind that the F Sport package is a step more aggressive than the standard GS 350. It adds quicker steering, adjustable shocks, stiffer springs, thicker antiroll bars, staggered-width Bridgestone Potenza summer tires, optional rear-wheel steering and larger 14-inch front brakes. It's the serious sport package the GS has been in need of for years.
On slalom times alone, mission accomplished, as the Germans have nothing on the GS F Sport's ability to change directions. Then again, there's more to a proper luxury sport sedan than slalom times.
Old Engine, New Sounds
The GS 350's engine remains a 3.5-liter V6 with variable valve timing and both port and direct injection. Output is up, but only slightly to 306 horsepower at 6,400 rpm and 277 pound-feet at 4,800. Minor efficiency enhancements bring fuel mileage up to a projected EPA rating of 19 city/28 highway/23 mpg combined (that's a 2 mpg highway improvement and 1 mpg in the combined).
More importantly, this engine now has some character thanks to a sound generator mounted on the air intake between the air cleaner and the throttle body assembly. Yes, it's contrived, but it's better than nothing. The GS remains perfectly silent on the highway at cruising speed, but get hard on the throttle from 3,500 rpm on up and there's a pleasingly enthusiastic growl.
Not surprisingly, the 2013 Lexus GS 350 F Sport puts up similar acceleration numbers to the 2008 GS 350 we last tested. Zero to 60 comes in 5.8 seconds (5.6 seconds with a 1-foot rollout as on a drag strip) and it does the quarter-mile in 14.1 seconds at 99.9 mph. That keeps it on par with the 2011 BMW 535i (zero to 60 in 5.7 seconds) but a good bit slower than the supercharged 2012 Audi A6 Quattro at 5.2 seconds.
The GS 350's six-speed automatic has been updated for quicker shifts and an earlier torque converter lockup. Plus, all GS 350s now come standard with steering-wheel-mounted paddle shifters, which give nice throttle blips on downshifts. Unfortunately this system shifts for itself at 6,400 rpm even in Manual mode, made annoyingly obvious during an autocross when the GS would upshift to 3rd right before you were about to brake for a chicane.
The Essence of F Sport
The suspension is the same basic setup as the outgoing third-gen GS — double wishbones up front, multilink at the rear — but new designs. The front sees an increased use of aluminum and the rear gets a redesigned toe link that also serves to increase luggage capacity (a GS sticking point) to 14.3 cubic feet.
The F Sport package includes a stiffer version of Lexus' Adaptive Variable Suspension as well as electric-assist Variable Gear Ratio Steering. Our test car also featured the optional Dynamic Rear Steering system.
Toggle the Lexus Drive Mode selector between Normal and Sport (there's also an Eco mode which we didn't bother with) and the F Sport offers a comfortable, although certainly not plush, ride. Turn the controller knob to Sport Plus and two things happen: First, an outline of the GS shows up on the display screen, with the shocks, steering wheel and engine highlighted, indicating sportier settings. Second, the GS 350 F Sport comes alive.
The electric-assist steering becomes performance-car-quick and the GS F Sport goes exactly where you point it. There's some degree of body roll for a forgiving nature, but the F Sport is exceptionally planted, no doubt the active rear steering (which turns the rear tires up to 2 degrees in the opposite direction of the fronts below 50 mph, the same direction as the fronts above that) is playing a part here.
Nothing fazed the brakes either. We measured a 60-0-mph stop of 112 feet and it came on the last of seven tests. The pedal travel is short with a nice, firm feel, but the front end exhibits a little more dive than we'd prefer.
Although the GS's overall length and wheelbase remain unchanged at 190.7 and 112.2 inches, respectively, the new car is 2 inches wider and 1.2 inches taller, together increasing interior room and widening the track. The all-new sheet metal serves as "the new face of Lexus," but the body is also 14 percent stiffer thanks to additional reinforcements and an increased number of spot welds.
While Lexus asked the chassis guys to make the new GS stiffer, the interior designers were told to scrape out as much weight as possible, especially since weight would be added back in with more luxury features. The engineers lightened the interior door trim by 21 percent, the headliner by 14 percent, trunk trim by 20 percent, trunk lining by 28 percent and the carpet by 3 percent. The end result: 3,832 pounds as-tested, just 39 pounds heavier than the GS 350 from 2008.
The interior itself is an all-new design. Most materials are of a higher quality than before, with yards of soft leather and real brushed aluminum. We especially appreciate the supremely padded leather on the edge of the center console at the exact point where the driver's right knee rests, although we're not big fans of the BMW-like turn signal stalk.
The F Sport's front seats feature 16-way adjustability, including power-operated side bolsters and thigh support. Although Lexus lowered the driver seat and steering wheel slightly, the seat still feels just a tad too high even at its lowest setting. The 12.3-inch display screen for the optional navigation system is brilliant and there's a new version of Lexus' computer-mouse-like Remote Touch controller that feels more natural than before.
The F Word
The 2013 Lexus GS 350 will be available in rear- and all-wheel-drive models when it goes on sale in February, with the new GS 450h following in the spring. The V8 GS 460 has been dropped altogether.
Prices haven't been set, but the GS 350 will likely come in under $48,000. Which means the GS will undercut the Audi A6 3.0T Quattro ($49,900), BMW 535i ($52,250) and Mercedes-Benz E350 ($50,490). Getting the full goodness of the F Sport package will probably run you another $4,000, and tack on about a grand more if you want rear steering.
The 2013 Lexus GS 350, F Sport in particular, is an impressive redesign. It's a Lexus that driving enthusiasts can get excited about. More than just promises, it's actually fun to drive. And unlike the IS F, the GS 350 F Sport's adjustable suspension won't punish you for the performance it brings. It can do smooth and quiet, or serious and sporty: your choice.
Which makes us wonder: What about a GS F? Despite our best efforts to wrangle a commitment out of a Lexus official at the press launch, they still wouldn't admit one is coming. No one denied it, though, either. And if the GS 350 F Sport is this capable with a V6, just think what kind of a performance sedan a true GS F would be with a stonker of a supercharged V8 under the hood. It could be good. Very good.
The manufacturer provided Edmunds this vehicle for the purposes of evaluation.
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