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Once upon a time, Lexus, champion of serenity [of the motoring rather than incontinence kind], offered a mid-size, rear-drive luxury sport sedan, known as the GS, that humbled even the mighty BehEmVeh M5.
Successive editions of the GS executive saloon were placed on a diet of Lexus Valium. Not even a segment first parallel gas-electric powertrain option could withstand the “the sensation of the sport being sucked out of the sedan.”
By contrast the Bavarians and Swabians were feeding their sport sedans (BMW 5-series, Audi A6, and MB E-class) human growth hormones. Even the Infiniti M was pumping mucho iron.
And then, by some miracle, Lexus began dropping some heavily testosterone-laced “F-bombs,”: first in 2007 in the guise of the 416 hp IS-F V-8 powered compact sport sedan, then with the track bred 553 hp V-10 powered LF-A super-car, in 2010. All the tears shed over the quiet departure of the SC convertible boulevardier, and its cassette tape deck, in 2010 didn’t soak even a single Kleenex tissue.
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For 2013, the Lexus GS350 has transitioned to an edgier design, catching up to the rest of the modernists in the executive sedan segment. Far away and left behind is baroque curvaceousness of the previous models, originally penned by Ital-design’s Giorgetto Guigiaro. Witness the waist-cinched hour glass grille, the violently creased front nose and air dam, and the exaggerated “L-shaped” LED daytime running lights. C-pillars and rear quarter panels are far more minimalist than the wide Gothic buttresses they once were. Less successful, and sure to be confused with some later model Corollas, is a tail section which became mired in a Tokyo pachinko parlor.
Inside the new Lexus GS350 there are gadgets and trinkets galore. If your quest is for top quality materials the the GS responds with a hefty electrically adjusting genuine wood-trimmed steering wheel and yards of velvety aniline leather. Much of the brushed satin metallic trim is indeed plastic, better to avoid denting and occupants’ “ouches” that heat / cold conductive metal would generate. There is a rear-center armrest the size of Texas, replete with audio and climate controls. Noteworthy, here in the Midwest, is the included controller for rear seat tush warming.
If a TFT instrument cluster is expected in this segment, the 12.3″ center LCD infotainment / navigation display, featuring Enform mobile applications software is above and beyond. As is the center console mouse/joystick controller replete with wrist pad. Equity fund managers wring your hands in delight as Lexus moves your ride to work ever so closer to the mobile office. And if a bad market day drives you to picking up a nasty nicotine habit, the GS350 offers ash trays.
Front bucket seats are the easy-to-slide-into kind, with power inflation for the upper and lower lumbar regions. Certain to generate complaints from “daddy longlegs” among adults” is the sparse leg and foot room in the back seat of the GS350. Could a certain former Alaska Governor (Governess?) traverse that Mt. McKinley of driveshaft humps in the aft of the GS cabin? While the trunk lid releases and opens and powers shut as smooth as Vermont maple syrup, the 14.3 cubes of space are squeezed between some obtrusive wheel wells. Without a folding seat back, GS350 owners must make do with a center pass-through.
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Carried-over from the previous Lexus GS are power- and drivetrains. As of yet no V8 hand-me-down from the full-size LS460. An infusion of the GS350 suspension and some body parts with aluminum alloys lightens the load of our all-wheel drive tester to just 4000-pounds, some 200-pounds lighter than a BMW 535i x-Drive. Silken though the 303 hp from the all-alloy DOHC 3.5L V6 featuring variable valve lift and direct injection powerplant may be, at launch the GS350 lacks the Type A exuberance exhibited by the forced induction competition.
With power put down evenly to all four wheels through a slightly shorter 3.7:1 final drive, 60 mph will arrive in an adequate tick under 6 seconds. Combined fuel economy attained in the GS350 AWD was 20 miles per gallon. That was after having “put the spurs” to our tester. And by “spurs” we mean dialing the center console rotary Lexus mode selector to Sport+. Behold as the paddle shifters direct the 6-speed slush-box to smartly rip off 5500 rpm upshifts. Feel the steering rack ratio increase in zest and linearity without becoming inordinately heavy.
Hustle the GS350 through corners on 235/45-18 Dunlop SP Sport 5100 tires but prepare for some low-sidewall pounding over frost heaves. Electronically stiffened dampers hunker the chassis down with little roll. There is a tinge of all-wheel drive understeer to keep things entertaining rather than hairy. Still tricky to modulate are the disc brakes. Stepping onto the pedal evokes a sensation reminiscent of stepping into a lawn gift left by Fido. Avoid Eco-Mode, which offers enough chassis wallow to dictate a healthy dose of Dramamine.
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The 2013 Lexus GS350 AWD starts at $49,000, which squares with Infiniti’s M37x and undercuts a Mercedes E350 4-Matic by some $4000. Our tester required “only” $9000 in options to be well kitted. We didn’t miss $3,000 Mark Levinson sound system as much as we wouldn’t minded the Advanced Guided Parking Assist featured in our recent 2012 Toyota Prius V. If the Lexus GS350 can’t quite match an Audi A6 in responsiveness, after a day at the grindstone some execs still prefer their meds.
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