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Driven: 2014 Lexus GS350 FSport threads needle between competitors

To many, Lexus has become a full fledged rival to brands like Mercedes-Benz and BMW in the last few years. No model shows this more than the new 2014 GS350 F-Sport. Today we had a chance to take an all-wheel drive version out on some Phoenix desert back roads to see how it stacks up.

2014 Lexus GS350 F Sport threads needle between competitors
2014 Lexus GS350 F Sport threads needle between competitors
Sam Haymart
2014 Lexus GS350 FSport threads needle between competitors
Sam Haymart

Upon arrival, our tester was a dramatic show for the eyes in the color of Obsidian with the F-Sport 19” black chrome wheels. The styling has worn well since the car's debut as a 2012 model and carries Lexus latest aggressive facial design language.

The F Sport designation brings a deeper front fascia along with a rear deck spoiler and F Sport badges on the front fenders which suggest strong performance. The look is unique but not overly done, remaining dignified if not understated.

The interior of our GS350 is more extroverted however with a rich red “Cabernet” leather treatment and what Lexus calls striated aluminum trims. The F-Sport's cabin gets a special steering wheel with badge and the aluminum pedal treatment is really a nice touch as well.

Our test car came with the cold weather package which included heated and ventilated front seats, heated steering wheel and rain sensing wipers to name a few. Also optioned was the Mark Levinson surround sound audio system which is a must have in any Lexus.

The 12.3” center stack screen is nice and large to make all navigation and infotainment adjustments easy while on the go. The Lexus console control puck remains one of the best in the business for its tactile feel and ease of use with intuitive menus.

The seats of course were very comfortable and power adjustable to infinite positions. Your settings can be stored in memory which also includes the power tilt and telescoping steering wheel and side mirrors.
Fit and finish is superb, the materials are right in line with the competition from Germany if not better in some cases. The look and style strike a nice balance between elegance and down to business sensibility.

Comfort is such that I could sit in this car all day long without a complaint. And travel you can do with not only great seats but plenty or rear cabin room as well as a generous trunk. While the rear seats don't fold down, there is a center pass through for long items.

On the road, the GS350's chassis is well sorted for both highway cruising as well as aggressive back road flogging. I found that even the rougher sections of Apache Trail didn't unsettle the GS350's steering. It was simply unflappable and precise.

The electronic power steering offers up excellent road feel, particularly when the drive mode is set to Sport +. The suspension stiffens, the steering tightens, and the power-train gets with the sporting program.

Under the hood is the high tune version of the brand's 3.5 liter V6 which churns out 306 horsepower and 277 lb.-ft of torque through a 6-speed automatic transmission in our all-wheel drive model. An 8-speed automatic comes with the rear-wheel drive GS.

The engine revs freely and with a healthy growl to its 6,600 rpm redline and will accelerate the GS from 0-60 mph in 5.8 seconds according to Lexus. That feels about right to me. If there is any complaint about the engine is its rather noisy idle character.

Power delivery is however top drawer. The engine and transmission work in unison to provide a very satisfying experience when driven aggressively. The Sport + setting sets the transmission to hold your gear when pouncing from curve to curve, even downshifts for you intuitively.

The Lexus GS350 with all-wheel drive is rated by the EPA at 19 mpg city and 26 mpg highway with a 21 mpg combined average. We achieved a much lower 17.8 combined mpg in our testing, but as you see we spent a lot of time enjoying its performance capabilities.

In the total view, the 2014 Lexus GS350 clearly threads the needle between the sportier sharpness of BMW's 5-Series and the Mercedes-Benz E-Class. It has some of the better traits of both in a nice balance which is all its own.

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