When I first got my hands on the 2013 GS 350 I wasn’t expecting to hit up twisty roads locked in Sport+ mode. The plan was to tool around city streets in a climate controlled car-spa, enjoying all the finer things in life and feeling smug. It was a keen idea; outside of the IS F and LFA Lexus is known for focusing more on luxury than performance.
James Bond might be caught dead in a 2012 GS 350. He drives BMW’s and Aston Martin’s because his car needs to outrun and out-maneuver bad guys, not just warm up a Bond girl with heated seats and a velvety smooth ride.
The James Bond, or luxury sport sedan market if you will, is one the Lexus GS 350 should be taken much more seriously in for 2013. It’s still no Aston Martin, but anyone in the market for a four-door beamer or Audi shouldn’t overlook it any longer.
Power remains about the same from last year at 306hp and 277lb-ft of torque from a 3.5L V6 that pushes the 350 to 60mph in 5.5 seconds. Fuel economy is up to 19 city 28 highway.
Those are very respectable acceleration numbers.
Combined with a throaty exhaust note that wants to be heard the GS 350 packs a punch that made this auto blogger squeal like a little girl the first time I dropped my foot into it on an open road.
In all fairness the air-conditioned driver’s seat was also tickling me with an air-hockey table’s charm.
But straight-line performance isn’t the story of the 2013 GS 350. Last year’s model had that down pat. Lexus dug into significantly improving this year’s iteration where it needed it most: Handling.
To compete with the likes of the BMW 558i, the Audi A6 and Infiniti M37 the GS 350 needed to turn a corner and impress in the twisties as much as the passing lane. It needed to handle less like a luxury car and more like a driver’s car without comprising either side of the aisle.
For the 2013 the GS 350’s suspension was completely reworked to compete with the big boys. The front and rear tracks were widened by nearly 2 inches, the rear suspension is an all-new multilink setup. Larger bushings are used in the front and all of the suspension is now aluminum to save weight. F Sport trim comes with bigger anti-rolls bars, stiffer springs, variable-ratio steering, bigger brakes and staggered 19-inch tires.
Speaking of tire staggering, the F Sport package comes with a particularly intriguing option: Active rear-steering, which as turns out isn’t exactly the same kind used on monster trucks as I first assumed.
Instead the rear wheels are aimed oppositely than the fronts at speeds less than 50mph for more precise cornering. At higher speeds they shadow the front wheels for better stability. The rear wheels can adjust up to 2 degrees in either fashion using the magic of Lexus’ computer wizardry.
All the changes add up to give the GS 350 0.91 g’s of grip, and more importantly, make it feel athletic, responsive and balanced when pushed hard through turns. Combined with V-6 grunt that lets you pass at will and optional all-wheel drive, the GS 350 is now a car that makes a good case for itself over the likes of a BMW 558i.
Not to mention, the 558I starts at $48,345 versus the base GS 350 at $47,775, and at that price point BMW will only let you have 240-horsepower from a twin-turbo four banger with an automatic transmission.
A quality Bond girl is turned on by fiscal conservatism. Now it’s time for a gripe.
Three hundred horsepower harnessed smartly through the new suspension system inspired me to drive aimlessly through backcountry highways locked in Sport + mode for the better portion of a week. Besides turning the dashboard backlighting to a passionate red, Sport + heightens throttle response and dampens the car’s body movements (body roll is reduced).
There’s a magic to throttling a luxury car that’s made to be driven hard, like a privilege that you’re abusing if not taking advantage of. It felt wrong to cruise very long on a main drag in the GS 350 before darting off to a sweeping scenic route to power through the bends.
For all the fun it was here the transmission showed need of some tweaking.
The only available setup is a six-speed automatic with manual paddle controls. Even in Sport+ mode the car has a hard time holding its RPM’s up where you want them most to pull out of turns. It drops revs where they should be propped up longer.
I got the impression that a more aggressive transmission tuning would milk even more fun from the already potent 3.5L V6, especially in light of the handling upgrades.
Having an overly conservative transmission does little if anything to marginalize the major advances Lexus made to the performance of the 2013 GS 350. Everything that’s gotten better about the car shows that Lexus already has the technology available to make it even more of a performance contender if they see fit.
All the car guys out there should keep their fingers crossed, and be careful not to dive into a James Bond-mobile before realizing the GS 350 just graduated to the genre.