Versus the competiton:
Some people just want a nice, upscale sedan to get around in, and the 2015 Lexus GS 350 fits those consumers like a glove.
The most memorable thing about my time with the 2015 Lexus GS 350 was my husband’s nickname for it: “The AARP Sports Car,” generally accompanied by a dramatic yawn. Well, I’ve got news for you, Husband. Not everyone wants or needs to drive around in something super flashy.
The Lexus GS 350 is one of those cars that’s totally pleasant to drive and has plenty of power and a smooth, quiet ride — but by next week might fade into the oblivion of other perfectly pleasant sedans I’ve driven over the past decade.
It comes with either AWD or RWD in base and the new Crafted Line trim level for 2015 — though the F Sport and Luxury option packages available on the base trim are extensive enough to be trim levels of their own. I drove a RWD base model equipped with the $4,640 F Sport Package. Compare them side-by-side here. (Note that the F Sport Package isn’t the same as the Lexus GS F, a V-8-powered performance car coming as a 2016 model.)
In addition to the new Crafted Line, Lexus has changed the GS 350’s multimedia display for 2015, updated its Enform App Suite and upgraded the standard 18-inch wheel and tires. My test car had 19-inch wheel and tires as part of the F Sport Package. You’ll pay a slightly higher base price for the updates this year. Check out this year’s GS 350 alongside last year’s here.
If the GS isn’t quite your thing, you may also want to research the Infiniti Q70 and the Audi A6. Compare them all here.
The Lexus GS 350 in Atomic Silver that I drove blended in with the masses; it was quite hard to find in a parking lot. Despite what Lexus calls the looks of a “road-hungry machine” when decked out with the sporty-ish F Sport Package, the car I drove looked like a regular sedan from the back. The front grille has some funky angles framed by Lexus’ L-shaped LED daytime running lights. I suppose they could be described as hungry-looking if you saw them in your rearview mirror, riding up on your tail on the highway. Maybe.
To hunt the car down to quickly get my own “food-hungry machines” (ages 10, 12 and 14) to lunch, I used the remote alarm to find it before anyone turned hangry. Crisis averted.
The GS 350’s 3.5-liter V-6 was sufficiently peppy given its retirement sports-car status (maybe it popped a little blue pill or two before our week together?).
The GS 350’s ability to switch between Eco, Normal and Sport S modes lets the driver select the drive experience, varying accelerator response, shift sensitivity, power-steering assist and, in models with the optional adaptive suspension, ride firmness. Eco mode leads to a slightly mellower experience on the road, without any of that sluggish feeling many cars exhibit in similar modes. I primarily drove in Eco. The Sport S mode is what you’d expect, with a more honed feeling as the GS runs through the gears. When equipped with the F Sport Package, the GS 350 features a fourth mode, Sport S+, which provides even more aggressive settings.
The GS 350 gets an EPA-estimated 19/26/21 mpg city/highway/combined with all-wheel drive. With rear-wheel drive, mileage is rated 19/29/23 mpg. This is an advantage over the six-cylinder Infiniti Q70’s 18/24/20 with all-wheel drive and 18/26/21 with rear-wheel drive. The newly released 2016 A6, though, has even more of an advantage in the fuel economy arena, given its fuel-efficient turbocharged four-cylinder engine: its EPA estimates mileage at 24/35/28 mpg with front-wheel drive and 22/32/26 with all-wheel drive. The A6’s advantage extends to the 3.0T trim level’s supercharged V-6, too, which gets an estimated 20/30/24 mpg with all-wheel drive. Obviously, your actual mileage may vary.
Lexus also makes a hybrid GS called the GS 450h that delivers an EPA mileage estimate of 29/34/31 mpg despite providing 32 horsepower more than the GS 350’s 306 hp. It also costs almost $13,000 more.
The Lexus GS 350’s interior is appropriately upscale in its fit and finish, yet relatively basic in its general configuration. There are two cupholders up front, as well as narrow in-door pockets. The pockets, however, are missing molded bottleholders, which became a frustration after a few mornings on the go with my husband and our two coffee cups and water bottles. My husband ended up stashing the water bottles on the floor, pinching them between his feet to keep them from rolling around.
Extra bottleholders, please, Lexus.
The center console is a relatively standard size, with a top tray that can be removed for additional space to fit a small purse. The armrest, which is also the lid to the console, slides back and forth to fit drivers of short or tall statures.
The small moonroof over the front seats alone dates the car and had me wishing for a panoramic moonroof a la the Hyundai Azera. The ventilated front seats in my test car (part of the F Sport Package; they’re also heated) were a bonus in the searing summer heat.
Much to the dismay of my three daughters, the backseat was very standard. The 36.3 inches of rear legroom is about even with the Infiniti Q70’s 36.2 inches but small compared with the Audi A6’s 37.4 inches. There are pockets on the back of both front seats, as well as a fold-down armrest with a storage bin in the center position. Each of the rear doors has a small in-door pocket with a slight bump-out that might fit a skinny water bottle. Rear air vents — with the ability to modify both flow and air direction — are stashed at the rear of the center console.
The Lexus GS 350 features a new multimedia system this year. While I love the massive 12.3-inch screen that can be configured in several ways, I’m not a fan of the mouse-like controller that operates it. I found it very touchy. You have to have a delicate touch to move the cursor exactly onto the climate icon, for example; the cursor kept skipping over it to either the media or phone icons on either side. Why not bypass all that nonsense and just let me use my finger to press the climate icon?
Lexus was early to the table with its Enform system, which allows access to apps including but not limited to internet radio services like iHeartRadio and Pandora. It also has Bing, OpenTable, MovieTickets.com, Yelp, etc. I’m just kind of baffled by this. Why not simply access these via a smartphone while safely parked? I personally use them all the time that way, so it would take me a fraction of the time to access the same information on my phone.
Pairing a phone via Bluetooth for both hands-free communication and streaming audio in the Lexus GS 350, however, took literally 30 seconds. It was both simple and intuitive.
The Lexus GS 350 has 14.1 cubic feet of trunk space (the same as the Audi A6), which Lexus says is enough to fit four golf bags. I was flat out of tee times during my time with the GS, so I didn’t test it for golf bag capacity, but a week’s worth of groceries for a family of five was an easy fit. The Infiniti Q70 has a slightly larger 14.9 cubic feet of trunk space.
The GS lacks a folding backseat but has a pass-through behind the backseat’s center armrest. That’s common in this class, though the A6 is a notable exception.
My test car came equipped with an optional $500 one-touch power trunk. There’s a button to open it near the driver’s left knee, and it can also be opened remotely via the key fob. Closing it is as simple as pressing a button on the trunk lid.
The 2015 Lexus GS received the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety’s highest rating of good (on a scale of poor, marginal, acceptable and good) in the moderate-overlap front, side, roof-strength and head-restraint/seat tests. As of publication, it hadn’t yet undergone the small-overlap front crash test in which the A6 and Q70 earned scores of good. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration hasn’t tested the GS.
While my test car didn’t have this feature, a pre-collision system is available on the Lexus GS 350. It features a forward-collision warning system along with adaptive cruise control. After the warning, it prepares the brakes for increased stopping power by making the brake pedal more sensitive, but the system doesn’t apply the brakes automatically. This system also has a driver’s eye monitor to “watch” you, the driver, and make sure you’re paying attention to the road.
My favorite feature in the Lexus GS 350 is the extra-large backup camera display with rear cross-traffic alert. This system alerted me audibly to both pedestrians and cars behind and to the sides of the car that I definitely would not have seen myself when backing out of parking spaces. There are some instances — and this is one of them — when our human limitations can absolutely be moderated with the help of computerized systems.
The two sets of Latch anchors in the GS 350’s outboard rear seats are buried deeply within the seat bight, so installing child-safety seats using Latch may be a little on the tricky side. Once your kids get to booster seat age/size, things probably won’t get much easier for you. In addition to the terrible tantrums at this age, the seat belt buckles in the rear seating positions are flush with the seat bottom cushion, so booster seats can slip over the top of them, requiring regular readjustment for access to the buckles. You can check out our full Car Seat Check of last year’s 2014 GS 350, which also applies to the 2015, here.
See all the Lexus’ standard safety features here.
The Lexus GS 350 is a solid, slightly upmarket choice for sedan buyers. It offers some uniqueness in features like its massive multimedia display screen and customizable drive modes, but you might be able to find something more dynamic and interesting elsewhere at this price.