Available as both a turbo four-cylinder GS 300 and a hybrid GS 450h in addition to the V-6-powered GS 350 I tested, this is the last of the old-style Lexus sedans — competent, well-engineered and certainly quiet inside. But exciting it is not, and nor is it state of the art. It is part of a shrinking class, as Lexus buyers opt for RX SUVs over GS or ES sedans by a significant margin. Anyone seeking an entertaining, stylish, up-to-date luxury sports sedan will need to look elsewhere.
The Least Offensive-Looking Lexus?
When it first appeared in its latest iteration several years ago, the Lexus GS was considered to be wildly styled. Not anymore. Nowadays, it’s pretty much the least offensive model in the lineup style-wise, appearing as a more traditional, upright sedan next to the more expensive LS’ wild, swoopy, polarizing styling. It’s got LED headlamps and LED daytime running lights done up in the now-familiar Nike swoosh style that’s become a Lexus signature. The spindle grille that has found its way across the entire Lexus lineup looks only mildly outrageous here, where it was first seen, instead of full-on silly, as it does on some other Lexus models.
The Sedate Sedan
Its formal look may be a bit of a throwback, but the theme continues in how the GS 350 drives. This is pure old-school Lexus sedan here: quiet, sedate, serene and comfortable. If you’re looking for a pulse-pounding sports sedan, you’re in the wrong place. Either you’ll want to splurge for the slightly nutty V-8-powered GS-F or you’ll want to mosey down to your local Alfa Romeo dealership, as the mission of this Lexus seems to be providing relaxed, isolated travel more than backroad thrills.
The GS 350 is powered by a 3.5-liter V-6 making a decent, if not stellar, 311 horsepower but just 280 pounds-feet of torque. This is a little down from competitors like the Cadillac CTS and its 3.6-liter V-6’s 335 hp, as well as the Infiniti Q70 and its 3.7-liter V-6’s 330 hp, but they all match up pretty evenly on torque. Opt for a BMW in the same price class and you’ll get a 530i with a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine that pumps out just 248 hp and 258 pounds-feet of torque. That’s a better match for the Lexus GS 300, which also has a turbocharged 2.0-liter engine making 241 hp and 258 pounds-feet of torque, but that car isn’t available with all-wheel drive — and it starts at roughly $6,000 less.
The Lexus V-6 is stout and powerful, and it thankfully doesn’t have much weight to lug around. The GS 350 is reasonably light, at just under 3,900 pounds — less than the Cadillac or Infiniti. This powertrain shows its age, however, mated to a six-speed automatic transmission when most competitors have seven- or eight-speed automatics. Rear-wheel drive is standard, but my car had the optional all-wheel drive. Acceleration is brisk but uneventful; the engine provides little aural stimulation as it goes about its work, moving the GS through traffic with no drama. The car’s handling is neutral, not as numb as the front-wheel-drive ES 350 or as isolated as the flagship LS, but also not possessed of much steering feel or any eagerness to be driven quickly. You do get a nicely damped, smooth and quiet ride, thanks in part to 18-inch wheels on all-season tires and copious amounts of sound deadening. The overall experience is a premium one, though not necessarily a luxurious one, as it’s wrapped in a package that feels more traditional than modern.
Part of the reason the GS 350 lacks a true luxury feel is its outdated interior. While Lexus has bestowed some wild style on the rest of its lineup (the LC 500 coupe is show-car-level crazy, and the LS flagship is just “out-there” different), the GS line maintains a fairly ordinary, unremarkable layout. It’s comfortable, with big seats up front and plenty of width in both the front and rear seats. There’s copious headroom in front and back thanks to an upright cabin with big windows all around — especially the back window, which looks just massive when gazing out the rearview mirror. Legroom in back is a bit tight, however, with taller passengers’ knees easily contacting the front seatbacks. While some modern vehicles are going for a bunker-style look with tall body sides and a low roofline, as with the Cadillac or Infiniti, the Lexus GS retains a user-friendliness that eschews modern style for traditional values.
While it’s comfortable in the GS, it’s also boring. Materials quality is acceptable if not class-leading, but there’s precious little style. The dashboard shape is formal and devoid of visual interest. Buttons and switches are no better than one might find in a past-generation high-end Toyota Camry or Avalon. And don’t get me started on the multimedia system.
OK, do get me started: The Lexus trackpad-style multimedia system is garbage. This has to be the worst interface on the market today, and Lexus continues to proliferate it across its lineup, with each new vehicle failing to improve upon it in any measurable way despite variations such as a touchpad in other models. It operates by moving a cursor around the screen using a joystick-style “Remote Touch Interface Controller” on the console between the seats — akin to using a point-and-click laptop computer system while driving down the highway. To say it’s distracting is an understatement; Lexus needs to bin the whole system and start from scratch. The system is bad enough to prevent me from recommending any Lexus-brand vehicle that features it ... which is every single one of them except the GX SUV, and that features a 10-year-old interior that predates Remote Touch Interface.
At least the interior is well-equipped for the price. There’s a standard moonroof, navigation, satellite radio, a power tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, dual-zone climate control and 10-way power-adjustable front seats. The seats are real leather, as is the steering wheel and shift knob. The Premium Package adds rain-sensing wipers and heated and ventilated seats. For the price of a well-equipped Lexus GS, you can get only a basic BMW 530i, so Lexus is bringing some value to the interior, at least.
The GS also has a decent level of safety equipment, with the Lexus Safety System Plus standard. This includes a precollision system with pedestrian detection, automatic emergency braking, all-speed dynamic cruise control, lane departure alert with lane keep assist, a blind spot monitor, rear cross-traffic alert, a backup camera, automatic high-beams and LED headlamps. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety has rated the Lexus GS a top score of good in many areas, but its testing is incomplete (see the results here). The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has not tested the Lexus GS.
Priced to Sell
So the Lexus GS may not be the most advanced, the sportiest, the most stylish or the most technology-packed mid-size luxury sedan on the market. But it is reasonably priced — much more so than many of its German competitors. Starting price for a turbocharged four-cylinder 2018 GS 300 is $47,505 including destination, and the six-cylinder GS 350 AWD I drove begins at $51,560. A RWD GS 350 costs $51,890, mysteriously more expensive than the AWD model, presumably due to different standard equipment, such as different sport-tuned brakes. My test car included a few options, like the Premium Package, gray sapele trim for the leather-wrapped steering wheel, some exterior body cladding and illuminated door sills, all of which bumped the price up to a still-reasonable $54,394. If you’re looking for more grunt, you can upgrade to a GS-F and its massively powerful V-8, but be prepared to spend some coin: it starts at $85,345 — over 30 grand more than a GS 350. Compare the various GS models here.
Compared with competitors like the Cadillac CTS, Infiniti Q70 and BMW 530i, the Lexus starts thousands of dollars lower and features more standard safety equipment. It doesn’t deliver the same entertaining driving experience as the Cadillac or BMW, but it does have a more comfortable cabin, especially for backseat passengers, than either of those models. The Infiniti is pretty sizable on its own, however, and represents an interesting foil to the Lexus’ traditional luxury. It feels arguably just as premium inside, has a less frustrating (but by no means perfect) multimedia system, and it’s styling is no more or less controversial than the Lexus. Compare them all here. Given shoppers’ increasing penchant for SUVs over sedans, if you’re still in the market for something traditional and conservative with four doors and a trunk, you may want to check out the Lexus before it gets trended out of existence.
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