2012 Lexus GS 350
|The Good: |
– Rather good engine
– Cabin space and features
– Very comfortable ride
|The Bad: |
– Largely conservative styling
– Handling errs on side of caution
– Limited feedback from controls
The Lexus GS finally got the attention it deserves. Once the forgotten model of the Lexus range, the GS sedan suddenly became the star of the 2012 line-up, as the Japanese carmaker used it to showcase where the brand is headed in terms of styling and technology. If there was any Lexus that could credibly take on the Germans, it needed to be the GS, ready to kick ass in a fight that the IS started years ago. But is the GS 350 ruthless enough to win in this brawl?
In terms of styling, Lexus seems to have nailed the German formula. Sticking on a uniquely-grilled face on a generic-yet-handsome body is what BMW and Mercedes-Benz are doing with their latest models, so conservative elegance is the way to go in this category. For brashly-expressive styling, there is always Jaguar and Infiniti, but neither sells anywhere near as many cars as the Germans. Our GS 350 looks “nice” enough with its 18-inch wheels and chrome trimmings, but that said, we personally prefer our GS in F-Sport form, which costs a bit more and adds an aggressive body kit as well as 19-inch smoked alloys.
But if the exterior styling is up for debate, there is no confusion over the interior — it is easily the most unique in this segment, beautifully lined with leather surfaces, soft-touch materials and tasteful wood. There is nothing traditional about the cockpit design, and yet, it still isn’t overdone like the flimsy clutter in a Cadillac CTS.
Cabin space was a priority in the GS redesign, as the taller roofline is obvious. Cabin space both front and back is more than enough for average-sized folks. Arguably, the unsporting Lexus ES still offers a bit more space, but the GS still has more legroom in the back than the BMW 5-Series. The boot is also very sizeable, although using hydraulic struts for the lid would’ve freed up more space than the goose-neck hinges used. The rear seat does not fold down, although there is a pass-through hole. There are enough cubbies and cup-holders inside for at least four passengers, unless you squeeze in a fifth man in the back. Then the rear centre-armrest cannot be pulled down for use, which incidentally houses the rear cup-holders and even the rear a/c controls.
Still, those centre-armrest controls also include ones for the stereo, and along with a convenient button mounted on the front seatback to electrically move it forward, it seems the GS is designed to be a convenient chauffeur-driven car, if that’s how it’s used. For the front passengers, there is an extra-wide 12.3-inch screen, housing the hard-drive navigation and Bluetooth phone as well as some stereo and a/c settings, controlled by a mouse-joystick next to the shifter. The intuitive controller offers force-feedback to get through the on-screen buttons, but the menus themselves can look annoyingly cluttered. Lesser trims get a smaller 8-inch screen.
Other features include powered and ventilated front seats, powered steering-wheel adjustment, smart keyless entry and start, powered rear sun-shade, manual rear-side sun-shades, a strong 17-speaker Mark Levinson CD/MP3 stereo with USB/AUX ports, an a/c that gets the cabin too cold fast, HID headlights with LED running lamps, adaptive cruise control, front and side-curtain airbags, sunroof, heads-up display, rear camera with front/rear sensors, and an automatic parking brake. There is no panoramic glass roof offered, if you want that sort of thing.
Powered by an updated 3.5-litre “Dual VVT-i” V6, the rear-wheel-drive GS 350 benefits from 312 hp at 6400 rpm and 378 Nm of torque at 4800 rpm, mated to a smooth paddle-shiftable 6-speed automatic. The engine is completely muted most of the time, but gives out an amazingly-healthy roar on hard throttle thanks to an “intake sound generator” that makes the motor sound meatier. It offers smooth power build-up rather than kicking early like a V8 would, but then when we timed it, we got a solid 0-100 kph run of 6.5 seconds in April weather, enough to keep up with the Hemi-powered Dodge Charger R/T. Shifting manually isn’t particularly satisfying with the slight delay in responses to inputs, but fuel economy is more convincing, as the trip computer indicated 12.7 litres/100 km.
The GS 350 F-Sport is a proper sports sedan for the most part, as we found out on a previous stint at Yas Marina Circuit. But our tester here is the Platinum version, one step below the F-Sport. As such, we didn’t get to play with the sportier suspension and the four-wheel-steering this time around, as those are reserved for the F-Sport.
But our car did have a rotary knob on the console to select between Eco, Normal, Sport S and Sport S+ modes, the last of which apparently firms up the suspension by a bit. The handling is pretty good, with limited body roll on quick turns, good body control on straightening out, and great grip from the 235/45 tyres on long speedy curves. But it’s not a sports sedan. The steering is nicely weighted, but offers very little feedback. The stability control forces severe understeer very early, making the front tyres go wide at the limit on tight corners. And the brakes are great for regular cruising, but aren’t particularly eye-popping or communicative in hard driving.
However, the GS 350 Platinum is an amazing luxury cruiser, on par with a Rolls-Royce Ghost in terms of cabin silence and ride smoothness. With systems like blind-spot monitor, adaptive cruise control and a driver-drowsiness detector, it is possible to be half-asleep at 140 kph and still reach your destination safely on a straight cross-country highway. The firmer-riding F-Sport costs more, but is not available with most of these features.
So Lexus now offers two flavours of the same car. For those who really want a sportier sedan, there is the F-Sport, but for those who prioritise comfort with a bit of athleticism on the side, there is this Platinum option, with cheaper trim levels below that. It is interesting to note that the BMW 535i manages to combine both in one package somehow, but of course, it costs a whole lot more nowadays for whatever reason. There is also the Infiniti M37, which is cheaper with similar features, but we’ve always found it to be rather hard-riding and loud for a luxury sedan. The Lexus GS 350 fits in cleanly between these two extremes, and does it rather well.
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