2013 Lexus GS First Drive

Despite its many merits, the GS Series has never really managed to become the breakout vehicle that Lexus had originally envisioned. Through three previous iterations, this mid-size luxury-sport sedan has consistently raised its overall desirability index but somehow failed to reach the status of key German rivals like the Audi A6, BMW 5 Series and Mercedes-Benz E-Class. With the arrival of the 2013 Lexus GS Series, things seem ready to change in a rather dramatic way.

The Gen IV transition of the GS Series starts with an all-new and more evocative exterior that previews "L-finesse" design cues we'll see in future Lexus offerings. From its more aerodynamic front fascia with the soon-to-be-signature "spindle" grille to new L-shaped LED taillamps, the exterior of the 2013 Lexus GS displays far more visual intensity, whether in basic GS 350 guise, hybrid GS 450h, the performance-oriented F Sport-spec or models fitted with the Luxury Package.

The same holds true for the fully redone cabin on the new GS Series. Also rendered using model-specific elements highlighted by even richer leather and wood trims, all versions benefit from superior isolation from road and wind noise, an improved driving position, more comfortable and supportive front buckets, better rear seat room and significantly increased trunk capacity, even in the GS 450h Hybrid. Extras like an 835-watt Mark Levinson premium audio system and a new navigation system with a 12.3-inch high-resolution multi-media display that offers a near-endless range of capabilities thanks to the Lexus Enform Application Suite add even more appeal to this already technology-intensive realm.  

Base engine in the 2013 Lexus GS 350 remains the high-tech 3.5-liter V6 used previously. However, output rises from 303 to 306 horsepower and highway fuel economy moves from 27 to 28 mpg. Lexus also tweaked the paddle-shiftable six-speed sequential automatic transmission so that it now delivers quicker upshifts and performs rev-matching throttle blips on downshifts.

On the greener side of the equation, the 2013 Lexus GS 450h is fitted with a revised version of the 3.5-liter V6 that now uses the  Lexus D-4S port+direct fuel-injection system and more-efficient Atkinson-cycle timing technology. Bolstered by the latest version of the Hybrid Synergy Drive system, this new gas/electric pairing cranks out 339 combined horses. Backed by a continuously variable automatic transmission, the combo nets projected EPA numbers of 29 city/34 highway mpg, gains that reflect over a 30-percent bump in total economy. With a 5.6-second 0-60 mph clocking, the new GS 450h also is 0.1 tick quicker to that speed than the GS 350 and a mere 0.2 second of the pace of the now-departed V8-powered GS 460 model. While still just a promising rumor, there's increasing reason to believe that the power of eight could well become part of the new GS equation at some point. If so, it would be in the form of a serious performance model intended to take on the BMW M5.

For all of its other notable gains, the thing that impressed us most about the new Lexus GS Series was how much more of a driver's car it has become.  A far stiffer, stronger structure, wider front/rear track and a more aggressively tuned chassis with lighter suspension elements provide a superb foundation, which is complemented by its new Lexus Drive Mode, a standard feature that contours throttle and transmission mapping into Normal, ECO or Sport settings at the twist of a console-mounted controller. Both the Luxury Package and F Sport add a Sport+ setting that further tightens the baseline damping value on the adaptive variable suspension systems included in their feature mix. Choosing Sport+ also increases steering effort and revises limit levels on their Vehicle Dynamic Integrated Management (VDIM) system, in both rear-drive and optional all-wheel-drive configurations.

Beyond its already tauter underpinnings, bigger 19-inch wheel/tire fitment and larger front brakes the rear-drive GS 350 F Sport also offers an optional Lexus Dynamic Handling (LDH) system that includes both Variable Gear Ratio Steering (VGRS) and Dynamic Rear Steering (DRS), elements that palpably quicken its response and overall agility in transitions. Without LDH, the F Sport-spec car is merely very impressive, with LDH, the current ultimate GS 350 positively comes alive in ways that will please even the most discerning enthusiast. As for the rear-drive-only GS 450h Hybrid, it too, has raised its game with even more seamless and effective integration of the powertrain elements along with the aforementioned added quickness and improved economy. 

No word yet on pricing for either the 2013 Lexus GS 350 or GS 450h, but we expect it to stay reasonably close to the existing starting point. If so, the base GS 350 should open around the $50,000 mark and the GS 450h should start closer to $60,000.

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