2014 Lexus GS 350 Long-Term update: A Drive Mode for Every Road
The Lexus GS is one of the most comfortable, sportiest, and easiest-to-drive luxury sedans you can buy. "Huh?" you might very well be thinking. How can Lexus' midsize sedan be all of those seemingly different things?
As much as I'm tempted to say the answer is magic, it's really just excellent engineering. And tailoring the driving experience of this 5-passenger executive sedan is as easy as turning a dial that's just aft the gear selector. And that small dial wields great influence. But like many of the buttons and settings on today's cars, it might be easy to ignore. Here's why you shouldn't.
The Lexus GS has four distinct driving modes, and each is selected via said dial. The default is the aptly named "Normal." In this mode, the Lexus GS is just about the epitome of comfort. With the adaptive variable suspension included in the recommendable Luxury package, the GS in its natural state readily absorbs road imperfections and feels as soft as your favorite recliner.
My initial encounter with our long-term Lexus GS test vehicle was with the sedan in this state. I relished the supple drive home in what can be a grueling commute and the low-speed finesse this car exhibits when maneuvering in confined spaces. But when I hit the twisty back-road route I take to dodge freeway traffic, I yearned for a firmer, more aggressive feel. That's when I twisted the dial, and like a chameleon the 2014 Lexus GS 350 instantly became another car.
In Sport S mode the GS feels noticeably quicker. Shifts are snappier through its 8-speed automatic transmission, and more aggressive throttle mapping that holds gears longer makes the standard V6's 306 horsepower start to feel like a stampede. Even the lighting above the instrument lighting grows moodier, into a crimson red.
Twisting the knob once more to the right puts the Lexus GS sedan in Sport S+ mode (included on Luxury Package models like ours and the F Sport model). Here the car's performance characteristics are even more pronounced. In this mode the GS tightens its suspension, increases its steering effort and as a whole transforms from comfortable cruiser to back-road brawler. The metamorphosis between Normal and Sport S+ mode is pronounced.
Last -- and least likeable in my mind -- is the GS' Eco mode. As you have probably concluded, this setting emphasizes fuel efficiency. The Lexus spares fuel in this mode by tamping throttle response and engine power output, and even taming the climate control system and seat heating. As a visual cue, this mode also changes the dash lighting to what Lexus calls a "calming blue." In general I'm not a fan of Eco modes. Something about muting a car's power output feels unnatural to me, but to each their own.
Why We Love It
Now why does this all matter? After all, in most driving situations the GS is perfectly acceptable in Normal mode, which offers a fine blend of power, comfort and handling. But the fact is, not all drivers are the same, and neither are the roads they travel. In my case, the same commute can transition from freeway cruise to freeway crawl to canyon road romp in a span of 5 miles. And with the GS' Drive Mode Select, it's ready to tackle them all with exquisite manners. All it takes is a twist of a dial.
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