2014 Lexus GS 350 Long-Term Update: The Grand Canyon and Points Beyond
When friends and family asked what I was going to drive on a recent road trip to the Grand Canyon I told them I was taking the 2014 Lexus GS 350, which then resulted in the question of why not an SUV. My reply was why not the Lexus GS? Since arriving this summer the GS 350 has been a favorite with staffers. With its exceptionally comfortable and quiet ride the GS is a breeze to drive whether on a daily commute or extended trip. Features such as perforated heated and cooled leather seats, a heated steering wheel, a moonroof, and a tilt/telescoping steering wheel, which are all standard, make for pleasant driving. In addition the GS 350 also comes equipped with stability and traction control, a backup camera, 10 airbags and automatic collision warning making it a very safe cruiser.
Room to spare
With only two adult passengers going on this trip to the Grand Canyon, the GS 350 would be a more than suitable means of transportation. My husband, the other passenger, is over 6 feet tall and fit comfortably in the front seat. With 42.3 inches of legroom, he could sit with his legs crossed. The trunk, with 14.3 cubic feet of space, had plenty of room for one large suitcase, a camera bag, hiking gear, jackets, a box of snacks and a flat of water. The trunk netting also has a useful pouch for storing small, loose items that would otherwise roll around and get lost.
The ride in the GS is very smooth thanks to Lexus' Adaptive Variable Suspension (AVS) which allows you to select from four driving modes: Eco, Normal, Sport and Sport+. I left it in the Normal mode preferring the softer ride for cruising on the mostly straight roads. There were times when the ride felt so smooth it almost lulled me to sleep. That's when I decided it was time to get into a good book, an audio book specifically. The Lexus Premium Audio System with 12 speakers and 5.1 Surround Sound was probably overkill, though it delivered a deep, rich sound within the tranquil cabin.
After a brief stop in Kingman, Arizona to top off the gas tank and visit a Starbucks we made our way back onto I-40, the western artery into Arizona, and continued heading east. It was when I discovered my only complaint with the GS, which is the layout of the upper portion of the center console. The placement of the seat heater/ventilator switches are suitable when the cup holders are not in use, however, as soon you flip open the lid and put cups in the holders, these switches become partially blocked, making the more centrally located seat ventilator switch the most difficult to use.
We arrived in Flagstaff around noon, which would serve as our home base. After checking in at our hotel we headed toward our destination, Grand Canyon National Park. From Flagstaff, the route took us on US-180, a two-lane highway with lots of passing lane for an hour's drive to the park entrance. For the most part the road was open and uncongested, allowing the GS to cruise unimpeded. Passing the slow moving vehicles that popped up now and again was effortless thanks to the 3.5-liter V6 with its 308 horsepower and 277 lb-ft of torque. This was when the only noise, and a welcome one, could be heard as the exhaust note sounded off in a throaty snarl.
The next day, as we pulled out of the parking lot the tire pressure warning light came on. After clicking through a variety of vehicle data in the Multi-information display, which is accessed by pressing the "Display" button on the steering wheel, I came to the screen listing pressure for each of the tires taking the guess work out of which one needs to be inflated if it isn't obvious. After depositing four quarters into the air machine we inflated the suspect tire making sure to only pump up to the recommended tire pressure. As soon as we started the GS up the warning light went out and we were on our way.
Since this was not our first trip to the Grand Canyon our focus for the first day was simple, hike the south rim trail from the Grand Canyon Visitor Center to Hermits Rest, about 10 miles one way, and then catch a shuttle back to the car and call it a day.
For the second day, we wanted to visit a few local points of interest so our first stop would be Meteor Crater. It's only a 45 minute drive from Flagstaff and well worth the visit. We took an informative walking tour that also takes you closer to the crater's edge and learned that in the 1960s NASA astronauts trained here for the Apollo missions to the Moon.
After our educational visit at the crater we continued east on I-40 and stopped in the town of Winslow for lunch. U.S. Route 66, known as the Mother Road, was once a major path for those who migrated west and it cuts right through the center of town. Sadly, I-40 completely replaced Route 66 and now only small segments of the original road exist.
Once we finished our tour of Winslow we continued east on I-40 again toward the Petrified Forest National Park which is just outside of a town called Holbrook. The Petrified Forest feels like a drive-thru museum since you drive through and in between the "exhibits." The petrified remains of ancient trees, which look and feel like thick, colored glass when viewed up close, dot the landscape. The multi-colored landforms jut up here and there and are comprised of layers of sediment. When taken in together, the tree remains, various formations and colorful sediment layers create a varied palette of colors throughout the national park - perfect for picture taking.
The return trip
The drive home, all 439 miles, was uneventful. The real highlight was the fact that it only took one full tank of gas to get us back to Chino Hills, which means we averaged 30.1 mpg - slightly better than the GS's EPA-rated 29 highway mpg.
When all was said and done we had driven a total of 1,520 miles from California to Arizona and back. The 2014 Lexus GS 350 was nimble and responsive, and made the trek easy and comfortable with all the amenities it has to offer. Although not a first choice as a vehicle to take to the Grand Canyon for some, the GS is well suited for long trips on straightaways or curvy roads with its dynamic handling and smooth, comfortable ride.
See Past Reports for our Long-Term 2014 Lexus GS 350...
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