Original Series
By Amos Kwon
on 12.28.12
Photo by Amos Kwon

Lexus, once the darling of middle-aged Asian-American women everywhere, is focusing more nowadays on driving experience as opposed to driving you to boredom. Lexus has also revised their design language to be more edgy, adventurous and sporty in appearance — relatively speaking, of course. What they’ve wrought is more than just a new brand-identifiable spindle grille, and it’s a change in the right direction. We’ve been tracking Lexus all year and even got in some track time in their new GS sporty sedan earlier this year; we came away impressed.

But how does the car work during the demands of every day commute, errands and family hauls? What’s it like to drive in the real world and not on an autocross track where your only obstacles are cones? We put a beautiful Meteor Blue Mica GS350 All-Wheel-Drive through the paces to find out.

MORE LEXUS: LF-CC Concept | Lapping the Lexus LFA | 2013 Lexus LS460 F Sport

First of all, let’s make it clear that the luxury arm of Toyota has no intention of alienating their client base — those who love practical and cushy comfort, automotive technology that’s not overwhelming and the stamp of Lexus reliability. These three things remain, but for the first time in their large sedan lineup, there’s actually driving excitement.

The 3.5-liter V6 doesn’t exactly roar to life, but fire it up via the start button and you know the engine isn’t some duffer. With 306 horsepower and 277 lb-ft of torque, the GS350 isn’t toying with your expectations. It has enough power to move the hefty Lexus to 60 in 5.6 seconds — which is noticeably quick. In fact, even with the traction control on and all-wheel-drive, a healthy pedal mash chirped the tires from a standing start. Moreover, the optional Lexus Vehicle Dynamics Integrated Management system provides two additional driving modes: Sport and Sport Plus. With these engaged the suspension tightens up, the steering becomes more responsive, the tranny holds the gears for longer and stability control is less intrusive. This is definitely a good thing.

The sporty Lexus picks up thrust like a Dyson does pet hair, and the throttle is relatively responsive for a car in this segment.

There’s no time to lament the disappearance of the GS’s V8, as the V6 is alarmingly powerful. If your grandmother buys this car her blood pressure will surely be endangered. It’s the perfect family car for a guy who feels distinct pleasure in squealing all four wheels from a standing start and blowing the doors off a toothy boy-racer in a tricked-out hatchback (you’ve got to get your satisfaction somehow). The sporty Lexus picks up thrust like a Dyson does pet hair, and the throttle is relatively responsive for a car in this segment.

Our only real quibble with regard to the driving experience is the slightly numb feeling of the steering setup. This doesn’t mean you can move the wheel a quarter turn and the car will still go straight (as previous Lexuses felt), but it does equate to a bit of an artificial feel. Point the GS350 AWD and it will go where you want — a little more communication to the driver would still be nice. We imagine that most Lexus customers don’t expect to take their near-4,000-pound sedan to the track, so this isn’t a huge surprise; but, if we had our druthers, we’d opt for better feel.

Even so, the Lexus does handle well (but if you want to really see more from your GS350, go with the F-Sport version, which has more aggressive leanings). Though the GS350 AWD is by no means light (3,970 lbs), it’s also not nearly as heavy as other cars in its class. For example, the BMW 535xi weighs in at 4,090 lbs. Take the GS350 AWD into a turn and it inspires a modicum of confidence beyond what you might expect from Lexus cars of yore. Attacking some curves at more adventurous speeds (this is part of every day driving, no?) proved both exhilarating and surprising.

Previous Lexus design, especially for their bigger sedans, was the automotive equivalent of melatonin. Now, the more angular style, led by the spindle grille, carries through four models.

The styling won’t offend anyone, as Lexus maintained the status quo on design language enough to keep the brand recognizable to their loyal customers. Heck, people still have to get to the opera and their hairdresser in style, don’t they? But make no mistake. The old boring fluidity is mostly gone. Previous Lexus design, especially for their bigger sedans, was the automotive equivalent of melatonin. Now, the more angular style, led by the spindle grille, carries through four models (and will eventually make its way through the entire Lexus line). The result is more sporty and more noticeable — it’s like infusing Betty White with Milla Jovovich’s DNA.

It’s a stretch to say the cabin is as sporty as the GS350’s driving tendencies, but it’s certainly a nice place to be. The 18-way adjustable seats are supportive and comfortable, and the gray wood trim is a nice touch where the standard is usually some kind of brown burl wood. The seating position lends to driving confidence, but we can’t say as much for the strange Remote Touch interface, which is essentially a floating mouse and wristrest that controls the infotainment system. To call it precise would be an overstatement. We’re just thankful that audio and climate controls have standalone knobs, otherwise things might become a bit frustrating.

Overall, the Lexus impresses beyond what we’ve come to expect from the brand over the years. There’s no more case of the sleepies when you get behind the wheel: it comes standard with real driving excitement, as opposed to just heavy and cushy transportation that’s reliable. The minds at Lexus have certainly come up with something worthy of a good drive.

FILED UNDER ,