We called a Lexus the “Ultimate Driving Machine.” In a four-car comparison that included a 2012 BMW 535i and 2013 Lexus GS 350 F Sport, we fell in love with the then-new GS. Years later, underneath the GS 350’s overdone face-lift is a midsize luxury sedan whose focus remains on fun. The segment has changed considerably since that comparo, so we spent some time with and tested a 2017 Lexus GS 350 F Sport to see how well the car holds up.
Although the GS received a refresh for the 2016 model year, at least six competitors have been fully redesigned since the Lexus first arrived for 2013. That’s a lot of change, but the sporty 2017 GS 350 F Sport still connects you to the road, a trait you won’t find in every $60,000 luxury four-door. It’s a quality that, when coupled with the questionable front styling updates, gives character to another car that helps shed the luxury brand’s reputation for only building boring cars.
While Lexus has been busy shifting brand perception, the GS 350’s engine has survived mostly unchanged since the 2007 model year. The 2017 GS 350’s 3.5-liter naturally aspirated V-6 is a refined engine that makes 311 hp at 6,400 rpm and 280 lb-ft of torque at 4,800 rpm. Mated to an eight-speed automatic, the 2017 Lexus GS 350 F Sport in rear-drive form takes 5.9 seconds to accelerate from 0 to 60 mph, in Motor Trend testing. On the track, road test editor Chris Walton noted that even in manual-shift mode, the car smoothly auto upshifts almost to the 6,750-rpm redline. “Power is rather linear until 4,000 rpm, where it feels as if there’s a noticeable cam-phase change,” he said.
On the street, a long stab of the accelerator pedal will be rewarded by a slightly slow initial response followed by just enough force to push you back into your sport seat. Even so, the GS 350 F Sport is outdone in 0-60 mph sprints compared to six-cylinder competitors including an all-wheel-drive 2016 Audi A6 3.0T (4.7 seconds), an all-wheel-drive 2017 Jaguar XF 35t (4.9 seconds), and a rear-drive 2016 Cadillac CTS VSport (4.7 seconds).
Even an all-wheel-drive, turbo-four-powered 2016 Audi A6 2.0T can keep up with the six-cylinder Lexus, falling behind to 60 mph by only one tenth of a second. What that car and the Motor Trend long-term 2017 BMW 530i (6.2 seconds to 60 mph) lack is the Lexus’ engine sound. So other six-cylinder luxury sedans outpace the GS 350 V-6, but the Lexus is priced appropriately, with a six-cylinder starting price of $51,690. That’s thousands of dollars below quicker German and British alternatives. Around the figure-eight course, which measures a number of different driving characteristics including acceleration, braking, and cornering (and the transitions between them), the GS 350 F Sport turned in a time of 25.5 seconds at 0.74 average g. That’s not far off from the much quicker A6 3.0T AWD’s 25.3 seconds at 0.79 average g, not as good as the far more powerful CTS VSport’s 24.7 seconds at 0.80 average g, and ahead of an XF 35t AWD’s 26.8 seconds at 0.68 average g. Our rear-drive GS 350 F Sport had a $1,700 rear-steering system that can adjust the steering angle of the rear wheels up to two degrees (in the same direction as the front wheels at high speeds and the opposite direction at low speeds).
“Although none of it feels particularly natural or organic, that’s not to say it wasn’t fun,” said testing director Kim Reynolds about the system. He also appreciated the eight-speed’s quick shifts (GS 350 F Sports with all-wheel drive get a six-speed automatic).
Aside from the optional four-wheel steering tech, the GS 350 F Sport’s standard variable ratio steering system makes the car feel nimbler around city streets. With the system, the car cuts the number of turns lock to lock to 2.3-2.7 compared to regular GS’ 2.8 turns. Add in a stiff, sport-tuned adaptive suspension, and you’ve got a sporty midsize luxury sedan that can make mundane trips a bit more fun even before you put the car into a sport mode by rotating the silver drive mode disc, which is easy to find without looking down. What you won’t get with the GS 350 F Sport model is a quiet and cushy highway cruiser—the 5 Series might be a better bet if that’s your top priority.
Braking performance and feel on and off the track for the GS could have been better. Walton noted the GS 350 F Sport’s “long travel” and “squishy pedal,” both details I also noticed on the street. The rear-drive GS 350 F Sport gets 14-inch front brake rotors, up from 13.1 inches on other GS models, yet its 60-0-mph braking test took 113 feet, which is better than the XF 35t (122 feet) and A6 2.0T (117 feet) but behind a 530i (103 feet), CTS VSport (107 feet), and A6 3.0T (109 feet). The GS 350 F Sport in rear-drive form rides on 235/40R19 tires in front and 265/35R19 tires in back.
By going F Sport or, really, with the GS 350 at all, you’re sacrificing a little in EPA-rated fuel economy. The rear-drive 2017 GS 350 F Sport is good for ratings of 19/27 mpg city/highway (one mpg down from the non-F-Sport model in both measurements), and that’s lower than the nearly as quick 2017 BMW 530i (24/34 mpg) as well as the quicker 540i (20/30 mpg). The six-cylinder 2017 Jaguar XF is rated at 20/29 mpg, but the Lexus does beat the 2017 Cadillac CTS VSport (16/24 mpg). That car has a much higher starting price and is in another class in terms of swift acceleration, but it should be considered by anyone who’s thinking of getting a GS 350 F Sport.
Perhaps one trait both of those cars share is an interior that’s not going to impress with above-average interior space the way a long-wheelbase Infiniti Q70 or Volvo S90 will. The Lexus GS’ interior offers average space for the segment, but at least most of the touch points feel rich. As with the 2017 IS 200t F Sport we reviewed, our GS 350 F Sport tester really makes the driver feel like they made a solid choice by going with the Lexus. The leatherlike padding on the side of the center console is very comfortable and a great idea for long red lights when you want to rest your right leg. The steering wheel’s leather feels great, and the soft top of the center console storage compartment is appreciated, too. The LFA-inspired instrument cluster is a big change compared to non-F-Sport GS cars, as well, and it features a digital display at its center.
As with all GS 350s, a 12.3-inch screen sits at the top of the dash and can split info between navigation, fuel economy, or song-title details. It’s a shame Android Auto and Apple CarPlay aren’t offered because the technologies facilitate different tasks including receiving/sending voice-commanded text messages and quicker navigation when you know a place’s name and city but not the actual address. Having said that, we had no issues using the Lexus’ navigation system with voice commands, though it could have responded a tad quicker. In previous reviews and comparisons, Motor Trend has criticized Lexus’ Remote Touch interface for not being easy to use, and that’s still the case here—though I personally only find it mildly inconvenient. The system, which has a raised pad to rest your hand on and a small computer-mouse-like controller, requires a delicate touch to maneuver to certain on-screen buttons. As with all luxury-car infotainment systems, however, there is a learning curve. What I learned during my time with the car were ways to work around the system, from the two other methods to skip ahead a track to the dual enter buttons on the side of the remote-touch controller or even the physical buttons you can use to zoom in/out on a map.
Aside from a navigation system on a 12.3-inch screen that’s standard on the GS 350, Lexus adds more value in the form of a standard suite of active safety tech. A collision mitigation braking system is one of those features that’s good to have but that you hope you never need to use (after alerting the driver to a potential collision ahead, the car can apply the brakes if necessary). A lane keeping assist system, in which the car can keep you from veering out of your lane when it detects lane markings, is also helpful. I’m a fan of adaptive cruise control systems that can accelerate and apply the brakes in traffic but found this system applied the brakes a bit too forcefully—your experience might vary.
Once you escape traffic and reach your destination, we’d recommend the $500 front and rear parking sensors, though we’d prefer a multi-camera parking system. The $400 power-opening/closing trunklid is also a cool though increasingly common luxury, but it could be quicker to open and close. Really, these are minor concerns for a car that fills a unique space in the midsize luxury sedan segment—less expensive than quicker six-cylinder competitors but with a better sounding engine than some similarly priced four-cylinder alternatives. The GS 350 F Sport connects you to the road in a way you might not expect, so as long as you’re not looking for a pure luxury experience and the chaotic front styling isn’t a total turn-off, consider the Lexus.
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