The current-generation GS has been on the market for six years, an eternity in the world of premium cars. So when I drove it last night and asked myself the inevitable question, why would anyone buy this over its many much newer competitors, I said, well, Lexus must offer some killer lease deals on the GS. So I went to the Lexus Web site expecting to find these killer lease deals with, like, headlines blaring, “Drive a Lexus GS350 for only $599 a month, no money down!!!” I didn’t find anything of the sort, but I did come across a Lexus-provided comparison of the GS with three principal competitors: the Mercedes-Benz E350, the Infiniti M37, and the BMW 535i. Lexus claims that, in order to get models equipped as well as the GS350 is for its $48,925 base price, you’d have to spend $55,075 for the Infiniti, $58,345 for the Mercedes, and a whopping $63,575 for the BMW. I didn’t double-check their specification charts and math, but I have no reason to think they are stretching the truth. All four sedans are available with either rear- or all-wheel drive, all of them are comfortable and luxurious and have powerful six-cylinder engines, and all four of them should prevent you from being snubbed by your country-club valets, even if they aren’t parked in the front circle drive.
That said, it’s time for a new Lexus GS. The current car is nice enough, and powerful enough, and safe enough, and luxurious enough, but that’s not really enough. It feels old, and the styling looks more dumpy and dated by the minute. But, hey, if you just want a nice mid-size luxury sedan and you have a good relationship with your Lexus dealer, have at it; you’ll probably be very pleased over the long haul.
Joe DeMatio, Deputy Editor
The Lexus GS is a car that’s goes largely unnoticed in today’s market. Only about 7000 of them sold last year, but way back when (1998), Lexus had more lofty goals for the car. That year, the company redesigned the GS in an attempt to create a luxury performance car that would compete with the best from Europe, using the BMW 5-Series as a benchmark. The GS made Car and Driver‘s 10Best list and was named Motor Trend‘s Import Car of the Year in 1998. (It never managed to make any Automobile Magazine All-Stars lists.) Unfortunately, the GS never could match the dynamic performance levels of its German competitors, and instead of selling on performance, it sold on the attributes that make all Lexus cars desirable, namely impeccable build quality and competitive pricing.
Today, the GS probably still sells based on those qualities. The styling is neither eye-catching nor hideous, the interior is neither super-luxurious nor downmarket. The engine is quite good, but overall, the GS’s dynamic performance level falls short of other mid-size luxury sport sedans, such as the 5-series, the Mercedes E-Class, and the Cadillac CTS. On the plus side, the ergonomics of the interior are pretty good. The control buttons are big and well-labeled. My first thought when I looked at them was that they’d be very easy to use for people (especially older folks) who don’t want to be overwhelmed by modern technology. There are a few buttons on the steering wheel, but not so many as to be confusing.
Still, this is a car in need of some updating. The new model is being unveiled at the New York auto show this spring, and I’m looking forward to seeing how it has evolved.
Amy Skogstrom, Managing Editor
I’m a huge fan of Toyota’s 3.5-liter V-6. It makes power everywhere, launching this heavy, four-wheel-drive sedan with authority and pulling hard right up to redline. Everything else about the GS is rather dated. The interior in particular lags considerably behind most of its $50,000 competitors, with a bland design and unwelcoming hard plastics on the dash. Even the new-ish telematics feel about five years behind due to the ugly, pixelated graphics on the nav screen.
The GS doesn’t drive badly. As I noted, the engine is excellent. Its suspension isn’t really set up for hard cornering, but it will play along if you insist upon a few quick turns. That can’t be said for the steering, which is way too vague and numb.
As Joe notes, there’s nothing about the GS that will disappoint a loyal owner. Much like the Acura RL, another dated Japanese sedan, it has a strong reputation for quality and covers all the luxury bases. But if you’re looking for something more — style, fun, attitude — consider other options.
David Zenlea, Assistant Editor
Lexus regularly gets knocked for not being sporty enough, yet the company’s positioning looks pretty good to me when every other premium automaker is so set on establishing some pretense of sportiness with their cars. You buy a Lexus for comfort and luxury and a good value, and the GS350 delivers on that front. The cabin is exceptionally quiet, the build quality is solid, it’s plenty spacious, and the ride is well isolated from bumps.
As with most of the staff, I find the interior to be dull and ergonomically dated, but it’s important to remember that I’m probably 30 years shy of being the typical buyer. As we’ve seen with Ford, it’s easy to get carried away with the electronics; one can imagine a complicated interface causing grief for Lexus buyers. Lexus unveiled the LF-Gh concept at the 2011 New York auto show, suggesting that the GS’s future includes more aggressive styling and a sportier stance. While the current car could use an injection of personality, I certainly hope that Lexus doesn’t make the mistake of chasing a sportier image and feel.
Eric Tingwall, Associate Editor
To me, the Lexus GS is pretty uninspiring, but it seems like it’d be an excellent luxury appliance for the typical Lexus buyer. Sales of this model are pretty poor, though, so apparently Lexus customers aren’t interested in this mid-size luxury car, either, and would rather own the $20,000-more-expensive LS or the more affordable ES, IS, or HS models.
Like David, I’m a fan of this 3.5-liter V-6. It sounds very nice when revving high and is easily capable of propelling the car on the occasional speed-limit-breaking back-road blast. The GS350’s overall performance, however, won’t impress true enthusiasts. Some consolation can be found in Lexus’s F-Sport performance parts, which, for the GS350 AWD, include upgraded brakes, antiroll bars, exhaust, and intake components.
A new generation of the GS is due in 2012, and it can’t come a moment too soon. We wrapped up our Four Seasons test of a 2006 GS430 back in November 2006, and aside from this 2011-model test car’s V-6 engine and all-wheel drive, it seems almost unchanged from that vehicle. To wit: The ergonomics are quite poor, what with the drop-down drawer by the driver’s left knee that houses controls for the IP dimmer, the rear sunshade, the headlight washers, the sideview mirrors, and other, lesser-used buttons. The heated-seat controller is hidden under the center armrest. I also detected a couple disappointing squeaks and rattles in this test car.
Rusty Blackwell, Copy Editor
2011 Lexus GS350 AWD
Base price (with destination): $48,825
Price as tested: $50,794
3.5-liter V-6 engine
6-speed automatic transmission
4-wheel disc brakes
17-inch alloy wheels
Vehicle dynamics integrated management
Vehicle stability control & traction control
Smart stop technology
Daytime running lights
Stolen vehicle location
Tire pressure monitoring system
Heated front seats
Leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob
Power moonroof with one-touch open/close
Dual-zone automatic climate control
Lexus premium audio system
6-disc CD changer
XM satellite radio
Power tilt/telescoping steering column
Options on this vehicle:
Luxury value edition — $1165
Hard disk drive navigation system
XM NavTraffic, NavWeather, XM Sports
Power rear sunshade — $210
Rear spoiler — $200
Cargo net — $64
Key options not on vehicle:
18 / 25 / 20 mpg
3.5L 24-valve V-6
Horsepower: 303 hp @ 6200 rpm
Torque: 274 lb-ft @ 3600 rpm
Curb weight: 3869 lb
Wheels/tires: 17 x 7.5-inch alloy wheels
225/50R17 Dunlop SP Sport 5000M all-season tires
Competitors: BMW 535i xDrive, Mercedes-Benz E350 4Matic, Infiniti M37x
Standard brake override system