Although the Lexus GS is all-new for 2013, it continues to exemplify what Lexus has been known for: quiet, luxurious cabins and little sporting intentions. Step into the GS 350 and every surface you lay your hand on is made of a high-quality or soft-touch material. The leather is rich (and covers the seats, doors, and dashboard), the wood looks rare (if a bit too scorched in color), and every button and hinge has a silent and dampened movement. Even the exterior design - which at first seemed audacious with its offensive, spindle-shaped grille - is quite refined, especially in our tester's Riviera red paint job.
Passengers are treated to one of the largest infotainment screens in the business (it's 12.3 inches on the diagonal), but the actual system is stuck in the last decade. It was clearly designed for use as a touchscreen with oversized buttons and simple graphics and doesn't take advantage of the big screen or the mouse-like controller. The driving experience, too, seems to be stuck in the past. Despite the fact that the GS is supposed to herald in a sportier era for the luxury brand, the GS drives just like a Lexus of yore - quietly, smoothly, and with little feel transferred to the driver. Even in Sport+ mode, the GS 350 exhibits a fair bit of body roll and imprecise handling under aggressive driving. Those dynamics might be expected from a Lexus, but not one that is gunning for the likes of the Mercedes-Benz E-Class and the BMW 5 Series. And without better performance to set the GS apart, it becomes hard to rationalize the extra price over Lexus's own ES - a car that truly exemplifies what the Lexus brand is: a brand of comfortable, well-appointed luxury cars.
Donny Nordlicht, Associate Web Editor
Although the last Lexus GS had rear-wheel drive and an available V-8, it never entered my consciousness as a sport sedan. Its poor body control, rubber-band steering feel, and a bland interior made it a vehicle you bought because you wanted a medium-sized Lexus. Apparently there aren't many of those people -- barely a tenth the number of BMW 5-series buyers over the last two years.
The new GS shouts a very different message. Its styling is now as polarizing as it was generic and noncommittal. The interior sets a similarly aggressive tone and broadcasts its desire for younger buyers with a huge infotainment screen. The quick, surprisingly heavy steering likewise seems tuned to tell you instantly that this is a different sort of Lexus. I did not get a chance to take this all-wheel-drive model to its limit, but found the F-sport version we had in our office earlier offered commendably flat handling.
I wonder how many buyers will actually hear the GS's cry. This is a segment where even damn good cars like the Infiniti M and the Acura TL struggle to dent the sales of the Mercedes E-class and BMW 5-series. Still, I credit Lexus for changing course -- I'm excited to see where it goes from here.
David Zenlea, Associate Editor