2013 Lexus GS First Drive Review: Introduction
While Mercedes-Benz, BMW and Audi have been throwing jabs at each other recently in commercials and billboards boasting how sporty their luxury sedans are, Lexus has snuck right into the mix with its all-new 2013 Lexus GS. The fourth generation of the Lexus GS was introduced last year at the Pebble Beach Concours D'Elegance, and in a fitting fashion, this new car manages to blend an impressive level of elegance, luxury and sportiness. As a promising sign that Lexus is finally able to knock its German rivals off their pedestals, Lexus invited us out to the Las Vegas Motor Speedway to spend a day driving several different variants of the new 2013 GS.
2013 Lexus GS First Drive Review: Pricing and Trim Levels
Assembled in Tahara, Japan, the 2013 Lexus GS will be offered in two models: the GS 350 and the hybrid GS 450h. The 2013 GS 350 kicks off the new model line-up with a starting MSRP of $46,900 which is lower than the similarly equipped competitors (Mercedes-Benz and Audi both offer smaller-displacement and lower-horsepower models at a lower price), but it is also available with an added F Sport which raises the price to $52,590 and adds a sportier look and driving dynamic. Standing as the top model in the GS line-up, the GS 450h brings an advanced hybrid system that blends fuel economy and performance, but Lexus won't release official pricing until closer to the on-sale date in May. The 2013 GS 350 and GS 350 F Sport go on sale next month.
2013 Lexus GS First Drive Review: Competition
There is no shortage of rival sedans for the 2013 Lexus GS to go up against with cars like the Mercedes E-Class Sedan, BMW 5 Series, Audi A6, Acura TL and Infiniti M all promising to balance a sporty ride with a luxurious and comfortable cabin atmosphere. Last year was brutal for Lexus in terms of sales with all of the brand's models off by double digits, and the Lexus GS (which skipped the 2012 model year) was right in the middle of the pack with a 46.9 percent drop in 2011. Even worse, the trio of German mid-size sedans from Mercedes, BMW and Audi combined for well over 100,000 units last year. Fortunately, this means that there are plenty of buyers to conquest (Lexus expects 50 percent of 2013 GS buyers to be new to the Lexus brand) while the vigor of the new GS should help spark sales across the quickly aging Lexus line-up as this new look and feel quickly spreads to future models.
2013 Lexus GS First Drive Review: Exterior
If you like what you see on the 2013 Lexus GS, then there's plenty of more to come since this will be the new face of Lexus. Building on the stylish new design language used on the LF-A supercar, the new GS finally looks to take on the competition rather than just evolving from the previous design. This new and aggressive look starts with the signature "spindle" grille that will become a staple of future Lexus products which acts not only as the focal point for the car but also as the starting point for most of the car's lines. Ditching the quad headlight design that has been used on the GS design since 1997, the angular grille is complemented by wide, rectangular that feature L-shaped LED running lights. The rear end of the GS has changed just as much with the previous design's stubby, angled rear end being replaced by a boxy, upright look matching other Lexus models like the IS sedan.
The elongated decklid and squared-off rear end not only give the new GS a sportier, more modern look but also helps to improve cargo capacity with the 2013 model offering up 14.3 cubic feet of trunk space versus the old car's 12.7; even the GS Hybrid has more cargo space than the third-generation GS with 13.2 cubic feet available thanks to a new stacked battery pack. There are subtle ways to tell each of the different GS models apart with the 450h getting a blue-tinted from Lexus logo in the grille and losing the integrated exhaust outlets (or any visual outlets for that matter) while the F Sport is easily distinguishable with its more aggressive body kit and the staggered-width, 19-inch wheels. About the only thing that hasn't changed on this new GS compared to the previous (2005-2011) design is the roofline which keeps a tall, flat roof with stretched C-pillars - rather than going toward the trendy four-door coupe design - which helps maximize interior space and passenger comfort. Love it or hate it, this new design theme will, if nothing else, get the car noticed rather than just blending in.
2013 Lexus GS First Drive Review: Interior
Lexus has always done a great job of delivering interiors with impressive quality, materials and technology, but the 2013 Lexus GS has arguably the best interior in the brand's 22-year history. We had the chance to see a few different interior variations for the GS ranging from the bamboo-trimmed GS 450h (shown here) and a sporty GS 350 F Sport, but even the base configuration delivers plenty of styling and luxury for occupants. Highlights of the new Lexus GS interior include an improved Remote Touch interface and a massive, 12.3-inch spilt display screen - the former used to control the latter to operate everything from the climate controls, audio system, navigation system and more. This large screen is the crown jewel of the GS' instrument panel, but sporty instrument gauges and a clean center stack layout add to the car's visual appeal.
In addition to the extra dose of styling and technology, the new GS is more spacious in just about every regard than the current third-generation model especially when it comes to headroom and legroom. Nothing says luxury sedan like a spacious rear seat, so we spent some time being chauffeured around in the new GS and were very impressed with the overall level of comfort. As an option, the car we spent our backseat time in was equipped with the rear controls built into the fold-down center armrest allowing rear occupants to adjust the audio system, rear HVAC, power sunshade and turn on the heated seats. Speaking of controls, the next-generation Remote Touch system now features a smoother "mouse" that with a more refined feel and more natural detents.
2013 Lexus GS First Drive Review: Interior Packages and Options
Starting with a base 2013 Lexus GS, buyers will be rewarded with plenty of standard luxury and technology features, but, in true luxury car style, there are numerous options and packages allowing owners to equip the GS as they see fit. Packages for the GS 450h include the $1,735 navigation system including the latest Lexus Enform with Application Suite which allows users access to services from OpenTable, MovieTickets.com, Pandora and iHeartRadio as well as allowing them to check in on Facebook. Buyers can also choose from the $5,750 Luxury Package adding in 18-way power adjustable front seats, rear HVAC and audio controls and rear side window manual sunshades or the $1,400 Premium Package to get rain-sensing wipers, heated and cooled front seats and a power rear sunshade. Although these are the official package pricing listed by Lexus, the automaker's retail website makes it a little more confusing for potential customers to figure out by adding on to each package significantly raising the prices (i.e., $10,765 for "Luxury Package with Additional Options").
2013 Lexus GS First Drive Review: Powertrain and Fuel Economy
All 2013 Lexus GS models are now powered by a 3.5-liter direct-injected V-6, but the engines used in the GS 350 and GS 450h are far from identical. The GS 350 produces 306 horsepower and 277 lb-ft of torque and is paired with a six-speed automatic transmission, while the Atkinson cycle engine in the GS Hybrid (shown here) feeds 286 hp and 254 lb-ft of torque to the rear wheels through an electronically controlled continuously variable transmission (ECVT). Those mourning the loss of the V-8-powered GS 460 should take solace in the fact that the hybrid model now has a combined power output of 338 hp thanks to the 20-horsepower electric drive motor getting its power from a Nickel Metal Hydride (Ni-MH) battery in the trunk. The standard GS 350 has EPA fuel economy estimates of 19 miles per gallon in the city, 28 mpg on the highway and a rating of 23 mpg in combined driving, and the optional all-wheel drive system drops highway and combined estimates by 2 mpg each. Lexus expects the GS 450h will get 29 mpg city, 34 mpg highway and 31 mpg combined, but this model has yet to receive its official EPA rating. The GS 350 F Sport and GS 450h are both rear-wheel drive, but the GS 350 can be equipped with all-wheel drive for an extra $2,500.
2013 Lexus GS First Drive Review: Driving Impressions
Regardless of whether you choose to drive the base GS 350, the fuel-efficient GS 450h or the mean-looking GS 350 F Sport, you will not be disappointed with how this car handles. During our day with the 2013 Lexus GS, we were able to do a good mix of driving ranging from long highway jaunts to carving up the infield road course at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway. The latter activity was obviously the most fun, but it was surprising to see how the GS did head-to-head against a Mercedes E350 Sedan and a BMW 5353i. The suspension tuning of the 2013 Lexus GS was felt more responsive than the E350's mushy handling and it was far more predictable than the BMW's "loose-is-fast" mentality. The BMW still felt faster on the track, but the Lexus held its own and felt more refined while doing so.
The improved handling and driving dynamic is mostly the result of its lighter, stronger frame which has allowed the car to be more rigid while shedding pounds, and its 3,795-pound curb weight is just under that of the E350 Sedan and about 300 pounds lighter than a comparable 535i. For most drivers, this just means the GS no longer feels like a floaty, oversized sedan, but buyers looking for a responsive, fun-to-drive luxury sedan should be very impressed with the new GS. All 2013 GS models get the driver-selectable Drive Mode system that can switch between normal, Eco or Sport S modes, but the GS F Sport and Luxury Package models also get a Sport S+ mode for more in-depth performance tuning; the GS 450h also adds an EV mode for improved all-electric performance.
Stepping things up quite a bit, the GS F Sport also gets the optional Lexus Dynamic Handling with Dynamic Rear Steering for even better handling. At lower speeds, the rear wheels are able to turn in the opposite direction of the front wheels for added responsiveness and the same direction as the front wheels at highway speeds for improved lane-changing maneuverability; the rear wheels are able to turn up to 2 degrees each way. When it comes to performance, it might be easy to miss the V-8 engine that most competitors are offering, but the GS 450h is actually the high-output model of this line-up, and, not surprisingly, it was also the quickest on the track despite a curb weight disadvantage (almost 400 pounds heavier than a GS 350). Lexus claims the GS 450h can run from zero to 60 miles per hour in just 5.6 seconds while still delivering the all-electric driving , brake regeneration and automatic start/stop features expected from a hybrid.
2013 Lexus GS First Drive Review: Safety
The 2013 Lexus GS has yet to be rated by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) or the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) for its crash safety, but it comes with plenty of standard safety features that include 10 airbags, active head restraints, LED daytime running lights (DRL), electronic brake-force distribution with brake assist, four-wheel anti-lock disc brake system, Vehicle Stability Control and tire pressure monitoring system (TPMS).
2013 Lexus GS First Drive Review: Final Thoughts
With cars like the IS-F and LFaA under its belt, nobody is doubting the performance abilities of Toyota's Lexus brand, but the 2013 Lexus GS does show that the luxury automaker can make its cars fast and exciting while keeping the same level of luxury and comfort expected from a luxury sedan. Where the previous GS came up short in attracting buyers from sportier cars like BMW and Audi or plusher cars like Mercedes-Benz, the new GS has been improved in every possible way to become a must-see luxury sport sedan rather than an also-ran. If the 2013 Lexus GS is any indication where Lexus is heading with its future cars, the luxury sedan market is about to get much more exciting... and that's without evening thinking about the rumored GS-F!
2013 Lexus GS First Drive Review: Pros and Cons
- excellent ride and handling
- GS 450h delivers power output of a V-8
- aggressive styling of GS 350 F Sport is best in class
- no V-8 option
- confusing option and packaging breakdown on Lexus website
Lexus provided travel, lodging and vehicle for this review.
Photos by Jeffrey N. Ross