Test Drive: 2013 Lexus GS 350 F-Sport AWD

?Lexus bows with 4th Gen GS models

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Lexus, Toyota?s luxury division recently previewed their all-new, fourth generation 2013 GS lineup, which will consist of four model offerings ? a base GS 350; a Luxury GS 350; an F-Sport GS 350; and the GS 450H Hybrid model.

All GS models will serve up new suspension, a Drive Mode Select feature with advanced technology in a package that blends luxury with Lexus? evocative new design philosophy. The F-Sport Package represents an engaging and enhanced visual character, while the new GS 450h introduces the next generation D-4S fuel injection system and Atkinson Cycle V6 with an estimated 30 percent improvement in fuel economy. The new GS made its debut at the 2011 Pebble Beach Concours d?Elegance, displaying bold new styling cues and enhanced interior accommodations.

The added visual appeal of the new GS series includes: an aggressive inverted trapezoidal-shaped upper and bottom-wide lower grille producing what Lexus refers to as a new ?spindle grille? (whatever that means); arrowhead shaped LED Daytime Running Lamps, Bi-Xenon-High-Intensity Discharge (HID) headlamps; color-keyed exterior mirrors with integrated turn signals; LED rear combination lamps; lower bumper with integrated dual exhaust outlets with lateral fins (exhaust hidden on Hybrid models); shark-fin antenna for Sirius/XM Satellite radio; Ultraviolet and infrared ray-reducing tinted glass for all windows; pronounced wheel flares and bumper corners; and slanted shape, ?slingshot? windows and rear door trailing edges that project strength and stability.

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Moving to the inside, aluminum alloy ?Lexus? stamped scuff plates appear on all doorsills, contrast stitching is executed on soft vinyl-wrapped upper IP, seats, door panels and shift boot. LED ambient lighting is integrated into door trim and second-generation Remote Touch Interface surround area. Headrests are height adjustable for all seating positions, with 10-way power driver and front passenger seats and a fold-down center armrest. An analog clock appears, as well as a multitude f steering wheel control functions.

Power for the 2013 Lexus GS 350 is provided by a front?longitudinally-mounted 3.5-liter DOHC, 24-valve V6 engine with direct port fuel injection that makes 306 horsepower at 6,400 rpm, while generating 277 pound feet of torque at 4,800 rpm. The driving force is geared to either the rear or all wheels via a six-speed automatic transmission with steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters. Four ?power?modes are available – Eco, Normal, Sport and Sport + modes on some models.

Power for the GS 450h Hybrid model is generated by a 3.5-liter V6 in combination with two Permanent magnet Motor Generators for a total 286 horsepower output and 254 lb.-ft. rating.

During the national Press launch, I was afforded the opportunity to pilot all versions of the GS lineup on the inner course of the Las Vegas Motor Speedway, as well as on surface streets surrounding the track facilities. I spent the most time in an F-Sport AWD model GS 350, finished outside in Obsidian metallic with a Black leather interior featuring polished wood trim accents. The base price for a GS350 AWD will be $49,450. Add the Premium and Luxury Packages, the Navigation Package and Destination and handling charges, and the total rises to $64,900. GS models are slated to go on sale in mid- February of 2012.

SUMMARY: ?Unfortunately, all GS models are propelled by the same mechanical components, with no variation in power output. The F-Sport Package adds bolder visual cues featuring bolder and more aggressively designed lower front and rear fascias, pronounced rockers, a rear decklid spoiler, a uniquely specific grille texture treatment and19-inch wheels as standard fare. The car?s wheelbase and overall length remain the same as before, while the width has increased slightly.

The GS is destined to compete in a highly competitive marketplace segment with the likes of Audi?s A6, BMW?s 5-Series and the E-Class of Mercedes-Benz. Many consumers will likely embrace it ? others will not. It is certainly the best-looking GS to come from the Lexus design team, but it seems to lack an overall dramatic effect. Don?t get me wrong here, it is an exceptionally good-looking vehicle, but the profile fails to produce what would be considered an emotional stirring within for many.

The ride quality is exceptionally comfortable and the handling is indeed sporty, with crisp, precise responses. Acceleration from the 3.5-liter V6 is surprisingly rewarding for a relatively heavy luxury sport sedan. A unique Intake Sound Creator provides a healthy and menacing growl when prodded with gusto. The GS 350 F-Sport rides on 19-inch staggered width wheels front to rear ? with 235/40/19×8? front and 265/35/19×9? rear summer compound tires for a slightly more planted feel.

The interior ambience is most inviting and is particularly appealing with the light satin-finished Bamboo trim accents. The 12.3-inch multi-info display allows for a 3-way split screen for information. A remote touch central controller is mouse-like?for ease of function selection. A Special Enform 2.0 Apps suite is available for connectivity ?junkies? and there is a host of safety technology that comes included as standard fare to enhance the driving experience.

In the final analysis, this latest iteration of the Lexus GS 350 seems to have finally gotten pretty much everything right ? it is loaded with luxury and the performance is certainly more than adequate. Option Packages include a Premium Package and a Luxury Package for enhanced personalization.

Is the GS 350 a top contender in the Luxury Sport Sedan market? That can only be answered by the you, the consumer. It is definitely a contender, but the ranking must be determined by individual choice, and keep in mind, Lexus wasn?t trying to produce a BMW here.