2013 Lexus GS 350 AWD
2013 Lexus GS 350 AWD. Click image to enlarge
First Drive: 2013 Lexus GS
Test Drive: 2013 Lexus GS 350 AWD

Manufacturer’s website
Lexus Canada

Review and photos by Chris Chase

Photo Gallery:
2013 Lexus GS 350

The last time I tested a Lexus GS was in 2007. By my own admission, that review of a GS 350 wasn’t my best work. To be fair, I didn’t think much of that car at the time: it was quick and handled decently, but I didn’t much like its looks, and found its interior quite cramped.

Five years and a generation of GS later, I got into this redesigned 2013 model to find that, aside from being better looking, not much has changed.

This car does look better than its predecessor (that much is my opinion), but despite the use of Lexus’ new “spindle” grille (which appears more dramatic in photos than it does in person), the design as a whole doesn’t leave much of a visual impression. In fact, from the rear (if you ignore the twin exhausts so nicely integrated into the rear bumper), it looks a lot like a Hyundai Sonata, a car that costs half of this GS’ $51,900 base price.

2013 Lexus GS 350 AWD
2013 Lexus GS 350 AWD. Click image to enlarge

The rest of the car looks much more like a Lexus, which is to say, well, yawn. That’s a shame, because on paper, this is certainly the more interesting mid-sized Lexus, the other being the positively sleep-inducing Camry-based ES.

The GS begins as a rear-wheel drive car powered by the 3.5L V6 used in a number of Toyota vehicles. No matter the application, this is a smooth and powerful motor, and without a doubt potent enough to pull off sport sedan duty in a car like this, with its 306 horsepower and 277 lb-ft of torque. Here, the exhaust produces a sweet bark at full scoot, but otherwise, the engine’s personality is muted, much like the barely-there mechanical noises that manage to get past the firewall and into the passenger cabin.

My GS 350 tester also had the all-wheel drive system that adds $3,000 to the price. In normal conditions, 70 percent of the engine’s torque goes to the rear wheels, and up to half can be sent to the front wheels when slippery roads dictate. On dry surfaces, the all-wheeler setup gives the GS balanced handling in aggressive cornering, in spite of steering that’s geared toward comfortable cruising rather than hard charging.

2013 Lexus GS 350 AWD
2013 Lexus GS 350 AWD. Click image to enlarge

The transmission is a six-speed automatic, a well-done gearbox that shifts beautifully whether left in drive or shifted via a surprisingly responsive manual mode, controlled with the shift lever or paddle shifters. Its behaviour gets even better when the optional selectable drive mode knob on the console is turned to Sport or Sport+ modes; here, the transmission bangs off quicker shifts, throttle response is sharper, and steering assist is dialled back. Sport+ mode also engages what Lexus calls adaptive variable suspension, which it says “controls damping force on all four wheels in response to driver operations and road surface conditions.” The tangible effect is a firmer ride, though not nearly as firm as I’d hoped, given the Sport+ label. Even with this setting selected, there’s still a surprising amount of float in the ride; in a BMW 5 Series or Audi A6, a similar setup would dial up a rock-hard ride and planted feel suitable for 200 km/h German Autobahn runs. The GS’ relatively soft suspenders didn’t tempt me to approach any such extra-legal speeds on our highways.

The GS 350 AWD’s Natural Resources Canada fuel consumption estimates are 11.1 L/100 km in the city and 7.6 L/100 km in highway driving. I averaged 14.1 L/100 km in pure city driving, which is less disappointing next to the U.S. EPA’s more realistic estimates of 12.4 and 9.1 L/100 km.

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