Driving along in the 2015 Lexus GS 350 F-Sport somewhere between Duncan and Cowichan Bay on Vancouver Island, I exited the Trans Canada highway and found myself on one of the Island’s famous backroads — a narrow ribbon of blacktop that twisted and undulated along the coastal topography, occasionally skirting the water’s edge before diving back into deep, shadowed forest.
Until this point I’d been enjoying the Lexus strictly as a luxury highway conveyance, and it hadn’t disappointed: The GS 350 is richly appointed inside, and my driving comfort was assured thanks to the supple leather upholstery, nicely-bolstered heated and cooled front seats, useful head-up display, potent 17-speaker Mark Levinson audio system, and full-featured infotainment system with a huge 12.3-inch screen that makes reading the navigation system a snap.
What the GS 350 hadn’t yet done was engage the driver within me in any particular way, but that was about to change: Seeing the opportunity to test the performance side of the GS 350 F-Sport’s luxury-performance credentials on the backroad, I rotated the console-mounted drive mode controller to select Sport+, then rolled on the throttle as I rounded the first gently sweeping corner.
It would be exaggerating to say that trumpets sounded and angels sang, but maybe not by much. Because while moseying along the highway in Normal mode had revealed exactly the qualities I was expecting of the big Lexus, with a comfortable, well-damped ride and relaxed-yet-competent handling, pushing the car along backroads in Sport+ mode revealed a completely different aspect of its personality. Switching to Sport+ mode makes the instrument lighting glow red, tweaks the throttle and transmission response, and firms up the suspension to transform the GS 350 F-Sport into an unexpectedly focused canyon carver that seems lighter and smaller than it really is, feels directly connected to the road, and fairly begs to be pushed. Who’d have thought?
Actually, judging by the GS 350’s Canadian sales figures the answer to that question is easy: Very few people at all. The midsize luxury performance segment is dominated by Mercedes and BMW, with buyers snapping up 3,789 E-Class sedans annually (based on 2014 figures) and 2,337 5 Series. Audi comes next, moving 1,113 A6s during 2014, while Cadillac makes a good domestic showing with 1,076 CTS sedans sold. As for Lexus, well, let’s talk about Jaguar instead, because it sold 567 XF sedans in 2014. All Lexus managed in the segment was 480 GS models, and only Infiniti fared worse, selling just 128 Q70s. (I’m ignoring the 243 Acura RLXs sold here because I see the front-wheel drive RLX as more of a competitor for the similarly front-wheel drive Lexus ES, 2,726 of which were purchased in Canada last year.) In the U.S., buyers pay a little more attention to the GS, putting it close behind the A6 and CTS, and well ahead of the Jaguar. Still, it’s a pretty cool reception for such a surprisingly good car.