Lexus GS Steps Out of the Shadows

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2013 Lexus GS350.

The Lexus division of Toyota has had a great number of successes over its more than 20 years of existence. From the first LS sedan, which took the large luxury sedan world by storm, to the high-tech high-dollar LFA supercar, the brand hardly misses a step.

But in the crowded world of mid-size sporty luxury sedans, the Lexus GS has never really been a player. Strong competitors from BMW, Mercedes-Benz and Audi have often dominated, and even brands like Cadillac and Infiniti improved their games in the past few years.

The first three generations of the GS have always been competent, but never really stood out in any way. The most notable thing about the outgoing model was that it offered a hybrid version long before other brands even thought about adopting the technology to their entries.

In fact, as the Lexus GS was winding its shelf life down in recent years, there was talk that it would quietly just die off. The company was concentrating its efforts elsewhere, and some executives saw it as an unnecessary part of the Lexus portfolio.

But other company leaders stepped up to defend having a sporty luxury 4-door in the lineup, including Toyota CEO Akio Toyoda. So the assignment was handed to designers and engineers to create a fourth-generation GS sedan that could finally be a player in the field.

An all-new design was penned, with the debut taking place on a stage at last August’s Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance. The look is crisper and sleeker, with a new grill design that’s a peek at the future of Lexus styling. Not everyone’s thrilled with the frontal appearance of the car (my neighbor even called it “ugly”), but you’ll definitely know the 2013 GS 350 when you see it.

Under the hood is a powerful new V6 engine producing 306 horsepower. That, and the same engine with a hybrid system attached (which arrives in the spring), are the only two choices for motivation. No more V8s for the GS, as only about 3% of buyers chose it. Also, the power of the hybrid system delivers V8 performance with better-than-V6 fuel economy.

To make the GS a little sportier, special attention was paid to the intake tuning. You may not have known this, but air being sucked into an engine at full throttle generally makes noise (just as exhaust makes noise leaving). That noise is usually muffled through clever ducting so as to keep the car quiet. At most times the 2013 GS is quiet too, but when you give it a lot of throttle the intake opens up and produces a wonderful growl during hard acceleration.

Inside, technology leads the way in several areas. Up high on the dash is an extra-wide LCD screen that has room for a full navigation display, but another section next to it for things like audio information. No more having to toggle back and forth between two screens while you’re simultaneously getting driving guidance and searching for music. They can exist side-by-side.

There’s also Lexus Enform, which essentially translates apps from your smartphone to the car. That way, the vehicle’s in-car display and hands-free system is an extension of whatever iPhone, Android or BlackBerry you happen to have, and even the ones you will have in future years. The car isn’t frozen in time technology-wise, and won’t become obsolete during the time you own it.

Pricing is right up there with competitors, starting at $46,900, the same base price as the 2011 GS350. (There was no 2012 GS.) You can get an all wheel drive version for $49,450, but then the option packages can start raising the price. It’s a safe bet that most 2013 GS350s on dealer lots starting in February will be priced well north of $50,000.

Even at that kind of tab, there’s a lot of competition for buyers looking for performance, style and luxury in the same package. Finally, Lexus has a legitimate shot at those customers with its newest GS.

I’ll see you down the road.

Dave Kunz is the automotive reporter at KABC-TV Channel 7 and can be heard on “The Car Show” Saturdays at 9 a.m. on KPFK, 90.7 FM. E-mail Dave at TVCarz @ pacbell.net Twitter: @dave_kunz

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