If the 2014 Lexus GS indeed represents "the new Lexus," as Lexus vice president Mark Templin asserts, it's time for driving enthusiasts to give Toyota's luxury brand a second chance. Yes, we know that's hard to believe. Lexus has built an almost peerless reputation for reliability over the years, but performance has never been its strong suit, to put it mildly. So we're as surprised as everyone else that the new GS is a genuine driver's car.
All it takes is a few miles in the saddle to recognize that the GS is built for people who love to drive. The suspension feels like something straight out of Germany, conveying substance and control in equal measure. Steering response is just as impressive, particularly with the F Sport model's active rear steering system. Even the interior suggests a Germanic influence, reminding us of the previous-generation 5 Series with its top-quality materials and restrained design.
We do have reservations about the GS. For one thing, its edgy styling evokes the Japanese tuner scene a bit too vividly for our tastes, and we wonder if luxury-car shoppers will feel the same way. Also, there are definitely faster sedans available at this price, in part because the GS no longer offers a V8 engine. But overall, the GS model's extreme performance makeover strikes us as a resounding success. If this is where Lexus products are headed, color us intrigued.
What's New for 2014?
The rear-wheel-drive GS 350 gets a new 8-speed automatic transmission, and all GS models include integrated support for the iPhone's Siri assistant. Also, the GS 450h hybrid's continuously variable automatic (CVT) now has simulated shift points that mimic a regular 8-speed automatic. New options include a rear cross-traffic alert system, an optional power trunk lid and a revised Luxury package with LED fog lights; the Night View system, however, has been discontinued.
What We Like
Exceptionally nice interior; genuinely sporty handling; technology galore; choice of regular and hybrid models; executive-class back seat
What We Don't
Lacks the acceleration of other high-end sport sedans
The 2014 GS 350 comes with rear- or all-wheel drive and a 3.5-liter V6 rated at 306 horsepower and 277 lb-ft of torque. The rear-wheel-drive version gets an 8-speed automatic transmission, while the all-wheel-drive GS gets a 6-speed automatic. Fuel economy for the rear-wheel-drive model should be slightly better than last year's already decent 19 miles per gallon city/28 mpg hwy, while the all-wheel-drive model checks in at 19 mpg city/26 mpg hwy.
If you want a little more power, the rear-wheel-drive-only GS 450h hybrid provides it. Rated at a combined 338 hp, the GS hybrid employs an Atkinson-cycle V6, an electric motor and a nickel-metal hydride battery pack. The transmission is a CVT. Fuel economy is an outstanding 29 mpg city/34 mpg hwy.
Standard Features & Options
The 2014 Lexus GS sedan is offered in GS 350, GS 350 AWD and GS 450h trim levels.
The GS 350 ($48,610) comes standard with 17-inch alloy wheels, xenon headlights, a sunroof, keyless entry with push-button ignition, a power tilt-telescopic steering wheel, 10-way power front seats with manual fore/aft headrest adjustability, leather upholstery, driver memory functions, electroluminescent gauges, a trip computer with a color TFT display, an 8-in infotainment screen with the Remote Touch mouselike controller, dual-zone automatic climate control, Bluetooth and a 12-speaker surround-sound audio system with DVD audio capability, satellite radio, an auxiliary input and iPod/USB connectivity.
The GS 350 AWD ($50,860) adds all-wheel drive but loses a couple of speeds in its transmission, while the GS 450h ($60,510) gets the fancy hybrid powertrain, unique hybrid-themed gauges and readouts, exclusive bamboo trim, heated and ventilated front seats, a heated steering wheel and a power rear sunshade.
Aside from the bamboo trim and hybrid gear, the GS 450h's extra features are available on other GS models as options. Additional options include 18-in wheels, adaptive suspension dampers, a sunroof, a blind spot warning system with rear cross-traffic alert, a head-up display (with full color for 2014), 18-way Multi-contour power front seats (BMW and Mercedes, perhaps not coincidentally, use this term too), semi-aniline perforated leather upholstery, a 17-speaker, 835-watt Mark Levinson audio system and a hard-drive-based navigation system with a 12.3-in widescreen display, a text-to-speech SMS function and the Lexus Enform with Safety Connect telematics suite.
There's also an enthusiast-oriented F Sport package (not available on the hybrid) that adds 19-in wheels, rear-wheel steering (rear-wheel drive only) assorted exterior styling cues, bigger front brakes, sport-tuned adaptive dampers, a 16-way power sport driver's seat with adjustable side bolsters and unique interior materials.
Trunk space measures an average 14.3 cu ft in the GS (13.2 cu ft in the hybrid).
The 2014 Lexus GS comes with standard stability control, 4-wheel anti-lock disc brakes and 10 airbags (front, front side, front knee, rear side and full-length side curtain). All models include Safety Connect, which uses the same 24-hour response center as the Enform system to get you the help you need if the unexpected occurs. A blind spot warning system with rear cross-traffic alert is optional.
The government has not crash-tested the GS, but the independent Insurance Institute for Highway Safety gave the GS its highest rating of Good in every testing category.
Behind the Wheel
The GS model's interior is a huge leap forward for the Lexus brand. Lexus has veered toward merely Toyota-plus quality in recent years, but the GS is unmistakably upscale, from the supple dashboard materials with contrast stitching to the exquisite perforated leather trim in fancier models. The hybrid-powered GS 450h even offers bright bamboo trim that wouldn't be out of place on a luxury yacht. The back seat is another win for Lexus. With ample legroom, excellent support all around and a sleek, business-class feel, the rear quarters make the GS as satisfying to ride in as it is to drive.
Under the hood, the standard V6 is largely unchanged from the previous GS 350's V6, but it's still a gem, delivering its direct-injected thrust with vigor and refinement. The new-for-2014 8-speed automatic (rear-wheel drive only) improves fuel economy and helps the engine stay in its sweet spot during acceleration. Our only complaint is that Lexus doesn't offer a ridiculously powerful optional engine like the German twin-turbo V8s or the Infiniti M56's V8.
Although the hybrid system's added weight keeps the more powerful GS 450h from being notably faster than its conventional counterpart, there's no doubt that this is one hot hybrid, particularly with new software that simulates the shifts of a regular automatic. Like all Toyota/Lexus hybrids, the GS 450h is of the dual-mode variety, so it can operate solely on electric power at low speeds and under light throttle applications.
On the road, the GS has that confident, controlled attitude at speed that sets great luxury sport sedans apart. The steering feels artificial, but it's very responsive to driver inputs, and there's no slack to speak of. The GS is a rather long car, so it feels bulky in tight corners, but body roll is kept nicely in check, especially with the F Sport's sport-tuned adaptive dampers and unusual rear-steering feature. Nonetheless, even the F Sport retains a pleasantly supple ride on imperfect pavement, though the base GS is more compliant, and the optional non-sport-tuned adaptive dampers make it smoother still. Road and wind noise are appropriately low.
Other Cars to Consider
Audi A6 3.0T -- Feature for feature, you'll pay more for the Audi, but you'll get superior acceleration in return, as well as more restrained styling. This is a close race, though.
BMW 5 Series -- Any 5 Series model is a strong GS rival, and there's even a new hybrid version. Although the BMW has lost its old athletic edge, it's still capable, and it boasts fantastic engines and a beautiful interior.
Infiniti M -- The V6-powered M37 is less refined than the GS 350, but the M is also offered as a hybrid, and then there's the M56 with its astounding 5.6-liter V8. Moreover, the Infiniti has one of the nicest cabins around.
We're not sold on the F Sport's ambitious styling tweaks, but we love the 16-way sport driver's seat -- and you can't get it unless you check the F Sport box. Still, even the base GS is well-equipped.