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The Daily Drivers | By Peter Couture and Lyra Solochek, Times Staff Writers

The Daily Drivers: Lexus loosens up a little with GS350

We've always appreciated the build quality of Lexus, Toyota's premium brand, but found their sedans to be stodgy. After all, it was only a few years ago that you could still get one with a cassette player. So the redesigned GS350 comes as a surprise — not so much in its physical change as in its attitude. As in, it now has one.

Appearance: The most notable changes are up front, where the GS350 — ours came with the F Sport package — gets the "spindle" grille that draws its inspiration from Lexus' recent LF-LC concept car. The lower fascia also is more aggressive-looking — especially in the F Sport — with pronounced creases and ducts that bring to mind a racer. The headlights get an eyeliner LED treatment. The F Sport also brings 19-inch, five-spoke alloys with a dark graphite finish. These are sharp wheels. The car also gets a wider stance — Lexus says 2 inches worth — but the rest of the body remains mostly unchanged.

Performance: The rear-wheel-drive GS350 — AWD is available — has the same engine, a 3.5-liter V-6, and 6-speed automatic transmission as the previous generation, but tuning gives it an extra 3 horsepower to 306. Because we had the F Sport, it also had suspension, brake and steering upgrades. Those changes are noticeable: The handling is taut, and you can take corners confidently. We did find the steering feel to be a bit too light. Something new that stands out: an actual exhaust note, especially at low speeds. We found the transmission a bit finicky when trying to pass on the interstate or in quick acceleration. It's best to use the paddle shifters and Sport Plus (manual) mode, which make for a better driving experience. The harder you push it, the better it responds.

Interior: Lexus always shines when it comes to interiors, and this one didn't disappoint. It had excellent fit and finish, with sporty black perforated-leather seats and aluminum trim. We loved the 16-way adjustable driver's seat, which has power side bolsters. The GS350 has plenty of head- and legroom up front. In the rear, it's adequate, although there's not much foot room. A huge 12.3-inch display dominates the dash and is the largest we've seen. Two-thirds of it is devoted to navigation and the rest is for audio and other functions. To control that big screen, the car has a mouse — Remote Touch Multimedia Controller — to navigate. It works well, but you may find yourself wishing for a "back" button. The interior is quiet, except for that exhaust note, which is actually a comforting sound. Our tester also came with goodies such as rain-sensing wipers, heated and ventilated front seats, power rear shade and a heads-up display.

Our 3 favorites

Peter Couture

Grille: This is the new Lexus design philosophy. I hope it spreads to other design elements.

Exhaust note: A sports sedan should have one, after all.

Heads-up display: It's crisp and one of the best I've seen.

Lyra Solochek

Superb handling: Driving on curvy roads is a thrill.

F Sport seat: Driver's seat has plenty of adjustments and bolstering for those curvy roads.

LCD: The huge display dominates the dash.

The bottom line: We were prepared to not like the new GS350, but it made a new fan in Peter. The F Sport is still more "sporty" than "sport," but it's an all-around improvement that should get the German automakers' attention.









2013 Lexus GS350 with F Sport package

Price: $46,900 base start, $60,349 as tested

Powertrain:

3.5-liter V-6, 6-speed sequential shift electronically controlled automatic transmission, Drive Mode Select, paddle shifters, RWD

Horsepower: 306 at 6,400 rpm

Torque: 277 pound-feet at 4,800 rpm

Curb weight: 3,795 pounds

Dimensions

in inches:

Wheelbase, 112.2

Length, 190.7

Width, 72.4

Seats: 5

Fuel economy:

19 miles per gallon city, 28 mpg highway

Safety features: 10 airbags, Vehicle Dynamics Integrated Management with vehicle stability control, traction control, ABS, brake assist, automatic collision notification, heads-up display

Website: www.lexus.com/

models/GS

The Daily Drivers: Lexus loosens up a little with GS350 04/06/12 [Last modified: Friday, April 6, 2012 4:30am]
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