April 19 (Bloomberg) -- Sneak attack! My Lexus GS350 F Sport sedan is nose to nose with a Mustang GT at a stoplight. The road before us scrolls up a mountain pass. The Ford driver guns it.
Halfway up the hill the driver glances over and finds me right next to him. I actually see his brow furrow. A bit later something similar happens when I beat a BMW M3 out of a deep C-shaped turn.
Sure, I’ve got something to prove. In most circumstances the GS350 with all-wheel-drive is not going to thump a M3. (Like I said, sneak attack.) But if the flesh is willing, so is this Lexus.
I used to call the previous GS models lifeless and lustless. Those terms no longer apply. Lexus engineers knew they had to inject some shock-and-awe into the fourth generation of the midsize GS sedan.
More than 300,000 have been sold worldwide, competing with Audi A6, BMW 5 Series and Mercedes-Benz E-Class. It has often led the class in terms of interior and relative luxury, but was only a “meh” in terms of an entertaining drive.
The 2013 GS350 starts at just over $50,000. My test model, in slightly sinister “Obsidian” paint, included a $5,700 F Sport package, a $900 heads-up display and navigation and premium stereo packages. It had all the technology I would care for, including rain-sensing windshield wipers and blind-spot detection.
In all, it came to $61,204. That’s extremely competitive with a BMW 535i xDrive sedan, which starts at $55,700 and similarly loaded runs to almost $69,000.
Don’t let me mislead you: The GS350 is no Lexus rocket ship, nor is it a driver’s machine like the BMW. This four-door’s main goal is to carry passengers in comfort, with a dose of hop-to-it-ivness when desired.
The previous GS lacked any pretense at exterior style; it was a sleeping pill of a car. The generational change is immediately obvious from the very first glance.
The GS350 F Sport has a sculptured, three-dimensional front end, with deep folds that frame the mesh grill. It looks uncannily like the mouthpiece of Darth Vader’s helmet.
The design cues actually come from a Lexus concept car, the LF-Gh, and Lexus’s attempt at a supercar, the LFA. Compared with the rest of the rather conservative body, the GS’s front is busy and a bit convoluted. It sure has attitude.
The F Sport package includes 19-inch-wheels, which in profile give the GS a poised stance. More importantly, you also get retuned steering and suspension systems, and bigger brakes in the front.
Get-up-and-go comes from a direct-injected, 3.5-liter V-6 with 306 horsepower and 277 pound-feet of torque. Engineers tuned it brilliantly. Gliding around town gets you a suggestive hum; pound on the gas and it overflows into a throaty gurgle.
Its steering is weighty and precise, and the best of any Lexus I’ve tested outside of the LFA, which at $375,000 is a straight-up racecar. (It was also a bit of a commercial flop. The supercar was supposed to be the brand’s halo car, but the type of person who buys a Lexus doesn’t seem to care.)
The GS350’s chassis floats over bumps and cracks, which is mostly welcome around New York’s weather-ravaged roads. I would have preferred more tactile feedback transmitted through the steering wheel, giving an idea of the road surface and traction conditions. It feels the same on dry pavement as it does after an afternoon shower.
The car offers two settings designed for more aggressive driving, sport and sport plus, but they amount to overkill. The GS is hardly going to brook extreme driving. It’s still a Lexus, after all.
The automatic transmission has only six gears, and it normally shifts around 3,000 rpms. (There’s also an eco-mode, for even more economical gear changes and a lessened throttle response.) Shifts are sluggish rather than crisp, and far less smooth than I’d expect.
To actuate shifts closer to the redline, you must engage “manual” mode by pulling the leather-coated shifter to the left and engaging the behind-the-wheel paddles. I found myself using this mode frequently so I could downshift before passing on the highway.
Lexus has paid keen attention to the interior. The seats contour nicely to your body, the contrasting stitching along leather surfaces is nicely done, and shiny metal accents look expensive and modern. Flick the stalk on the blinker and it feels almost buttery.
Despite the amount of first-tier technology, the center console is uncluttered and functions are fairly easy to figure out. That includes the mouse-like controller that sits on the center stack to the driver’s right.
A cursor can be moved around a massive, 12.3-inch, widescreen display to control the stereo, navigation system and car settings.
Will the latest GS350 entice away 5 Series drivers? That’s unlikely. But it’s certain to find buyers who appreciate comfort, and aren’t afraid to stand on the gas once in a while.
Especially when there’s a Mustang in the next lane.
The 2013 Lexus GS350 with F Sport Package at a Glance
Engine: 3.5-liter V-6 with 306 horsepower and 277 pound- feet of torque.
Transmission: Six-speed automatic.
Acceleration: 0 to 60 miles per hour in 5.6 seconds.
Gas mileage per gallon: 19 city; 26 highway.
Price as tested: $61,204.
Best feature: Interior comfort and feel.
Worst feature: Less-than-crisp transmission.
(Jason H. Harper writes about autos for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)
Today’s Muse highlights includes a technology report on “Connect by Quickoffice.”
To contact the writer of this column: Jason H. Harper at Jason@JasonHharper.com or follow on Twitter @JasonHarperSpin.
To contact the editor responsible for this column: Manuela Hoelterhoff in New York at firstname.lastname@example.org.