If you plan to buy a 2016 Lexus GS sedan—the midsize sedan from the Toyota-owned brand—be sure to make it the F Sport edition. That package includes enough upgrades to make the car feel as though it can compete with the rest of the luxury cars in this bracket. Which is too bad: You shouldn’t have to be upsold to feel like you’re getting your money’s worth. And on this one, you're going to need all the help you can get.
I’m not trying to start this out on a sour note, but the fact is plenty of other excellent sedans in this category (Cadillac CTS, BMW 5-Series, Audi A6, Jaguar XF, and Mercedes-Benz E Class) are better than the GS. In fact, I can’t quite imagine why you’d buy a GS at all, unless you got a very deep discount on it or are loyal to the Lexus brand for other reasons besides how the car actually performs.
This is the $50,470 sedan Lexus introduced in the early 1990s, and it has been freshened in its fourth generation for 2016. New this year are bumps in power and torque over previous years, plus an optional maintenance connect app and a Lexus Safety System with pre-collision, pedestrian detection, lane departure alert, and dynamic radar cruise control, among other safety features. If you like a four-door sedan that is just a notch above “sedate”—“reticent” might be the word—and one that probably won’t offend anyone if you get it in white and don’t flash that garish front grill too much, this is the car for you.
How to Feel Sedated
When I said other cars were “better” in the graphs above, I just meant they are tighter, faster, and more nimble to drive, and more modern, with better technology inside.
So, yes. Better.
The 2016 GS 350 F Sport I drove cost $61,290, which includes the F Sport package of rain-sensing wipers, ventilated front seats, 19-inch alloy wheels, F-Sport badges and tuning, aluminum trimming, and a unique front fascia, grille, and rear lip spoiler, among other things. It also adds 19-inch five-spoke alloy wheels that are staggered (wider in the rear than in front) enough to give the car the slightest crouching stance, which it certainly needs as a way to balance out the drama of its gaping front grille.
It comes with a 3.5-liter V6 engine that gets 311 horsepower and 280 pound-feet of torque. (Contrast that with the 335-hp Cadillac CTS V6; the 333-hp Audi A6 V6; and the 340-hp Jaguar XF V6, for instance.) I drove the one with an AWD six-speed automatic transmission and four drive modes (Eco, Normal, Sport and Sport+).
Driving it made me feel 15 years older than I am now: The GS350 won’t be hurried for anything. The steering is loose like a Friday night, and the lack of urgency when I pushed the gas pedal got me burned after stoplights by C-Class Mercedes and Bimmers left and right. Again, the options from Audi, BMW, Jaguar, and Mercedes are all speedier than this one. I missed making green lights as I crossed Manhattan on 23rd Street, because every time I stepped on the gas it felt as if the car had nodded off—you feel you’re nudging it to keep awake every time you need to sprint.
Zero to 60 mph in the GS350 F Sport is 5.7 seconds, which is more than half a second slower than the Audi A6 and Jaguar XF and more than a full second slower than the BMW 5 Series.
The brakes are good, though—they’re precisely attentive and capable. And the suspension carpets your way over potholes and through construction zones well. Credit Lexus’ good adjustable damping, active torque control, and multilink rear suspension for that.
Spacious, but Low-Tech
Inside the GS 350 F Sport you will find lots of room—plenty for five adults to go to, say, Target—and a baffling padded thing on the center console where you are supposed to lightly rest your wrist, as if you can’t lift the weight of your own hand. Oh, it’s nothing new—we’ve seen this weird gamer-friendly setup on lots of other Lexi (is that the plural?) before. But it still seems so awkward—it’s difficult to control precisely, especially when in motion driving.
You control the standard navigation, satellite radio, and Bluetooth using this joystick thing—it makes little pings as you move the curser—and the 12.3-inch screen that accompanies it. Splurge on the very good Mark Levinson surround sound ($1,380) and park assist ($500). The F Sport heated leather steering wheel $150 is nice, too, despite being too thin and wide in circumference to give you a real feel for the road. You might as well give yourself something to distract and charm. Skip the $400 power one-touch trunk because slamming the thing is so much more satisfying.
Here are some nice things I can say about the GS F Sport: The trunk is big enough for any road trip; the leather feels nice and thick to the touch. The triple-beam headlamps ($1,795) shine like cushion-cut diamonds in a new engagement ring. The bolstered sport seats are comfortable and breathe well, even on hot Manhattan afternoons. (Get the ventilation option for best results.)
Lexus offers eight colors in its standard GS F Sport range; the “Ultra White” exterior and “Rioja Red” leather interior I had looked good enough together that several discerning passengers I invited aboard complimented them. The trim and power-heated front seats come standard—it’s a nice touch.
Efficiency on Par
If you take the Lexus GS 350 F Sport up through town to some open road, you’ll find it can get 19 mpg in the city and 26 mpg on the highway. This is roughly par for the course in this segment, though if you want maximum efficiency, try the GS Hybrid, which achieves 8 mpg more on the highway (and is a split-second faster to boot). The GS F Sport numbers will likely improve with the next-generation GS.
After reading this, you may think I hated the GS 350 F Sport. I don’t—it’s a decent, inoffensive, mass-produced conveyance for getting from point A to point B without feeling anything about anything, ever. Except for maybe slight annoyance at that haptic joystick and the intrusion of a bolster hand pad. But if you’re looking for something more exciting to drive and ride in, or even just something put together better, skip it.