published Saturday, February 11th, 2012

Kennedy: Lexus GS has landed

From a three-quarters angle, the new GS looks
like it could rev up and take flight like a jet fighter.
Photo by Mark Kennedy
From a three-quarters angle, the new GS looks like it could rev up and take flight like a jet fighter. Photo by Mark Kennedy

FAST FACTS


Model: 2013 Lexus GS 350

Exterior color: Obsidian (black)

Interior: Flaxen (leather)

Engine: 3.6-liter V-6

Horsepower: 306

Transmission: Six-speed automatic

Fuel economy: 28 mpg highway, 19 city

Dealer: Lexus of Chattanooga

Price (as tested): $58,709

Get 'em while they're hot.

The scorching new 2013 Lexus GS 350 has just landed at Lexus of Chattanooga on Brainerd Road. And, indeed, landed is the right word because the new GS looks like it could be the fuselage of a jet aircraft.

For years the GS, Lexus' performance sedan, has frankly been an underperformer. The GS was sorely in need of a major update, and the clean-sheet redesign is, in a word, breathtaking.

Lexus is clearly hoping to win over customers who might otherwise default to the icons of the class, the BMW 535i and the Mercedes-Benz E350. Judging from our test drive, I'd say the German luxury brands have a fight on their hands.

"It's an amazing car," said sales consultant Larry Holder, before excusing himself to take a cell phone call from the latest customer asking if the new GS 350 had arrived.

In fact, there were two copies on the lot early last week.

If you spend much time at the Lexus store, someone might hand you a glossy, 48-page booklet that does nothing but compare the GS and all of its vital statistics to the corresponding Bimmer and the Benz.

STYLING

With some cars you circle and then shrug. Other cars, like the 2013 GS, demand a closer look as you take inventory of all the interesting design elements.

The car's striking front end -- Lexus calls it a spindle grille --channels much of the new aggressiveness. The aircraft-inspired nose gives the car a swagger, almost like a Clark Gable smirk.

Inside, a new dash architecture is arranged around a multifunction display screen that, at 12.3 inches, is bigger than some college dorm-room televisions. The display divides itself into spilt-screen mode so it can, for example, show navigation and radio functions simultaneously.

The buttery Flaxen-leather seats (think light, saddle brown) in our GS 350 tester provided just the right contrast to the elegant dark brown walnut trim. The padded dash is simple and elegant, with an analog clock that looks like a piece of high-end jewelry. A compact shifter has short throws which add to the Swiss watch-like precision of the driving experience.

As in every Lexus, all the touch surfaces of the new GS are paramount to the luxury experience. Rich materials, such as the leather and wood steering wheel components, are everywhere your hands land. The toggle on the center stack, which controls the media function, responds as eagerly as a computer mouse.

DRIVING IMPRESSIONS

First, the salient fact -- the new GS travels zero to 60 miles per hour in a mere 5.7 seconds, a few ticks better than the Mercedes E-class and on par with the BMW 5 series. The GS comes standard with a drive mode selector, which fine-tunes the throttle response to your taste.

The six-speed transmission is whisper quiet, and the gear changes are almost imperceptible. Yet, lower your right foot sufficiently, and a healthy exhaust note lets you know there are more than 300 horses waiting at your command.

On an afternoon test drive on King's Point Road, I intentionally found some uneven pavement to push the GS across. The suspension, which features innovative aluminum control arms, absorbed the bumps with ease.

Our test car came equipped with such cutting-edge safety features as a blind-spot monitoring system which signals in your side mirror when a vehicle is tucked beside you. There was also a neat head's-up display which projects speed and navigation information onto the windshield so a driver's eyes never need leave the road.

Other luxury amenities on the test car included rain-sensing wipers, 18-way power seats, a Mark Levinson Premium sound package with 17 speakers, and navigation.

BOTTOM LINE

Time will tell if the new GS is a hit in the marketplace. But all the pieces are in place for a successful launch. One thing's for sure, the GS has moved to the front of the Lexus showroom and might be on the leading edge of new products designed to re-energize the venerable luxury brand to appeal to a new generation of upscale buyers.

about Mark Kennedy...

Mark Kennedy is a Times Free Press columnist and editor. He writes the "LIfe Stories" human interest column for the City section and the "Family Life" column for the Life section. He also writes an automotive column, “Test Drive,” for the Business section. For 13 years, Kennedy was features editor of the newspaper, and before that he was the newspaper’s first Sunday editor. The Times Free Press Life section won the state press award for ...

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