My Week in a 2013 Lexus GS 350 F Sport

The 2013 Lexus GS 350 F Sport gets a lot of attention. A lot of attention. I just spent a week driving one, and everywhere I went, passing cars slowed to inspect the F Sport’s flanks, passengers snapped pictures on their phones, thumbs turned upward, passersby in parking lots stopped to ask questions and admire. Four-door sedans usually aren’t the objects of such intense scrutiny and interest, but somehow this Lexus creates a commotion nearly on par with a Kaiju bubbling up from the Pacific Rim — and I think I know why.

Lexus has nailed its target audience with this one. While sports cars can be found on the typical enthusiast’s dream list, practicality demands that many buyers out there are instead shopping for a spacious, versatile, high-quality sedan—from a prestigious maker—that also looks mean and brims with luxury and cool tech. The F Sport covers every one of those bases. Second—and critically—this GS 350 is also within reach. Sure, an S63 AMG will rock your gizzard and prove to everyone within blast radius you’re a master of the universe. But it starts at more than $140,000. The 2013 GS 350 F Sport carries an MSRP of just under $54,000—not chump change, but hardly off the charts, either. The F Sport offers bragging rights (“Check out my sport-tuned Lexus”) for a sticker that’s reachable with a stretch.

For the full performance download, check out my colleague Kim Reynolds’ excellent F Sport First Test. In the meantime, allow me to share a few impressions I gleaned from my week behind the wheel.

  •  The car looks good. OK, the “spindle” front grille is clearly a riff on Audi’s bold new mug, and frankly a bit much, but overall the F Sport looks clean, expensive and appropriately athletic. Black particularly suits the shape. Everyone I encountered commented on how menacing the car looked in black.
  • It’s not fast—but it’s quick. Yes, we’re spoiled, but these days 306 horsepower in a machine weighing more than 3800 pounds only gets you into the choir, not up front singing solos. Having said that, the 3.5-liter V-6 is as smooth as vintage single malt, and it pairs well with the six-speed automatic (the standard paddle shifters include an automatic throttle-blip during downshifts). Far sportier than the powertrain, though, is the chassis, which offers instantaneous steering response (it’s almost too quick) and tons o’ grip. Tons. Shift the variable dampers into Sport+ and your passengers will really know you mean business. Ride quality morphs from firm to brutal, but the handling numbers suggest it works. Make no mistake: this rig is laser-sharp through the twisties—a blast to hurl around—but the ride penalty is such that you’ll leave the dampers in their softest setting 90 percent of the time. But at least you’ve got those race-car responses when you want them.
  •  The 12.3-inch center LCD display is killer. Compared with most such screens, this one is simply massive. You can call up a big nav display and keep your climate controls visible at the same time. And the images are ultra-sharp. What’s more, Lexus has really refined the “haptic” mouse-like controller; it’s a genuine pleasure to use now. You can feel a bit of “kickback” as the mouse locks onto various display buttons, and there’s audio feedback when you click. While not all of my colleagues are fans of the system, I found it to be extremely well done.
  • The Mark Levinson surround-sound audio system had me driving around the block just so I didn’t have to park. We’re talking 17 speakers, 835 watts of Class D amp power, titanium-dome tweeters, subwoofer with aramid-composite cones … I do believe I actually took a year off the life of my ears playing Trent Reznor’s “Head Like A Hole” at a volume level high enough to grill a steak.
  • The seats are outstanding. Plenty of power-adjustment options, but more important they fit well and hold you in place while tapping into the 0.91 g of available grip. Yum.
  •  It’s a conspicuously high-quality piece. There’s no faulting Lexus here: the F Sport, from its forged 19-inch alloy wheels to its leather trim, aluminum pedals, and smooth-acting buttons and switches, radiates “well-made.”

So does the GS 350 F Sport out-sport the BMW 5 Series? No. In truth, they are considerably different cars, the Lexus being the “digital” version with the 5 Series remaining very much an analog car—and each philosophy has its adherents. But Lexus has produced a very real and appealing alternative for a potentially vast audience of buyers who wants some spice mixed-in with proven Lexus quality. And on the “cool tech” front, the F Sport leaves the 5 Series in the dust.

Fair warning, though: if it’s stealth travel you’re after, you’d do better driving an ice-cream van through a Cub Scout Jamboree.