This is the 2011 Lexus GS 350.
Like other models in the Lexus lineup, it is a nicely styled, attractive car built with quality materials and filled with lots of user-friendly technology. The navigation system is arguably the easiest to use and with the best display, and the radio and A/C don’t require a Ph.D to operate.
What makes the GS my favorite Lexus, however, is this way it drives.
For the longest time, I found Lexus models like the LS, ES, and even the IS very comfortable vehicles to ride in and very high in styling. The RX I thought was the best-looking SUV on the road. But they simply didn’t get the juices going when you got behind the wheel and hit the accelerator.
That impression changed when I finally got to drive a GS.
I wish I could tell you exactly when that was, but it doesn’t matter. It was several years ago, and my latest experience didn’t change my impression that this is a vehicle that adds some punch to typical Lexus poshness.
The standard GS comes in two sizes, the 350 with a 3.5-liter V6, and the 460 with a 4.6-liter V8, plus a hybrid model that is built more for extra power than for fuel savings, which likely would come as a jolt to someone seeking a hybrid for its mileage.
More on that hybrid in a moment.
A six-speed automatic transmission with the capability of manual gear selection is standard in the 350, and the 350 is available in either rear-wheel or all-wheel-drive configuration. The 460 comes with an eight-speed automatic and RWD only.
The engine in the 350, which is what I drove, pumps out 303 horsepower and 274 pound-feet of torque, which, according to company clockers, will move you from a dead stop to 60 mph in 5.8 seconds.
Considering that you gain less than a half-second on that time by going with the 460, not to mention losing a couple of miles-per-gallon on the 19/26/22 that the V6 offers, I frankly don’t see the benefit gained by plunking down the extra $8,470 that the 460 adds to the 350’s $46,900 base price tag.
For that matter, neither do I see any attraction in paying an extra $12,050 for the hybrid when the 2011 delivers fuel “economy” of only 22 miles-per-gallon city, 25 highway. If you do the figuring, it would take pretty much the rest of your life to make up the savings with the hybrid over the fuel costs for the GS 350.
The GS 350 comes in only one trim level offering standard features like 17-inch wheels (18 on the 460), HID headlamps, dual exhausts, a one-touch open/close moonroof, power trunk closer, 10-way power adjusted driver and front passenger seats, a roomy backseat area, and all kinds of safety features.
One feature that is a nice touch: Lexus has put the controls for lesser-used functions, like adjusting the side mirrors, into a drop box on the far left of the ash. This helps give the interior a cleaner look with fewer buttons and switches instead of making the cabin look like the inside of a 757 cockpit.
Among options are two navigation systems.
The Lexus HDD system features Bluetooth capability, Lexus Enform (automatic collision notification, stole vehicle location, emergency assist button, enhanced roadside assistance and a one-year subscription to Destination Assist and eDestination), a backup camera, and a 90-day trial subscription to XM NavTraffic/Weather and Sports and Stocks.
With the Mark Levinson Premium Sound system with navigation, you get all that plus, well, the premium sound system with 14 speakers.
In other words, you’re getting luxury as well as performance, which is something Lexus is beginning to catch onto. The IS 250/350 now offers an upgraded performance in a slightly smaller package than the GS, and the IS F ($61,300) and LFA Coupe ($375,000) kick up the fun a couple of more notches.
The problem is that the Japanese automaker has been lagging behind its European competitors in the luxury performance field for so long it’s going to take a while to catch up.
Lexus is launching an all-new GS for 2013, skipping the 2012 model year in nomenclature, in February, moving the sedan into its fourth generation. An all-new hybrid version also is due to arrive in the spring with mileage boosted to 29/34/31.
That makes a little more sense, but not enough to get me off the 350.