One year after the introduction, Lexus has added some hot sauce to the ingredients that make up its redesigned six-cylinder GS sedan.
The extra spice is provided by a new engine that moves the GS ahead of its V-6 Mercedes-Benz, BMW, Audi and Cadillac competitors in the horsepower department.
When the car was introduced as the GS 300 in 2005, it came with a three-liter, aluminum V-6 motor that produced 245 horsepower and 230 pound-feet of torque.
The V-6 was whisper quiet and super smooth - just what youd expect from a Lexus - but the response from the engine room was merely adequate. The GS 300 certainly didnt offer the brisk acceleration one might expect from an expensive sedan with at least semi-sporty credentials.
The deficiency became more obvious when compared with parent Toyotas down-market Avalon and its 3.5-liter V-6 that generates 268 horsepower. On top of that, Lexus then introduced its less expensive, entry-level ES 350 luxury sedan with a 272-horsepower version of the Avalon engine.
Something had to be done. So, working with the same basic 3.5-liter V-6, Lexus engineers managed to add an extra 58 horsepower and another 44 pound-feet of torque.
The upgraded powerplant gives the mid-size sedan, now known as the GS 350, a personality transplant that is obvious at the first touch of the accelerator. The 0-60 mph run drops from a leisurely seven seconds to an authoritative 5.7. Passing ability, especially on two-lane hills, goes from maybe to no problem. A merely adequate 245 horsepower has been replaced by a confidence inspiring 303.
Its not too often that you get a lot for a little when buying a car, but Lexus has done just that with the GS 350. The base price of the all-wheel-drive sedan I drove is $46,100, a mere $600 more than the AWD GS 300 I tested when the new car first came out. Thats a mere $10.34 per horse. Customers opting for a rear-wheel-drive sedan can figure on paying about $2,000 less for their cars.
Buyers of the GS 350 wont be shelling out much more at the pump, either, although both the old and new engines drink premium fuel. The GS 350s EPA rating is 18 mpg in city driving and 25 mpg on the open road. The less powerful GS 300 was rated at 18 mpg city/25 mpg highway.
Once you get past the engine, the GS 350 is essentially identical to the GS 300.
The transmission is the six-speed automatic that shifted seamlessly in the less powerful car. This time, however, it doesnt have to shift as much.
As before, the all-wheel-drive system splits power 30 percent to the front wheels and 70 per cent to the rear wheels in dry-road driving. When the roads turn slippery, the power split changes to 50/50.
The independent suspension, speed-sensitive power steering and all-wheel antilock brakes contribute to the cars semi-sporty qualifications. The ride is comfortable, the cornering competent and the brakes fade-free. However, the steering, although accurate, is a bit numb.
Still, like most Lexus models, the GS 350 is more about luxury than it is about sport. The car simply does not inspire aggressive driving so much as it encourages long-distance cruising.
For an additional dose of fun behind the wheel the Lexus buyer may prefer the V8- powered GS 430, which uses electronics to automatically adjust the suspension settings depending on road conditions. It also allows the driver to adjust the suspension settings four ways depending on personal driving style. The V-8 powered sedan is available only with rear-wheel-drive.
But, like the GS 300, the GS 430 has become something of an anomaly. Its V-8 engine generates only 300 horsepower and offers performance nearly identical to that of the GS 350. The guess here is that its engine compartment will soon get an upgrade to the 4.6-liter powerplant used in the new Lexus LS 460 flagship, although it probably wont equal that cars 380-horsepower output.
The ultimate GS, for now, is the hybrid powered GS 450h, which combines a V-6 engine and electric motor to produce a combined 340 horsepower and 5.2 second 0-60 mph times. It, too, has the adjustable suspension.
Loaded with all the luxury equipment Lexus offers, the traditional mid-size Lexus sedans can have price tags well above $50,000 and the hybrid hot rod can approach $60,000. The GS I drove was, by comparison, a real bargain.
With only all-wheel-drive and $600 worth of minor extras (a small rear spoiler, ventilated seats, cargo net, mats and wheel locks), it carried a price tag of $47,412. But it was hardly a spartan vehicle with its standard leather upholstery, wood trim, power seats, sunroof, climate control, 10-speaker sound-system, and more. And, just like all GS models, it had a full complement of the latest safety equipment.
The only thing conspicuously absent was the combination navigation/premium sound system which added more than $4,000 to the price of the last GS I drove.
If you can keep the option list to a minimum, the satisfyingly powerful Lexus GS 350 may just be the best bet for the money.
4.3-liter V8, DOHC 32 valve with continuously variable valve timing with intelligence (VVT-i).
3.5 liter V6, DOHC 24 valve with dual continuously variable valve timing with intelligence (VVT-i)