The Lexus GS is a rear-wheel-drive sports sedan, not to be confused with the Lexus ES front-wheel-drive near-luxury family sedan. It competes with the Mercedes-Benz E-Class, BMW 5 Series, Audi A6, and Infiniti Q70. It was last redesigned in 2013. Changes for 2018 are minimal.
However the newest model, the 2.0-liter turbo introduced for 2017, gets its name changed from GS 200t to GS 300. And the GS 350, with a V6, gets five more horsepower. Also the Enform safety connect and service connect features come free for ten years.
The 2018 Lexus GS 300 2.0 turbo makes 241 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque, and is mated to a paddle-shifting eight-speed automatic transmission. It can accelerate from zero to 60 in 7.2 seconds, which isn’t so quick for a sports sedan, but the paddle-shifters help the kickdown response. It gets good fuel mileage, which is the reason it was introduced into the lineup: an EPA-estimated 29/34 mpg City/Highway, 31 mpg Combined. But GS 300 requires Premium fuel, so there goes the savings. So do all the other GS models, including the hybrid.
The 2018 Lexus GS 350 feels more like a sports sedan, with its 3.5-liter V6 having direct injection, variable valve timing, and making 311 horsepower; it too uses the paddle-shifting eight-speed automatic. All-wheel drive is available with the GS 350, but that uses an older six-speed automatic. The GS 350 shortens the zero-to-sixty time to 5.7 seconds, but sucks the fuel consumption down to 23 Combined miles per gallon.
The GS 450h hybrid with rear-wheel drive is two-tenths quicker to 60 mph than the GS 350, while getting the same 29/34/31 mpg as the GS 300. Its speed comes from an Atkinson-cycle version of the V6, mated to a 147-kilowatt motor and 30-kilowatt nickel-metal-hydride battery pack, for a total of 338 horsepower, with and 257-pound feet of torque. The downside is it doesn’t have sporty handling, and any other sportiness it might have is stolen by its continuously variable transmission.
The GS F Sport brings the sporty. The F Sport package is available with every model, and features a sports suspension along with sportier exterior and interior trim, and upgraded features. A GS F Sport might compete with the Acura RLX Sport Hybrid SH-AWD.
If the F Sport isn’t enough, there is the GS F that competes with the BMW M5, Mercedes-Benz E63 AMG, Cadillac CTS-V, and Audi RS 7. It uses a 5.0-liter V8 making a 467-horsepower and 389 pound-feet of torque, to accelerate from zero to sixty in a fairly blistering 4.5 seconds. With both direct injection and port injection, and using both the Otto and Atkinson cycles, it gets 19 miles per gallon Combined. That might not sound like much, but for 467 horsepower it’s impressive.
The 2018 GS 300 comes with the 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine, 8-speed automatic, and rear-wheel drive. includes 10-way power seats, leather in soft hues, 10 airbags, rearview camera, satellite radio, iPod, Bluetooth with audio streaming, and Remote Touch, the mouse-like controller. Options include active cruise control with emergency braking, a head-up display, and night vision.
GS 350 comes with a V6 engine and is available with rear-wheel drive and the eight-speed transmission, or all-wheel drive and the six-speed.
The GS 450h features the hybrid gas-electric powertrain, CVT, and rear-wheel drive.
GS F features the high-performance 5.0-liter V8 engine, eight-speed automatic with Sport Direct-Shift, and rear-wheel drive.
The large spindle grille announces Lexus. It’s drawn like an hourglass with boomerang shapes on each side. The L-shaped headlamps bristle with LED lighting including turn signals and daytime running lights, while the taillamps are LED as well.
Naturally the F Sport model is more aggressive, with a bolder spindle at the grille, air intakes for the transmission and oil coolers, and aerodynamic tweaks. The wide front fenders have vents that draw hot air out from under the hood. Big rocker panels lower the sides, while a carbon-fiber spoiler and quadruple exhaust outlets coming from a diffuser make the car look mean from the rear.
Compared to most other Lexuses, the cabin of the GS, especially the instrument panel, seems Spartan. But the fit and finish is excellent, with one exception: the haptic joystick on the console fits with a gap at its side. Overall the cabin is elegant, warm and inviting, thanks a lot to soft ambient lighting around the edges. And the materials are a cut above those in the German luxury sedans, with padded leather panels and wood trim in rich shades. The leather seams are carefully stitched, but it might be overkill, there are so many.
The instrument panel features big gauges that are crisp and clear, along with a huge 12.3-inch high-resolution display. The plastics are of a high quality, with metallic trim around the analog clock that has become almost a Lexus affectation, stubbornly present despite being hard to read. The glovebox is deep, the center console has a sliding cover, and the door pockets are useful, so small storage is adequate.
The 10-way power seats are comfortable and supportive, while the available 18-way power seats have heating and ventilation. The F Sport seats have more bolstering for hard cornering. The GS F seats are exceptionally comfortable and supportive, in perforated leather to match the steering wheel, with other Alcantara leather bits elsewhere. Also aluminum pedals and carbon fiber trim.
The rear has good head room, but only enough knee room for small children, so it’s not much consolation that the rear doors are wide. That makes it easier to climb into a place where you won’t want to be, but at least it’s also easier to make a quick getaway which you’ll want to do. Heated seats and climate control in the rear are available, to be enjoyed by pampered small children.
The trunk is shallow but the opening is wide and there’s a pass-through for long objects like skis.
The Lexus GS models have different driving dynamics.
The GS 300 is afflicted with turbo lag, a frustrating pause when you floor it. Even the Sport Plus mode can’t fix it. The eight-speed transmission can be fussy going uphill, too quick to upshift and downshift; sometimes you have to switch to Manual mode and shift yourself with the paddles, just to get it to stop shifting too much in the Normal mode.
In the GS 350, the 311-horsepower V6 solves the acceleration issue, especially above 3000 rpm. Sport mode is clearly sporty, in the manner it works the eight-speed transmission. The all-wheel-drive GS 350 with its older six-speed transmission is a bit less quick.
The GS 450h hybrid is fast, comfortable and quiet, with a semi-active suspension. It offers less driving feel than the other GS models, but then hybrids aren’t known for their feeling of connectedness to the road. An F Sport package helps, but it can’t bring much soul to the CVT transmission; although Lexus has helped some, by programming eight steps into the transmission so it feels more like an automatic.
Driving modes of Eco, Sport, Sport+, and EV each further re-program the CVT and the light-touch electric power steering. The brakes have regenerative rigidity with not much braking sensation.
All GS models have electric power steering that’s nimble and communicative, and a lightweight multi-link suspension front and rear that provides a tight ride but low tolerance for bumps. With its stiff chassis, the GS handles well on standard 17-inch, 50-series tires, while the ride is more composed than most of its rivals. An adaptive suspension and active steering are available, and they do set a new benchmark on the F Sports, but we don’t think the GS needs it. The GS actually feels capable on the track.
Active rear steering is available; it turns the rear wheels a tiny bit, in the opposite direction of the fronts, to pivot the car, adding stability in quick moves.
The 5.0-liter V8 in the GS F revs to 7300 rpm with a sweet howl, piped into the cabin and heard like background music through two speakers, one front, one rear. It’s normally aspirated, so it’s not as fast as the supercharged Cadillac CTS-V or turbocharged BMW M5 and Mercedes E63 AMG. But at 4034 pounds, the GS F weighs 111 pounds less than the Cadillac, and 356 pounds less than the fat German M5.
You can feel that relative lightness in the handling. Its dynamic personality is small, thanks also to torque-vectoring that makes the car respond better in turns. In Normal mode, the steering is light and delightfully quick. If you push it past the grip of the sticky Michelin Pilot Super Sport tires, the stability control will save you. If you switch to Sport S or Sport S+ mode, and put the differential in Slalom or Track mode, the F is happy to grip and rotate for you.
And it stops quickly like a lighter car, with big Brembo brakes using 15-inch front rotors and 13.5-inch rears. The eight-speed automatic transmission is crisp, smooth and responsive, although not as sharp as a good dual-clutch like the BMW.
The suspension is double-wishbone front and multi-link rear. Two front arms and two rear links are aluminum, reducing unsprung weight. The chassis is stiffened with four underbody braces, while the shocks, springs and bushings are firmer, and the steering geometry both front and rear is changed. The ride is reasonable, so it’s a fairly comfortable cruiser.
The GS 300 suffers from lazy acceleration and turbo lag, but gets good mileage. The GS 350 has the speed but gets much less mileage. The GS 450h hybrid has both speed and mileage but suffers from soft handling and a CVT transmission. The GS F is a worthy super-sport sedan, but very expensive. All of the GS sedans have a rear seat that’s too small, and require Premium fuel.
Sam Moses contributed to this report.