San Francisco Sprint: Driving the Lexus GS 350 F SPORT

GS-350-ClubLexus-Review-lead-600x350.jpg"Man, I could totally get used to this!" That was, after riding shotgun for approximately a block and half, my buddy's first observation about the 2013 GS 350 F SPORT. And while being a broke undergraduate means he's a couple of light years south of the lux-laden sports sedan's target demo, after spending a week and close to 1000 miles behind the wheel, I can attest that getting used to the redesigned GS is far from difficult. Enthusiasts will find a lot to like.

"Combat park, and the GS appears to be surveying the lot for something tasty to cull from the herd."

First on the list? The front fascia. While the lines of the last generation GS might be generously described as the "darker side of beige," the front clip of Lexus' latest sport-tuned mid-size is defined by a razor-sharp, predatory glare. The Liquid Platinum paint on our test car muted the chrome trim at the edges of the spindle grill's top section--which I think amplified its aggressive elements--and the pointed flares at the base of the spindle grill hint, quite correctly, that this baby has some teeth. Combat park, and the beefy 3844lb sedan appears to be surveying the lot for something tasty to cull from the herd. While I'd appreciate more of that attack-oriented attitude on the body--there's room for some muscular definition along the doors--beneath the C pillar, the hindquarters of the GS resume the business end's more sculpted lines. The ClubLexus editors universally liked the 19" alloy wheels which came with the F SPORT package. 

That said, cars are about how they drive. So after spending a few days navigating the famously clogged arteries of Los Angeles, and since we've recently tested a somewhat better platform for an aggravated assault on the canyons, I decided to stretch the sexy sedan's legs with a sprint up to San Fran.

 While I debated a couple of different routes for my strafing mission between California's coolest destinations, a late start and a dinner date dictated I opt for the efficiency of the 5. Now, plenty of my SoCal friends have described this drive as monotonous, but I've only been a Golden State resident for a few years, and I've yet to tire of ripping across its barren desert country--particularly when I'm driving someone else's luxury car and I can expense the gas. So while I might not have experienced the iconic Highway 1 on this trip, I had an absolute blast. 

While the F SPORT's engine is the same mill found in the standard GS, all the underpinnings have been quite rightly stiffened up and tuned for performance. Now over the last few years, the horsepower wars have gotten out of control. I mean, in 2012, Ford sold a 1000hp Mustang, which is just ridiculous. But it still seems a little silly to look at the stats on the GS 350 and think its 3.5 all-aluminum V6 is "only" packing a tick over 300hp and 274lb-ft of torque--though I'll admit I did. That said? The chassis, six-speed transmission and engine meld beautifully, and the nimble handling makes it feel far lighter than it is. One option I would have liked? A third pedal. I know computers are better at shifting, and I know we're living in the twilight years of the manual gearbox--I still want to row my own gears.    
"Ripping across California's barren country rules. Particularly when I'm driving someone else's luxury car and expensing gas."

But I'm no Luddite, and there's plenty of upside to new-school tech. In a world where seemingly every new vehicle is equipped with a variety of--often indistinguishable--performance settings, the modes on the GS make a profound difference in the car's behavior. To compare, switching from Eco to Sport + is like swapping out a Super Soaker for a GLOCK 19. Select the top end of the dial, and the GS gets a shot of adrenalin. The adaptive suspension snaps into attack position, the steering quickens and the electronic nannies loosen the reigns enough that drivers can experience some pleasant--but far from dangerous--oversteer. 

The EPA estimates the F SPORT will achieve 19mpg city and 28mpg highway, and if you drive in Eco I'm sure you could hit those numbers. Did I even attempt to do so? Nope. I was far too concerned about playing with the paddle shifters--which blip aggressively during downshifts--and burying my right foot in the carpet to be distracted by pedestrian concerns like miles per gallon. Because the GS F SPORT is an honest-to-goodness kick in the pants to drive, and any enthusiast who hops behind the wheel will feel it. Sure, the electric steering feels a little numb, but overall this silver bullet was a hoot.
While the touch points are all soft, and the leather was supple, there's nothing flashy about the cabin. My sole complaint about the infotainment system was the fact that I couldn't figure out how to raise the volume on the directions coming from the nav. I probably could have figured it out, but then again, I shouldn't have to. It'd have been nice to be able to select a British woman's voice too, but that's just a personal preference. The 835 watt Mark Levinson audio system, predictably, was wicked. There are old-school knobs on it, which is a welcome change from some of the infuriatingly complicated ICE controls the better-mousetrap school of design is currently forcing on drivers. While the GS was devouring the miles toward San Francisco, I had the climate control set to induce hypothermia, the seat warmers on broil and the icy beats of Portishead booming across the 17 speakers, and it felt, quite pleasantly, like I was piloting some kind of luxury space craft. 

"To compare, switching from Eco to Sport + feels like swapping out a Super Soaker in favor of a GLOCK 19."

Traffic was blissfully non-existent for most of my journey, and while I did get a $31 toll evasion ticket on the Bay Bridge and have a cringe-inducing encounter with a steep driveway, my little road trip with the GS F SPORT was fantastic. After arriving in the Haight--"Damn, you made great time!"--my friends and I walked out for drinks, had some of the most amazing tacos I've ever tasted at Tacoliscious, and essentially crashed. 

The next morning I woke up bright and early and blasted back to Los Angeles--I couldn't wait to get back behind the wheel. The engineers who undoubtedly sweated the details on the GS 350 F SPORT should be proud. But they're probably too busy perfecting the 2015 GS F to reflect much.

Sharlaigne Leo (Fri, 15 Aug 2014 21:40:01 -0700): bagus!! BABY!!