By Jim Bray
Lexus has been relentlessly, and passionately, pursuing automotive perfection since the brand first upset the luxury car market back in 1989. Does that mean its current line has reached that pinnacle of automotive excellence for which it has advertised its intent for so long?
Of course not. The only perfection in this world is my wife - followed closely by my grandson (and, yes, they made me write that) - and it isn't realistic to expect flawlessness in any mere product, especially since your idea of perfection is undoubtedly quite a bit different from mine (which, of course, means yours is wrong...).
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But they keep plugging away, redefining and refining their line and building some of the most reliable vehicles on the planet year after year.
Their mid-sized GS sports sedan is reasonably sporty, too, though folks who look for a BMW-like experience with Lexus have been disappointed because the cars, while lovely and fun, still don't have that special "je ne sais quois" of a 5 series, not that much does.
So a couple of years back Lexus introduced the F-Sport concept, kind of analogous to the "M" designation that elevates a "mere" 5 series to a serious asphalt burner. Alas, other than a couple of F cars that really did attempt "the relentless pursuit of driving perfection", including the IS F and the supercar LFA that was supposed to be spectacular (I've never driven it, darn it), the F Sport designation has become little more than a couple of optional trim levels rather than serious performance upgrades.
Nothing necessarily wrong with that, of course, but when I see "Sport" in a designation I'd like to assume it means more than sportier pedals and other gewgaws. But as usual, no one asked me.
To be fair, Lexus does offer the V8-powered RC F coupe as well as a GS F that looks to be a very cool ride. But this column deals with the regular GS, with the F Sport package(s) added to it, a very nice sedan that ups its sporting pretensions somewhat - and does a pretty good job of it - but only goes part way. This may be enough for most potential buyers, however, and as much as I'd love to tear up some asphalt with the GS F, the "garden variety" GS is still a really nice car and decent fun to drive.
And you can do a lot worse than park your butt into a Lexus!
Though it's only about half way through its current cycle, there have been changes to the handsome GS sedan for 2017. For example, all GS models now come standard with the "Lexus Safety System +" package of advanced safety technologies. This includes a Pre-Collision System, Lane Departure Alert (with, alas, steering "assist"), Automatic High Beams, and Dynamic Radar Cruise Control. As is becoming the norm these days, you can shut off the aids that rub you the wrong way the most and they'll stay off.
I do like the look of the GS, other than the off-putting "spindle" grille that looks more like a cowcatcher than a grille. Other than that, it's a fine styling job, aggressive on one hand and as classy as can be with that schnozzola on the other.
I also like the GS' 3.5 litre V6, which is a lovely and torquey power plant that moves the GS along beautifully, and very smoothly. Lexus rates it at "up to 311" horsepower and it's plenty. There's also a hybrid version, the GS 450h.
Lexus' sample was the GS 350, whose power gets to all four wheels via a decent six speed automatic transmission - and it comes with paddles that make it more interesting even though they seem a little reluctant to jump to attention when prodded - undoubtedly due to Lexus' concentration on luxury and smoothness rather than "hooning."
Inside is a comfortable and mostly efficient cabin that seats five (we had five people including one who rode in one of those ridiculously large child seats Big Brother makes mandatory these days and it was still pretty good). Interior materials are first class, as one should expect from a Lexus, and nearly everything that should be at hand is.
Instrumentation is complete and legible, the only fly in the ointment being the darn mouse-like "Remote Touch" cursor controller you have to use (or, try to use) to navigate the central LCD screen (well, there's voice control, too, but it can be frustrating). I'd much rather have a touch screen though, to be fair, if Lexus were to try that with this current design - in which the screen is mounted high atop the stack - my arms would have to be about two feet longer than they are.
That display is pretty cool, though. It's a huge 12.3 inches wide and is really two screens in one so you can have, for example, the radio presets on one side and your phone favourites on the other.
Naturally, you get luxury stuff like dual zone automatic climate control, leather upholstery, LED ambient lighting, power tilting/sliding moon roof, and lots more.
Base price for the 2017 GS 350 AWD is $57,900 CAD, and you can option it up from there. The Premium package (starting at $62,350) adds to the mix a Blind Spot Monitor with Rear Cross Traffic Alert, ventilated front seats (they're heated already), a power assisted trunk, clearance and back-up sensors, premium LED headlamps, etc.
Starting at $69,150, the Executive package ups the ante with adaptive variable suspension, 19 inch wheels (18 inchers are standard), woodgrain and leather-wrapped steering wheel, heated rear seats and rear seat climate controls, premium leather, a 17 speaker Mark Levinson audio system, 18 way power adjustable driver and front passenger seats, a heads up display, etc.
Then there's the F SPORT Series 2 package of Lexus Canada's sample (starting at $68,500 CAD), which adds more aggressive styling stuff such as F SPORT wheels, a mesh grille, rear spoiler, and more, including interior tweaks like a 16 way power adjustable driver's seat and an F SPORT steering wheel, with leather seats, shift knob and special scuff plates. None of that stuff will make the car go faster or handle better, but you do get adaptive suspension that makes the car even more interesting to drive.
There's also an Executive package (starting at $69,450) which eschews some of the sporty pretensions of the F Sport package, but includes the adaptive suspension and adds a couple of luxury touches.
However you configure it, the Lexus GS 350 is a fine sedan, more luxury than sport - which may be just what the doctor ordered for many people. And being a Lexus, you'll probably have many years to enjoy its comforts and conveniences.
Copyright 2017 Jim Bray
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