Wooing and winning over significant numbers of upscale-car buyers has been a successful venture for Toyota’s premium brand and the latest GS series should literally accelerate this trend despite being down a couple of cylinders.
Why? Well, for one thing the 2013 GS, which is slated for a February 2012 debut, is leading Lexus out of the design doldrums where, along with many of its stable mates, the car has been. Nothing overly radical mind you, since the 2013 GS shares a number of physical and mechanical components with its 2012 counterpart, but at both ends the revisions are obvious. The reshaped nosepiece displays a large air intake below the grille with additional side intakes that also serve as fog-light housings. The confluence of shapes and angles at the business end might not rank as an artistic tour de force, but it’s certainly character building and that will help you spot the GS in a parking lot.
What will likely go unnoticed is the lack of a V8 option, which leaves the GS 350 and the gasoline-electric hybrid GS 450h as the only available models. The V8 GS 460 cost an additional $8,500 over and above the GS 350 when it last appeared for the 2011 model year and was never a sales contender. Its relatively poor fuel economy certainly didn’t help.
Replacing the GS 460 is the V6-powered F Sport that features its own front clip, mesh grille, body trim, 19-inch wheels and variable suspension and steering systems that continuously adjust to road conditions and driver inputs.
The F Sport uses the same carryover 306-horsepower 3.5-liter V6 as the standard GS 350. It’s connected to a six-speed automatic transmission that “blips” the throttle for smoother downshifts (called rev matching). Compared to the GS 350, the F Sport adds a level to the standard driver-selectable operating mode that firms up the suspension and sharpens the steering.
It might have a V6, but the GS 350 is hardly slow. It can scoot to 60 mph from in a Lexus-reported 5.7 seconds, which is a mere 0.1 seconds slower than the GS 450h, which remains the undisputed hot rod in the bunch. Who needs a V8?
On the surface it appears that the hybrid’s 3.5-liter V6 with 338 net combined horsepower is also a carryover, but the powertrain’s estimated fuel-consumption of 29 mpg city and 34 highway — compared to the outgoing model’s 22/25 numbers — tell a different tale.
Among other technologies, the V6 has been updated with direct fuel injection whereby gasoline is more accurately metered directly into the combustion chambers. This allows for a very lean mixture during highway driving and coasting, however premium fuel is required for all models, hybrid or otherwise.
The electric motor, which operates in tandem with the gas engine or all by itself depending on the load, speed and available battery power, has reduced friction and updated electronics. It puts out as much as 200 horsepower. The transmission is a continuously variable unit.
The battery pack has also been reconfigured to take up less room behind the rear seat. Lexus claims truck space has increased by 25 percent. Interestingly, the battery pack is not of the new-style lithium-ion type but rather the standard nickel-metal-hydride design. More trunk space is good news for luggage-toting GS 450h travelers who, along with their GS 350 counterparts will also appreciate the newly redecorated and more spacious cabin.
There’s also an improved climate-control system and greater occupant protection with 10 standard airbags.
The GS 350 clocks in at about 3,800 pounds with the hybrid toting around another 400 pounds of tech and it’s important to note that both the F Sport and the GS 450h are only offered as rear-wheel-drivers. It’s optional for the GS 350.
The starting-point GS 350 rings in at stout $47,800, including destination charges, which is about the same as the outgoing model, while the F Sport will set you back in the vicinity of $53,500. The hybrid is estimated at a $60,000 to start.
That’s still a lot of cabbage, but this is still life in the fast lane with the GS well within sight of other luxury competitors and their six-cylinder offerings.