Generous feature set
Agile, sporty handling
Stiff ride in F Sport trim
Mediocre V6 fuel economy
Tight back seat room
2018 Lexus GS
Based on the same platform that underpins the Toyota Crown sedan sold in Asian markets, and relatively unchanged since its introduction as a 2012 model, the 2018 Lexus GS 350 stands out as one of the best-looking mid-size sport sedans on the market despite its advancing age.
Emanating from a somewhat subdued spindle grille, softly sculpted sheetmetal flows to a rear fascia dominated by large, trapezoidal-shaped tail lamps and a slim lower diffuser containing two elongated chrome exhaust outlets.
Quibbles are few and include an overwrought spindle grille that might be a bit much for more reserved buyers. At the same time, unlike the rest of the Lexus lineup, the GS in F-Sport trim doesn’t separate itself enough visually from other models.
Those flowing lines house an interior where occupants are surrounded by supple upholstery and a wide array of trim choices. The gauges are easy to read and the knobs are easily understood and intuitive. High-grade plastic trim covers those surfaces not adorned with metallic trim or soft-touch materials. The front seats are very comfortable and tuned well for long-distance trips with 10-way power adjustability standard, and 18-way optional.
But despite its sporting aspirations, we're not impressed with the F-Sport's chairs, as they lack the padding and bolstering found in the best sports-oriented seats, while the rear seats – which are suitable for adults - are nowhere near as comfortable as those up front.
Hauling cargo can also be a bit tricky, as the trunk opening is plenty wide, but trunk space is short, and, since the rear seatbacks are fixed, the only way to squeeze in longer items is through a smallish center pass through hidden behind the rear arm rest – transporting a 52cm road bicycle is, quite frankly, out of the question unless you take it apart and, even then, the frame has to be transported in the back seat. Finally, the GS is one of the few Lexus models that still comes with the perplexing, irritating, and distracting mouse-like Remote Touch Interface infotainment controller that needs to flat go away.
Under the hood
The GS is offered with three engine choices: a 241 horsepower, turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder, a 311 horsepower 3.5-liter V6, and, in the hybrid, a 286 horsepower, Atkinson cycle 3.5-liter V6 paired with a 197 horsepower motor generator for a total system power of 338 horsepower. Both gasoline engines are match with an eight-speed automatic, while the hybrid uses an electronically-controlled CVT.
Specs on the base turbo-four match up well with the competition, as does the eight-speed automatic. But unlike those from competitors, this engine lacks direct injection – a system that not only improves power and fuel economy, but also boosts throttle response – which means the 2.0-liter reacts to full throttle inputs with a moment of indecision before the transmission kicks down and the turbo spools up – even in Sport+ mode. The transmission is also prone to upshift and downshift too quickly, while a seven second-plus naught-to-sixty time is hardly impressive.
Our seat time was spent with the 3.5-liter V6, where torque comes on strongly at 3,000 rpm, the eight-speed transmission proves to be more responsive, and the 0-60 run happens in less than 5.7 seconds – although even this engine is no match for the turbocharged sixes available from the competition.
Fuel economy numbers are all over the map, with the GS 450h hybrid achieving an EPA-estimated 29 miles per gallon in the city, 34 on the highway, and 31 combined. Next up is the four-cylinder GS 300 that manages an EPA-estimated 22 mpg city, 32 highway, and 26 combined, with the F Sport version clocking in at an EPA-estimated 21 mpg city, 31 highway, and 24 combined.
Looking at the volume model GS 350, rear-wheel-drive models score an EPA-estimated 20 mpg city, 28 highway, and 23 combined, while all-wheel-drive models manage an EPA-estimated 19 mpg city, 26 highway, and 22 combined (our own observed fuel economy in our GS 350 AWD tester in mixed driving was a vehicle measured 21.9 miles per gallon).
On the road
The 3.5-liter V6 delivers solid acceleration, pushing the GS 350 to 60 mph in less than six seconds, all the while delivering an incredible soundtrack of engine and exhaust noises throughout the cabin. The base GS 350's suspension offers up the best of both worlds - providing great stability in the corners without sacrificing ride quality.
There's a nice weight to the steering and a decent amount of feedback, the brake pads offer a nice initial bite to a system that's easy to modulate, and road imperfections – from minor bumps to large potholes – are absorbed with ease. At highway speeds, the body is unaffected by crosswinds, and even grooved pavement doesn't create tracking problems.
The hybrid is unexpectedly entertaining in its own way - offering strong off-the-line acceleration as well as low-speed all-electric driving. Bump up to the F Sport's adaptive suspension, and the ride becomes noticeably stiffer, but you're rewarded with improved agility that belies its electronic roots.
At the same time, the hybrid's overall experience feels more detached, while we'd pass on the F-Sport - if for no other reason than there are more entertaining vehicles in this class that are better suited to back road corner-carving. Furthermore, the standard eight-speed automatic is fine when left to its own devices, but it's a poor companion in manual mode, while the base 241 horsepower, 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder lags competitors.
2018 Lexus GS Prices
Pricing for the 2018 Lexus GS starts at $47,535 for a rear-wheel-drive GS 300 and rises to nearly $69,000 for a rear-wheel-drive GS 450h. Even the base GS 300 is well equipped with 17-inch alloy wheels, Bi-LED headlights, LED turn signals tail lights and daytime running lights, auto-dimming inside and outside mirrors, moonroof, keyless push-button start, LED ambient interior lighting, wood trim, 10-way power driver and passenger seats, 12.3-inch control screen with Remote Touch Interface, Siri EyesFree, satellite radio, Bluetooth, and navigation.
All GS models are equipped with the Lexus Safety System Plus that includes pre-collision warning, automatic emergency braking, adaptive cruise control, automatic headlights with high beam assist, and lane departure warning with steering assist.
Our Matador Red Mica GS 350 AWD tester came with a base price of $50,365. It was also optioned with the Premium Package ($1,760 heated and ventilated front seats, leather interior trim, power rear sunshade, and rain-sensing wipers), Leather Steering Wheel & Gray Sapele Trim ($650), Body Side Moldings ($199), and Illuminated Door Sills ($425). Along with a destination charge of $995, it brought the total Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price to $54,394.
The Bottom Line
The 2018 Lexus GS 350 is a worthy rival to its Teutonic competition in terms of luxury as well as ride, handling, and advanced safety features. But showing its age is an engine lineup that falls short of the competition and a finicky infotainment interface that's grounded in the last decade, landing the GS only mid-pack in its class.