Kiawah Island, South Carolina- The aftermaths of hurricanes Michael and Florence were minimal upon the greater Charleston South Carolina area as an opportunity arose to test out a 2018 Lexus GS
350 throughout coastal regions of the Palmetto State.
The GS is one of several sedans occupying Toyota's luxury Lexus lineup which debuted in 1989 offering the LS full-size sedan and ES compact four-door. Since then, crossovers (RX) and off-road-capable sport utility vehicles (GX) along with a host of gas-electric hybrid offerings joined the expanding lineup. The mid-size, GS arrived in 1993.
The five-passenger GS blended effortlessly within the confines of Kiawah Island, a vacation-friendly, barrier Island catering to those who thrive upon lavish lifestyles, Ryder Cup caliber golf courses and expansive private beaches, although our rag-tag clan rented a just-off-shore ultra-modest two-bedroom condo, pretending our best to deftly intermingle with upper crust folks and their ocean-front estates. The luxury-appointed GS helped execute this charade.
The GS remains predominantly rear-wheel drive, but offers an all-wheel variant for those stuck in the upper Midwest a majority of the calendar year. Rear-wheel drive adds optimal vehicle balance and ups ride comfort.
Back in the 2013 model year during its fourth-generation introduction (the 2018 incarnation continues with this Gen-4 blueprint), GS earned the distinction of introducing the spindle grille to the automaker's lineup. This truncated hourglass design took the blog-o-sphere by storm with its polarizing, yet distinctive character helping lift GS exterior styling into a bolder domain and becoming a Lexus signature. Our tester included a mesh-like inside filling with the circular Lexus L front and center.
Chrome side window trim features a capital 'D' like tail section that merges gently with the rear C pillar. The large square rear window and short deck lid get accented by a diminutive dorsal-fin shaped roof antenna assisting the Satellite radio feed.
Motivating GS is a returning from 2017, naturally-aspirated (non turbo-charged) 3.5-liter V-6 generating 311 horsepower and teamed with an eight-speed automatic transmission. Lexus dubs this edition the GS 350 (the suffix reflecting liter lineage).
Also returning is a four-cylinder 2.0-liter turbo version (delivering 241 horsepower) with a slightly new ID. The GS 200T circa 2017 has morphed into the 2018 GS 300. Both engines require higher grade 91-octane fuel. A self-charging, fuel-extending gas-electric hybrid (non-plug-in variety) is also available in the form of the GS 450h.
All GS offerings include an optional F Sport appearance/option package (highly recommended and adding only about $1,800 to the bottom line) with 19-inch split five-spoke alloy wheels new for 2018. Also included with F Sport: heated and ventilated front seats, power rear sunshade, adaptive variable steering and an additional 'Sport +' drive mode joining Eco, Normal and Sport. These allow drivers to specify desired steering response and throttle input.
Aside from the four-cylinder's updated ID the other major GS news revolves around its 'Enform' roadside and assistance program, extended to 10 years of complimentary coverage for original owners. With the push of an emergency assist button, occupants connect with a real live response center agent (no robotic tutorial) for help with flat tire changes, jump starting, towing or accident aftermath.
As with most vehicles donning the Lexus spindle grille, inside remains church-mouse quiet; continuing to lead the industry by example. Historically, GS 350 enjoys a high resale value thanks to competent handling and impressive acceleration. When purchased new, GS rates as a value proposition in the mid-size luxury sedan category.
Pricing for a 2018 GS 350 starts at $50,895 with rear-wheel drive; $50,565 for all-wheel drive. Our rear-drive tester with F-Sport package included a starting price of $52,260 (all-wheel drive with F-Sport starts at $52,005). A four-cylinder GS 300 checks in at $46,510.
With a $52,260 starting price and a half-dozen or so stand-alone options including a $1,380 upgraded stereo system and $900 windshield-projected heads-up display, the bottom line ended at $57,839 including a $995 destination charge.
Inside, soft-touch top dash includes white stitching which also is found on the floor-mounted transmission shifter. One of the car-world's largest, deep-set in-dash displays awaits occupants; a 12.3-inch split-screen color monitor of the non-touch variety rests inside sweeping sides. Screen interaction requires use of the Lexus remote touch interface controller located between supportive and comfortable front buckets, both of which enjoy 10-way power settings.
The controller boils down to a 1.5-inch by 1-inch elevated wiggle pad controlled by the driver's right-hand thumb and fore-finger that moves an on-screen icon. Press down on the pad to choose an option with an accompanying soft audio alert. A long, narrow wrist rest directly behind the elevated pad helps alleviate hand fatigue. Three quick select buttons up front resets the screen to map, back and menu.
The wiggle pad remains quicker to master and more forgiving than the next-generation Remote Touch Interface tested recently in a 2019 Lexus ES, but remains pesky at times. The newer-generation employees a flat touch-sensitive surface activated by a skating fingertip. Both tend to over complicate simple screen drill downs. Below the screen resides an elegant analog clock centering the entire dash.
The GS 350, as with most Lexus and Toyota products, feature a suite of advanced safety systems standard. Included are pre-collision warning, radar-enhanced cruise control automatically adjusting vehicle speed, lane departure warning and high beam headlights that react automatically. Added to the mix in 2018 is a highly useful and effective blind spot monitor with rear cross traffic alert, detecting passing cars when pulling out of tight parking spots. Can't emphasize how many times this nuance helped avoid potential fender benders during recent testing.
With daytime temperatures hovering in the mid 80's on the island, the moon roof spent quality time in the open position, allowing warm bright sunrays to filter inside. The moon roof covers (or uncovers) the front row exclusively, so rear riders (three adults fit relatively smartly with ample head and leg room) need to roll down their windows for a breath of air.
For added horsepower thrills, Lexus also offers a low-volume GS F. Introduced in 2008, the 'F" sports division offers lower-volume, higher-horsepower, track-intended vehicles. Many luxury European automakers already enjoy their own high-impact divisions (AMG from Mercedes-Benz, M from BMW) where stock models get modified to maximize thrills per horsepower. The 2018 GS-F boasts 467 horsepower compliments of a 5.0-liter V-8 engine and an $84,000 price tag.
2018 Lexus GS 350
Price as tested $57,839
Engine: 3.5-liter V-6
Wheelbase: 112.2 inches
Overall Length: 192.1 inches
Overall Height: 57.3 inches
Overall Width: 72.4inches
Curb weight: 3,726 pounds
Fuel Economy: 19 mpg city 27 mpg highway