New Car Review: 2013 Lexus GS350 and GS350 F SPORT

Front view, tilted, of 2012 Lexus GS350 driving toward the camera on two lane winding road
The 2013 Lexus GS350.

The styling of the all-new Lexus GS350 promises so much. It's a study in aggressive angles, a clear and direct contrast to the soft shapes of the GS that Lexus produced up until this year.

Tan leather with black dashboard 2012 Lexus GS350 interior featuring huge center dash nav screen
The 2013 Lexus GS350 interior.

The promise continues when you slide behind the wheel. The GS, so old-fashioned as recently as 2010 to have sported a cassette tape player in the dash, now has an utterly contemporary interior in which to do business, including a gargantuan video display in the center of the dash (clearly inspired by BMW).

The specs are promising...3.5 liter V6, 306 horsepower, 277 pounds per foot of torque...six-speed automatic with paddle shifters, 17 inch 9-spoke alloy wheels and the usual assortment of Lexus luxury and safety items for a base price of $46,900. Thanks to the six-speed automatic, that brings with it EPA estimated mileage of 19 city/28 highway.

But in the GS, it's all about how you equip it. We drove two on two consecutive weeks. The first was fitted with the Luxury Package. That's $5,750 worth of ventilated front seats, rear sunshade, an upgrade to 18-inch wheels, Sport S+ Drive Mode, adaptive front lighting, wood and leather trimmed steering wheel, linear espresso wood interior trim, semi-aniline leather interior trim, 18-way power front seats, Lexus memory system for the front passenger and a three (!) zone climate control.

This car also added a blind spot monitoring system ($500), a Mark Levinson 835-watt 7.1 surround sound audio system ($1,380), the navigation package ($1,735), intuitive park assist ($500), a cargo net ($64) and a trunk mat ($105). With $875 for destination and handling, the bottom line read $57,809.

And it drove....like a Lexus. Which isn't a bad thing if you're a Lexus fan and define your luxury by degrees of isolation rather than involvement. And that's not a bad thing if that's what you're expecting. It's quantum leaps better than the previous GS...but a bit of a letdown from what the styling and specs were promising.

And then, we drove this:

The 2013 Lexus GS350 with F SPORT.

This is the same car...same engine, same base price, same fuel economy estimates, same standard equipment.

There are just two differences. Instead of being equipped with the Luxury Package, this was outfitted with the F SPORT Package, and the Mark Levinson audio system was replaced with the $320 more expensive Lexus Dynamic Handling System.

And that....makes all the difference in the world. Because F SPORT turns the GS 350 into a driver's car. For $5,690 ($160 less than the Luxury Package), you get the rain-sensing wipers, heated and ventilated front seats and rear power sunshade in the luxury package, but you also get 19-inch alloy wheels with summer tires instead of all-seasons, F SPORT-tuned adaptive variable suspension, variable gear-ratio steering, 14-inch two-piece front brake rotors with four-piston calipers, a 16-way F SPORT driver's seat with power side bolsters, and more. And what it does with the same 306 horsepower is a thing of beauty. It carves instead of wallows, direct inputs are followed by direct responses, it just plain works.

The 2012 Lexus GS350 with F SPORT rear view.

Short version, you'll look for every winding road you can find...because it's truly a blast to drive. And F-SPORT gets you a tasty interior re-do as well:

The 2013 Lexus GS350 with F SPORT interior.

Oh, yeah. Much, much better. And remember, the EPA mileage estimates stay the same and so does the base price. In fact, the as-equipped price of the F SPORT-equipped GS350 was only $260 more than the Luxury Package-equipped model.

You know which one we'd pick.