Used Car Shopping: 2017 Lexus GS350 AWD–The Decision


“You had a bigger smile in the Audi”  she says after I run the engine up through its sweet spot and glance over with an expectant look. Lexus extracted a rich induction sound from the corporate V6 and I somehow believed this was going to impress her in the slightest.  But I find myself yet again perplexed at our mismatched wavelengths.  She’s not the type to push more than halfway to redline under any circumstance, and if you ask what her favorite thing about our Camry is, she will simply tell you that it’s familiar.    

We’re testing another 100,000 mile 2015 GS350 AWD at our local Toyota dealer so I can finally gauge her opinion of it relative to the A5.  Instead she’s gauging me, and she’s correct–I did have a bigger smile with the Audi.  There was a touch of joie de vivre to the car that the Lexus cannot match despite being the better automobile in a few key ways. 


Comparison images are from Their standardized fixed-position photographs are very handy for directly comparing the styling and interior layouts.


Unlike the rakish A5, at quick glance the GS could be another Camry platform mate.  Only the front axle position and longer hood give it away as RWD, but even that is somewhat masked by the more upright stance.  This one was also painted an unlovable greige, and trimmed with walnut on the dash reminiscent of an antique grandfather clock.  Inarguable quality, yes, but somewhat fuddy-duddy and I am nearly prompted to inquire about Grey Poupon from the neighboring car. 



She recognizes the gulf in aesthetics between this and the Audi, but unlike me, she’s smart enough to be practical about it.

“It’s just like the Camry!” she says happily, noting the similar hip point and spacious second row. 

Just like the Camry?  That stings.  But as much as she liked the A5, she wasn’t fond of climbing in and out of it.  It’s a lower car and what she really likes is her sister’s new CR-V.  She also gave a subtle stink-eye to the A5’s comparatively tight rear seat, which is down on headroom and width compared to the GS.  There’s a good momma, watching out for them kids. Unlike their profligate father.

“They’ll be fine back here!” I said with maximum optimism during our A5 test. “I can sit behind myself with plenty of knee room. See? See?” 

Uh huh. Once again unimpressed.  She’s thinking of her 6 foot 3 brother and my broad-shouldered uncle.  The genes are in the mix somewhere, and we’re not yet sure which recombination of them the preteen boy received. And even I can see straight away that while the kids easily fit, it’s much less space than they are accustomed to.  There’s plenty of legroom, but the tapering cabin is less generous in all other directions and the higher window sill and forward position of the C-pillar amplify this feeling.  The 25-pound dog also sometimes rides with us back there. I forgot about that part. 

The daughter didn’t like the more restricted space.  The son loved the car for the same reasons I did.  That’s two Y chromosomes for the Audi and four X chromosomes against.  The sooner men learn that their personal lives are governed according to this ratio, the fewer hills they will attempt to die upon.



She nonetheless gave the green light for an A5 if that’s what I wanted–she liked driving it, riding in it, and found it just practical enough.  But any good negotiator in business or diplomacy understands the importance of securing genuine buy-in from the affected parties, and this was feeling a little tenuous.  She was sending me signals.  Whether I chose to pick up on them was another matter.  

I forged ahead and found numerous low-mileage A5s in Vegas and SoCal, never touched by road salt and all within a short cheap flight.  I was on the cusp of inquiring about out-of-state purchase for several of them and liked the idea of a memorable fly-out-and-drive-it-home weekend across the backwater blacktop of Nevada.  But then I began detecting the subtle broadcast. Signals. Wavelengths. Be careful about ignoring them.


Screen capture of Alex Dykes (Auto Buyers Guide/Alex on Autos Youtube channel) in the GS (left) and A5 (right). He’s a thorough and consistent reviewer. If you’re curious about a car, his channel should be a first stop


I experimented with a change of tack.  Our test drive GS wasn’t sexy and had twice the miles I was targeting, but it was very nice to drive and ride in.  Even at this mileage, it oozed quality and no one would have a clue it was a 300hp luxury sport sedan.  Additionally, Lexus or not, depreciation takes a big whack at the GS near the 100,000 mile mark, so this was well under budget. I trust our Camry at this mileage, why wouldn’t I trust a well-kept Lexus?  Maybe I could do this on the cheap.  It just needed a few minor items addressed in order to justify the thousand dollars over book they wanted for it.  Surely this reputable Toyota dealer would be happy to do so since it had been holding down their tarmac for nearly 6 weeks. 

Yeah right.  More mismatched wavelengths.  The sales manager was unyielding.  “No, we won’t mark it down into the correct book range or fix this stuff because we paid good money for it.  These are rare, and we know what we got”.  

I’m glad they know what they got because they’re gonna have it for a long time at that price.  They’re rare because no one wanted them new, and they don’t want them now.  It’s not a specialized niche vehicle like the Chevy SS or Toyota FJ Cruiser, so cancellation didn’t generate demand for GS350s.



I renewed my Autotrader search and looked closely at one 40 miles away which I had written off because it was at some random place I knew nothing about along Salt Lake’s Dealership Row.  I’m leery of those.  But the listing looked professional and further digging showed the place was legit.  The GS was a well-priced 2017 AWD with 76,000 miles.  This is after the 2016 midcycle refresh, so it has the signature So Angry Mean Face©, which I’m not a fan of, and Altezza-style clear tail lamps that I greatly prefer to the bland old red and amber because it keeps this once-expensive car from looking like an Altima on the Avis lot.  Look it up if you don’t believe me.  I also dig the interior updates: refining tweaks to the gauges and steering wheel, and dark wood trim with embedded aluminum inlays that is more contemporary than Ye Olde Walnut.  The atmosphere better matches the way it drives.  I could do without the protruding oversized lower grill but otherwise I quite like the mature look and more serious vibe of the car.  It’s a nice contrast to my flaring orange snot-rod Fiesta ST.  



I bought it.  Easy choice after a long test drive and half a year of seeing how infrequently good GS350s come on the market (regardless of how long they stay there).  The car is 7 years old but feels like it just came off a 36 month lease, and the dealership had replaced a seeping water pump–ironically one of the repairs I was concerned about with an A5.  The dealership is an independent outfit run by a pair of brothers who know and love cars, and have some very nice machinery in their inventory ranging from G-Wagens to stick shift Camaros to Porsches. They were transparent, low-pressure, and paid me nearly private party value for our Camry when I explained why I thought it was worth more than their first offer.  A similar concession from the Toyota dealer would have been squeezing blood from a stone.  

I emailed the Toyota salesperson to inform him of my purchase and why they lost a sale, and I suggested his manager adjust his strategy.  The response was polite but placed amusing confidence in some sucker coming through the door to pay them what they want.  A month later they’re still waiting for the sucker to arrive. The car is now listed as ON SALE!!! for what I offered them.  They, of course, jacked the ever-malleable “retail value” yet another grand above KBB so they could put a big markdown number on the ad and not actually lower the price by all that much.  They still have it listed as a Crafted Line, which it’s not, painted in Ultra White, which it isn’t, so their incompetence is at least thorough.



I like ours better.  It was more expensive, but when said and done, it’s a luxury sport sedan with most of its usable life remaining for 40% of original inflation-adjusted MSRP.  I emphasize this because there is no way I’d consider purchasing a new higher-end sedan no matter how much I liked it or who made it.  Lexus, BMW, Mercedes, whatever, this class sheds value like a Christmas tree sheds needles in June.  In Tucson.  While beaten with a broom.  Some of the specialized high performance variants will retain more worth, but if you’re shopping the mainstream trims be prepared to take a bath.  Even the sterling Lexus nameplate couldn’t save this car from the curse of not being a trendy crossover or truck. 

The perfect example sits in my own driveway.  The Lexus and our 4Runner are essentially the same age and mileage.  They are most certainly not the same vehicle, and it’s kind of a kick rotating between them and experiencing the gulf in refinement, material quality, performance, and overall feel.  Yet they are somehow worth the same on the open market.  The Lexus originally stickered for $68,000, inflation-adjusted. The 4Runner only $45,000.  That is the kind of wealth-evaporating depreciation expected of lease-and-chuck European marques, not from Japan’s Finest.  The GS deserved better than to be valued equivalently to a crude cloth-seated wagon sitting atop a 20-year old truck frame and powertrain.  I’m a big defender of my 4Runner, but I know which keys I grab every time I have the choice. 

There’s a voice in my head asking a question, and if you’ve been tolerant enough to read my series perhaps it is in yours as well:

Do you regret passing up the A5?


And no.  

I’d give the same answer about the GS if this were reversed.  The two cars were a draw, a mixed assemblage of pros and cons that could not be reconciled in any one vehicle within this price range.  After all this time I had no clear preference, so it was going to come down to availability, timing, and whatever my recent mood had done to the calculus of risk vs. reward. This GS showed up at the right time, just as the Toyota dealer dug in on a bad strategy and a nice-looking local A5 I was seriously inquiring about came back with a suboptimal history report.  The scale shifted just as I was ready to make a move, and here we are. 

The real point of comparison here is not the A5–it’s the Camry.  Six years ago we picked it because it was a steal at a time when our Altima’s CVT was showing signs of failure.  I didn’t want another purely sensible car, but I wasn’t ready to spend up.  The stupid Altima was supposed to last another 4 years until I was.  So the Camry was a compromise.  The GS350 on the other hand…well hell, it’s still a compromise but a far better one.  

The no-compromise scenario involves a Porsche Panamera and an XJ Vanden Plas to rotate between as each breaks expensively, torching a bunch of money that I don’t have for either that or the marital counselor.  So the GS is a good idea.



It’s also very reasonable and I’ve had to remind myself of this because I am not a spendthrift.  I kept the Camry in good condition and could’ve run it for another hundred thousand without much probable expense.  Combined with the below-market purchase price, I could have extracted an entire CPA office’s worth of tight-assed fiscal joy watching the per mile cost shrink incrementally year by year. Wow, look at the extended amortization of a major capital expense! I feel alive!

Instead, I now feel like a prince gliding through town in my executive motor carriage.  Well, that may be overstating it.  If this is peerage, it is of a lesser station, a viscount or baron perhaps, and one who never makes the news or the tabloids for their extravagance or glamor.  It is merely a Lexus GS after all.  Cool. Competent. Collected.  Forgotten.  No one gives it a second glance or knows what it is or why it’s different from any other random sedan.  No one cares about my luxury car but me, and that’s exactly how I want it.  I don’t need to be noticed; I just want the car to feel special from behind the wheel and this one does so in a subtle but undeniable way.  Tune your internet dial to Curbside in the near future and I’ll provide my early ownership and driving impressions.