Used Car Shopping, Yuppiemobile Edition: 2013-2015 Lexus GS350 AWD

Ten years ago, Lexus released two credible rear wheel drive sports sedans which quickly pinged on the radars of automotive journalists and a quiet subset of enthusiasts, but which struggled for acceptance by a buying public conditioned to lease German.  The GS is the larger of the two and by most accounts is a better 5 Series than the one offered by BMW.  As a reward, GS sales suffered and it was canceled in 2020.  Of course it was. Automotive enthusiasts talk a good game, but they apparently don’t sign for midsize sports sedans and the people who do are fixated on the E-Class and 5 Series which have a death grip on what remains of the segment. 

The GS350 is an instant finalist for on-paper reasons alone.  I groused about the tight interior of the TLX, the remoteness of the 430i, and the laggy turbos in both of them.  The Lexus has 98 cubic feet of cabin space, a big V6, and magazine comparison wins against the Audi A6 and BMW 535i, and thereby promises to fix all my worries with 200,000 mile reliability from the brand we all know and trust.  So why isn’t it in the driveway at this very moment?

Well, it’s complicated.  First, there’s almost no curb appeal and that will stay the hasty hand. Whereas the current BMW 5 series and Audi A6 are clean, purposeful, stately sedans that look subtly but undeniably expensive, the GS350 is a bowl of porridge: bland, lumpy, midmarket.  It does not have the expensive road presence of the Germans, and I’d guess that is one reason for poor sales.  I can get over that; in fact, it’s probably better for flying under the radar in my office and neighborhood.  We’re a practical group, but fooled by branding and perception. A used German luxury sedan with curb-rashed wheels and fading lenses will raise more eyebrows in my circles than a new Explorer or Silverado costing twice as much. The GS will invite fewer unwelcome observations and questions. 

Styling a car is difficult; I can get a sense of what they were going for here but it just doesn’t come together somehow


More importantly, I handicapped the GS350 right away by testing a decade old one with 117,000 miles on it.  Couldn’t be helped, it was the only one around.  It is by far the oldest and farthest run car of the three and who knows if the prior owner drove straight over a raised median at some point in its life (seen it happen, it’s ugly).  Noticeable impact noise from the front end and a heinous mystery rattle somewhere aft made the car feel far more worn than the interior condition and powertrain vigor would suggest. Legend says that miles are nothing on these, and while that may be true of the core mechanicals it only takes a ragged aural edge or two to badly damage the impression of a luxury car. 

The taillights are exceptionally dull to me


Setting aside the age and unknown history, this car does many things very well.  Let’s start with the interior, where the Acura fell completely on its face and the BMW left a few shortcomings.  The GS was a price class up from those and it entirely feels it. It’s difficult to find a hard plastic surface anywhere. The doors, dash, and center console are padded down to the carpet. The surface textures and material thickness shame the Acura and the solidity matches the tank-like BMW.  The rich microfiber headliner is plush enough to nap comfortably upon should you roll the car on its roof and have some time to kill before the wrecker arrives.

To think this is about when people started complaining about the spindle grill. They had no idea what was coming…


The front is spacious and the seats are highly adjustable, but they can’t beat the sport seats in that 430i. The back bench is nearly as roomy as the Camry and the trunk is deep, wide, and still carries a spare tire. Why wouldn’t you want a spare tire? Lexus gets it. The battery is under the hood where it belongs. Lexus also gets that. The weight distribution is closer to 50:50 than the Acura despite the large V6 up front.  


It is the quietest of the three on the highway.  If you want to cross the continent with the family, this is the one.  But this is no Town Car, no ES350.  Pull out onto the street while popping the gas to catch the gap in traffic and any notion of a tottering land yacht disappears. The immediate throttle response and AWD put the power down cleanly and smartly, and the engine zings toward redline with a nice snarl.  Immediate takeoff is softer than the brake-torqued turbo BMW, but the linear build in power with engine speed is predictable, satisfying, and becomes far more interesting and engaging than the uneven slug of torque from the 2-liter turbos.  It feels like a sports sedan as the revs climb, it feels like the engineers cared about the character of the engine, and as a result you can actually crack a smile as the tachometer zips above 5,000 rpm whereas in the turbos you don’t know or care what speed the engine is turning at because it feels the same everywhere and sounds bad regardless.  The Lexus is no quicker than those and will likely use more fuel, but aren’t some things worth it?


The transmission in AWD trims of the GS is a 6 speed, just like our Camry.  Yep, it’s old.  Toyota didn’t even try to keep up with the last decade of transmission trends here, and surprisingly the results are far better than you may expect.  No, it is not as sharp and well-rounded as the ZF 8-speed in BMWs, but I prefer it to the 10 speed in the Acura.  Six ratios are enough to cover the powerband of the V6, and the kickdown response is relatively quick and decisive.  You do not have to double- or triple-tap the steering wheel paddles to get into a gear you want.  Simply adding more gears does not a good transmission make.

It’s a heavy car with an old powertrain in a world of whiz-bang high pressure turbos and e-assist, but the Lexus has power enough. Go ahead, swing confidently through the roundabout and onto Airport Road, and rapidly gain on the buffalo-butt SUV blotting out the forward view at 10 below the limit.  He’s off in la-la land, overlapping half the bicycle lane, and he’s going to ruin the next several miles of scenic road on a stunning spring day.  Unacceptable!  All it takes to put that waddling old thing in the distance before the short passing zone expires is a little more toe into the throttle to keep it in third through 4,000 rpm.  Effortlessly, he’s gone.  The road is now open before you, the view of Cessnas on final approach against the snow-capped backdrop of the Wasatch Range now uninterrupted. Roll that window down, it’s a lovely day for a drive.  It’s a lovely car to be driving in. Until a pothole sets off that rattle…

The car is 2 inches shorter than the Acura TLX but the rear seat is two size classes up


Can we pause to discuss this engine? My disdain for the 2.0-liter turbocharged four is all over my prior reviews, so what exclusive high-shelf reactor propels this sedan so competently as to not raise any ire?  Why, it’s the ubiquitous Toyota 2GR 3.5L V6.  It’s everywhere and in everything and has been for 15 years–from the faded beige 2007 Camry blocking the left lane on your commute this morning to the Highlander to the Sienna to the Tacoma to this Lexus.  This is what cost-saving powertrain homogenization across vehicle lineups looks like, and there are definite winners to this approach.  The Tacoma isn’t one of them, but Camry buyers sure got a smoking deal when they opted for this V6, benefiting downstream from an engine that needed to be strong enough to give expensive 4700-pound crossovers and pickups sufficient verve. 

A number of automakers took this approach with their V6s in the late aughts and in a way it was a final sendoff for affordable larger displacement internal combustion.  It sent a surprising number of non-descript drag racer family sedans to the masses.  Mr. Dad may not have had the Mustang he wanted, but he could rip the front tires off his FWD commuter sedan at will and make the kid in the inline-6 330i look pretty lame at the merge if he didn’t nail the launch.  That’ll put a little youthful spring back in the step of his dad-bod as he heads up to that third floor cubicle for another day of being responsible and future-oriented. 

Somehow it’s possible to fit a battery and engine under the same hood so you don’t mess up the trunk.


Given this ubiquity, it’s fair to question the suitability of this engine in a $60,000 sports sedan.  The 2GR has enough breadth and bandwidth to make this work.  For the Lexus, it has been equipped with both direct and port injection and produces just over 300 horsepower.  It will propel this porky 4,000 pound sedan to 100 mph at the quarter mile and sound pretty good doing it while being smooth, smooth, smooth.  The 2GR is a strong combination of refinement, exceptional reliability, and technological advancement without overcomplication.  It’s brilliant, and it’s about to be retired from the Toyota universe in favor of an unproven 2.4 turbo in dismal and performance hybrid configurations.   

This dial doesn’t do much in non FSport trim; I from what I can tell it’s transmission shift logic only, much like the ECT/PWR switch in old Toyotas from 35 years ago. Like the Acura, the transmission clutches onto lower gears for too long in Sport. Leave it in Normal.


The GS is a big heavy sedan, and so handling is decent, but it didn’t strike me as exceptional.  It’s a clear upgrade from a FWD midsize platform, but four thousand pounds is a lot of car, and 10 years is a lot of time for original shocks.   This also isn’t the FSport version with the adjustable dampers, and the AWD probably removes some playfulness both in cornering attitude and steering character.  That steering is responsive and accurate, but still numb and could use more on-center weight to better match the effort to the car’s mass and chassis responses.  Expectations need to be tempered here. The GS was reportedly sharper than the comparably priced Germans, but the Fiesta ST has absolutely ruined my expectations for steering and chassis response, and nothing in this heavyweight class is known for truly spritely handling except perhaps the CTS. 

Door materials too supple for their own good; the padding beneath the window switches is a natural leverage point for your arm when exiting, and creasing here is common


I wanted a more engaging, refined, and powerful 4-door than the Camry.  Well here it is and then some, and with far fewer ownership worries than a BMW or Audi and a lower pretentiousness factor.  Is it perfect?  No.  I’d like it to steer like the Acura, not have the same infotainment graphics as the Camry I’ve been staring at for 6 years, and at my elevation I’d like another 50 rated hp out of the naturally aspirated engine.  Beyond that, this is pretty compelling.  The Lexus delivers both luxury and “sport” in a more old fashioned manner than the Acura and Germans, relying on the time-tested approach of rich materials, analog interfaces, engine displacement, and relative mechanical simplicity to create a refined and quiet car that can be enjoyably driven rapidly.  No one’s shopping for that anymore and the luxury marques have doubled down on complicated drivetrains and digital wow factors to set themselves apart.  So while the Lexus feels decidedly outdated it also avoids a lot of pitfalls.  

I may have to schedule a follow-up interview on one with half the age and miles, and in a color other than foot-in-the-grave greige.  You win a second interview, GS.  Come back attired in Matador Red Mica and your FSport shoes, and we’ll hash some things out.  Until then, there are some other candidates to meet with first.