Review: The 2015 Lexus GS350 – realizing that moment when Lexus makes a better 5-Series than BMW

Neither I can believe what I’m saying either…but yes, the Lexus GS350 bests one of its German rivals if compared equivalently.

What’s is it?

This is the 2016 Lexus GS350 sedan. It’s Lexus’ midsize four-door luxury offering and the 350 designation means its the base model. But that shouldn’t mean this Lexus comes a la carte as the GS350 comes jam-packed with standard equipment. And value is a Lexus hallmark.

Although the Lexus GS has always been a great alternative to the German status quo, it still lacked in the department that the Germans excelled in–driving performance. That’s because, there’s the BMW 5-Series. And if you know anything about cars, the BMW 5-Series set the stage for everything that defines a midsize luxury sports sedan for years. Many tried replicating BMW’s formula, only to trail in the 5-Series’ wake, making it the one to beat. The Lexus GS, is one of the more notable ones.

Though, times are changing and Japan had years to perfect its midsize luxury competitors to Germany in the form of Infiniti, Acura, and above all, Lexus. As a result, all three automakers have been churning out some highly compelling alternatives lately. In recent years, Papa Toyota and company embarked on a new marketing initiative to reunite Toyota with its motorsports and performance heritage. This included Lexus, which established the F sub-brand to softly compete with BMW’s M and Mercedes’ AMG.

To see if that level of reunion can be observed in the latest GS, Lexus tossed me the keys one day to a 2016 GS350 with all-wheel drive for a week. And it’s a lot better than you think it is.


2015 Lexus GS 350 Specifications

Style: Midsize luxury sedan
Seating Capacity: Five passengers
Base Price: $48,600
Price As Tested: $55,750
Engine: 3.5L DOHC naturally-aspirated 24-valve V6 with VVT-i variable valve and direct injection – 306hp @ 6400 rpm; 277 lb-ft @ 4800 rpm
Transmission: Six-speed automatic
0-60 MPH: 3.8 seconds (3.8 for automatic)
Top Speed: 131 MPH (electronically-limited)
Curb Weight: 3,977lbs
Fuel Economy (City/Highway): 19 / 26 mpg w/ 17.4 gal. tank

Uhm…say again?

Yes. I am just a estranged by the words I am typing as you are reading them. But for the sake of all petrolheads and driving enthusiasts, those, like I, must acknowledge this as the truth. Had this been 20 years ago, never would I have thought to be saying it. Lexus currently makes a better 5-Series than BMW. How is this even remotely possible, you might ask. Allow me to explain.

Laidback Lexus Looks
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Generally speaking, the midsize luxury sedan segment consists of conservatively designed and standard three-box shapes. Then, they’re given a bunch of creases, folds, and curves to make it look interesting. But overall, it has to be as universally pleasing on the eyes of both lawyers and New Jersey housewives alike. The 2016 Lexus GS is exactly that, embodying Lexus’ latest design language. It’s simple, elegant, and cohesive, unlike the RC coupe or entry-level IS. To some though, the GS remains as interesting to look at as a smart-fridge, but in an inoffensive way.

Lexus models of yonder years were criticized for styling its cars as if they primarily set out to define what bland looks like in the automobile industry. But since the second generation GS, the styling for Lexus’ midsize model managed to avoid the boring descriptors. This one does as well. The latest Lexus GS is arguably one of the better looking cars in its class, especially when compared to the bloated 5-Series and the E-Class, which both look like they came from Minecraft. The Audi A6 on the other hand looks perfect for the German fax machine salesman.

Luscious insides

Because it’s a Lexus we’re reviewing, the expectations of it just being nice inside are well met, even for its $50,000 price tag. The seats are probably the best thing about the GS350’s interior, offering both excellent bolstering and comfort with plenty of adjustments. Next would be the sheer simplicity of the GS’s layout. Most of the major controls that matter come in good ‘ol fashioned physical button form–a refreshing return to sensible controls in a world of difficult touch-sensitive this and that. But thankfully, Lexus kept the most pertinent functions in physical button form with classic icon labeling, making it easy to use on the road.

But all this ease of operation is completely cancelled out by the confusing mouse-like controller for the infotainment system. I personally didn’t have any issues getting used to it. Admittedly, I am a bit of an easy tech learner so for others, I can certainly see how one might approve. Once you get the hang of it, the menus are at least simple enough to navigate for various functions like the radio, climate control, sat-nav, and in-car settings. And while the standard radio is way more than adequate, the Mark Levinson system is truly exceptional making the GS a home theater on wheels.

The build quality is as expected, exquisite. Though the choice of materials can sometimes vary greatly, showing their budget Toyota roots. Thankfully, they’re only in parts of the interior less frequented by human touch. Otherwise, the interior is thoroughly Lexus in that it’s comfortable, quiet, and just a nice place to be when privately traveling on roads.

No more lackadaisical driving experience

So, the most important part. How does it drive? I know I hyped up the article to this very point. And this is by far the best driving Lexus GS ever made. This specific model is the GS 350 with all-wheel drive. That means a 3.5L Toyota V6 lies under the hood. It retains its natural-aspiration, utilizes port and direct-injection, and gets VVT-i variable valve timing to produce 306 horsepower and 277 pound-feet of torque. It is entirely adequate, nudging the GS 350 AWD to 60 from a standstill in a credible 5.6 seconds. It’s not mind blowing, but there’s plenty of oomph to pass Sunday drivers.

More so, the V6 in the GS 350 is also tuned for improved and quick throttle response. Thanks to a three-mode driver-select system, the V6’s throttle response and the six-speed automatic’s behavior varies between the Eco, Normal, and Sport modes. In any of the modes, the V6 has verve, thanks to its multi-stage intake that enhances the engine note, especially in the upper-rev range. It also exudes a desire to rev quick and its level of refinement needs no explanation. Simply put, it’s a lively yet smooth mill.

…or lazy handling

The Lexus GS in any generation might have not been a pudge in the corners. But it was always far from overtaking BMW, Mercedes-Benz, and even Audi in the handling department. This has all been changing after Toyota’s CEO, Tetsuya Tada, repeatedly expressed his love for speed and performance. Thus, his goal was to inject it all into future Toyota and Lexus products–and it’s clearly showing in the GS.

Throw the GS–yes throw it–into a corner and the GS responds instantly with eagerness and point-and-direct steering. The tiller’s feedback and road feel are still on the numb side, but that can partially be attributed to the all-season tires biased towards all-weather grip, all-wheel drive, and electric-assist power steering. The GS 350’s body control is kept well in check, especially considering the lack of any active suspension. Bumps are ironed out in Germanic firm but compliant levels and the chassis remains composed in mid-corner dips and dives. It truly is remarkable how much the GS has improved in the driving performance department.

So much in fact, I’d even say it handles better and feels more engaging than an equivalently equipped BMW 535i xDrive non-Sport. No, I haven’t lost my senses either.

Should you buy one?

If you want an excellent driving midsize luxury sports sedan without committing to the typical German choice, then the Lexus GS 350 can hardly be faulted. It still might be a bit too muted and mundane for some and thus, will shy buyers away. Especially when you have Hyundai’s Genesis sedan creeping up in the midsize luxury market as an up and coming and completely viable alternative.

But what you get with the Lexus GS is Japan’s most revered luxury nameplate and a car that does its job just fine in a flavor that many have tome to love and appreciate. And I personally would prefer the Lexus over the 5-Series because the BMW has become too isolated and bloated feeling to carry the torch successfully.

– By: Chris Chin


Pros

Cons

·         The best driving Lexus GS sedan yet ·         Handsome but mundane looks
·         Raucous engine note ·         Some hints of Toyota on the inside
·         Comfortable and quiet ·         The steering needs more feel
Verdict: The 2015 Lexus GS 350 kicks it into high gear improving on driving dynamics in many ways where the previous GS models fell short, so much in fact that it drives better than the equivalent BMW 5-Series. And that’s some pretty high praise.

2015 Lexus GS 350 AWD Gallery – Photos by C Squared Photography

Follow Chris Chin on Twitter @SirChrisChin and Instagram @CSquaredPhotography or @egmCarTech

Photos Copyright 2015 © C Squared Photography for egmCarTech.

Chris Chin

Editor-In-Chief of egmCarTech Freelance Automotive Journalist / Editor / Photographer

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