The re-engineered-for-2013 Lexus GS 350 shows that a Lexus sedan can have an overtly sporty ride, a snarly-looking front end and a noticeable exhaust note, all while hewing to the brand's high fit-and-finish reputation.
Packaged in optional F Sport dress, this fourth-generation GS 350 vies to be the closest GS to the BMW's 5-Series sedan, with its well-known performance flair and image.
But given that for every GS that Lexus sold in the United States last year BMW sold 14 of its 5-Series cars, the new GS 350 has a ways to go to convince shoppers of its sporty personality.
Maybe this is why Lexus offers a lot for the money on its new, rear-wheel drive, mid-size GS.
Starting manufacturer's suggested retail price, including destination charge, is $47,775 for a base model with 306-horsepower V-6 and automatic transmission.
This compares with the $48,345 starting retail price for a 2012 BMW 528i that has a 240-horsepower, twin-turbo, four cylinder and automatic transmission.
Standard equipment on the base, 2013 GS 350 includes leather-trimmed seats, keyless entry, push-button start, moonroof, 12-speaker audio system, rearview camera, 10-way, power-adjustable front seats and 10 air bags.
The base 2012 BMW 528i comes with leatherette upholstery, moonroof, a front-passenger seat with four-way power adjustments, 10-speaker audio, six air bags and no rearview camera, among other things.
A 2013 Lexus GS 350 with V-6 and all-wheel drive has a starting retail price of $50,325, while the starting retail price for a 2012 BMW 528i xDrive with four-cylinder engine and all-wheel drive is $50,645.
Another mid-size, luxury competitor is the 2012 Infiniti M37, which has a starting MSRP, including destination charge, of $48,595. Standard items on the M37 include a 330-horsepower V-6, automatic transmission, leather interior, moonroof, six-speaker audio system, 10-way, power-adjustable front seats, rearview monitor, keyless entry, push-button start and six air bags.
One of two main mid-size sedans at Lexus, the GS aims to challenge other rear-drive performance sedans.
New styling is the first visible clue to the changes that were made. The front "spindle" shape of the grille, as Lexus calls it, reminded me of a woman in a cinched corset and didn't convey an upscale image. The back's light-emitting diode taillamps reminded me of a BMW.
The interior, however, impressed with comfortable seats, nicely laid out controls and a sizable, 12.3-inch (measured diagonally) display screen in the middle of the dashboard that provides clear, easy-to-read information.
Fit and finish on the test GS 350 was impeccable, with seat material stitching and every gap between interior trim parts as well as steel sheet metal outside perfectly aligned.
Since the tester had the optional F Sport package, it came with 19-inch wheels that were a dark color, not shiny silver, fitted with low-profile tires. This made the GS 350 look sinister and definitely more youthful and sporty. But watch these fancy wheels. They are easy to scrape against concrete curbs during parallel parking maneuvers, and the small amount of tire sidewall, plus an F Sport suspension, means road bumps can come through harshly to passengers.
The overall GS size is about the same as last year's model, stretching nearly 16 feet long, from bumper to bumper. This is just a couple inches shorter than a 5-Series sedan.
But the underlying GS platform is new, with a slightly wider track and an inch more in height compared with the old GS.
This provides a bit more interior room, especially in the back seat of the GS where headroom now measures 37.8 inches, which is about on par with the back seat of the M37. Legroom in the GS 350 back seat totals 36.3 inches, or about the same as the M37. Still, there's a hump in the GS rear floor that a middle passenger has to contend with, and three adults sit closely in back. Trunk space of 14.3 cubic feet is accommodating.
Passengers familiar with more refined rides in Lexus cars were surprised to hear the strong, throaty engine sounds from the test GS 350 F Sport. They also didn't know what to make of the ride that readily conveyed road vibrations, even when the suspension setting was in normal mode.
The 3.5-liter, double overhead cam, direct gasoline injection V-6 is mildly tweaked from last year for peak torque of 277 foot-pounds at 4,800 rpm.
Power came smoothly and quickly through a six-speed automatic transmission, and zero-to-60-miles-per-hour time is a sporty 5.7 seconds, according to Lexus.
But enjoying the GS 350's torquey "oomph" at startups and around slower cars took a toll on fuel mileage, as the tester averaged just under 20 miles per gallon in combined city/highway travel.
The federal government's fuel economy rating for the 2013 GS 350 is 19 mpg in city driving and 26 mpg on the highway.
In comparison, the base 5-Series with turbo four cylinder generates a healthy 260 foot-pounds, just 17 shy of the GS, and it comes on starting at a low 1,250 rpm while earning a government fuel mileage rating of 23/34 mpg.
Note that premium gasoline goes into the GS, which at today's prices meant a fillup of the 17.4-gallon tank in the tester came to more than $72 for about 365 miles of travel.
The GS six-gear transmission seems a bit dated when compared with the 5-Series' standard eight-gear automatic, and the M37's seven speed.
Steering in the GS 350 tester was crisp and precise, requiring virtually no adjustments in long sweeping curves.
Be aware that the top-of-the-line, sport-tuned GS 350 with F Sport package is pricey, especially when packaged as it was in the tester with other items for more than $13,000.