You didn’t have to be a reasonably seasoned automotive reporter to figure out what the central theme was surrounding the debut of the 2013 Lexus GS.
To most diehard gear heads, Lexus is unfairly considered a dirty word. The ugly refrain says the Japanese automaker’s cars lack passion – that their inherent smoothness and abundance of technology makes them less fun to drive. It’s a confusing argument, essentially claiming a Lexus is built too well to be an appealing car.
Obviously, Toyota’s upscale sister company is hip to those hardcore car fan complaints as the Lexus execs on-hand for the special roll-out of the 2013 Lexus GS continued to stress the passion that went into building the vehicle – and to the attention paid to generating an “emotional response” from the driver.
The automotive press gathered at the Ritz Carlton Laguna Niguel recently to drive the new sporty luxury sedan along the Pacific Coast Highway, through the hills linking Orange County to San Diego and over to a specially set-up track at the retired El Torro Marine Base (the current home of the American Top Gear set).
The four door GS is targeted at the gap between the bigger Lexus LS and the smaller IS series. But, the new generation indicates a new aspiration toward sportiness across the Lexus line. The GS sports a new signature grill inspired by the now iconic Lexus LFA super car. Those flashier lines don’t carry over the more conservative general lines of the car, but it’s a step in the right direction toward making a Lexus something you get out of the way on the highway.
Inside, the GS all of the elite technological sophistication you’d expect from a Lexus with the addition of a 12-inch-wide navigation and menu screen (the largest of any luxury car so far). Also, the crew from Mark Levinson by Harman were on also on hand to demo the specially tuned stereo package option. The unbelievable powerful and sharp sound setup adds will add thousands of dollars to the cost of the GS, but it also effectively transforms your car into a live concert hall.
Three variations of the GS were on hand during the track test period – the V6 350, the 450h hybrid and the dynamically kitted out 350 F Sport. After taking a shot at all three, the F Sport was the clear favorite with its Variable Gear Ratio Steering (VGRS), Lexus Dynamic Handling (LDH) system and Dynamic Rear Steering (DRS) that slightly steers the back wheels to reduce understeer.
By way of comparison, Lexus had a 2011 BMW 535i and a 2011 Mercedes Benz 350 series on hand at the track. After driving all three, I can say the BMW felt a little more precise, while the Mercedes seemed more powerful. But, all GS models drove as the best overall package of power, handling and (of course) smoothness.
The only awkward moment of the entire roll-out had very little to do with the actual car. To give the assembled press of how Lexus sees the average GS owner, the company introduced us to their fictional ideal buyer, Greg Smith. (G.S. Get it? Clever). He’s in his late 40s. Married, successful. Fit and handsome under graying temples. However, never satisfied and always pushing for more, etc.
Lexus certainly isn’t the only car company doing this, so don’t hold it against them. I’ve seen other automakers (especially those on the little more exclusive end of the market) use the same technique. But, no matter how marketing pros try to paint a compelling picture of dynamic, interesting would-be buyer of a given car, they invariably lay-out a detailed sketch of a boring, self-absorbed tool you wouldn’t want to have a drink with under any circumstances. A fellow journalist and I spent the dinner session creating Smith’s WASP-ish dark side, just to spice him up a bit.
After all, the GS is all about Lexus continuing its exploration of “passion.” It’s fast, lively and responsive – and too good for the likes of Greg Smith.