A few weeks ago, I recounted the five hundred or so miles I put on one of Lexus’ new IS250 sedans and the pleasure I took in accumulating those miles. I felt it was a fantastic car in search of a better engine. Well, Lexus heard, apparently, and felt fit to provide me with a week-long sample of the larger-engined IS350 F-Sport to see if that cured my (admittedly few) complaints.
It’s no secret that Lexus has been on a bit of a roll lately, especially in their attempts to imbue their lineup with the necessary bit of “Sport” that was lacking in the brand’s early years. Beginning with the IS-F, the momentum carried through with years of teasing the LF-A super sports car, which was finally released to both praise and shock (at the price) a couple of years ago. Now, with a very competent midsize sports sedan already in their lineup (see the GS350 F-Sport I reviewed last June), a gap at the compact end of the sales spectrum has finally been filled with the car you see here – the new IS.
Vanity, thy name is midsize executive saloon. Few automotive categories are more about being pure arm candy for their owners than $50 – $70,000 luxury sedans. Think about it – if the only thing you were after was practicality, you’d probably be looking elsewhere. These cars are often tighter inside for four passengers than a midsized family sedan, their gas mileage trails that of the roomier FWD luxury segment unless you spring for a hybrid model, their reflexes aren’t quite in the realm of sports sedans (that’s what the halo models of their respective ranges are for) and they are, of course, priced out of the reach of the everyday shopper. And yet, none of that really matters – because few better ways exist of really letting your neighbors know you’ve made it.
Lexus more or less invented the luxury crossover segment when it introduced the RX300 to the U.S. back in 1998, and has dominated the segment ever since. Pretty much every other luxury or near-luxury brand has rushed in to try to lift the sales crown off the RX’s head, with limited success. One could argue that the reason for Lexus’ success in the segment has been its measured, even restrained approach to comprehensively updating the RX. Only now in its third generation in as many different decades, the 2013 RX nonetheless manages to feel as fresh and competitive as ever. We spent a week with the F-Sport variant of the RX line, introduced last year, to see how well the luxury end of the crossover segment is represented in Lexus’ perennial sales champ.
For the past few model cycles, Lexus has made a push to revitalize its image with enthusiast shoppers. Like the folks at Cadillac, the Lexus marketing team likely sees sportiness as a means to attract affluent young buyers away from BMW and Audi. How effective that strategy is, I can’t really say, but if it means Lexus continues to build cars like the refreshed Lexus IS-F, then I think the real winner is the enthusiast buyer.
In this piece, we’re going to look at two flavors of the midsized Lexus: The GS350 F-Sport and the GS450h. If we’re going to evaluate the GS properly, we need to answer three big questions. First: In a vacuum, is it fun to drive? Second: Does it sacrifice luxury in the name of sporty driving? And third: How does it compare to its peers, specifically with its closest analog at Infiniti? Let’s get started.