Luxury has its allure but when it comes to cars, luxury, it seems is unreliable. Look at Rolls-Royce, for example. Rolls-Royce has a reputation – deserved or otherwise – for being be the most luxurious nameplate in the history of the car world. Before BMW acquired the bespoke British luxury brand, it was not only the most enviable and sumptuous, but also the most unreliable.
Rollers, though undeniably elegant, were effectively totaled every time they required a tune-up, and were infamous for costing more money in parts and labor fees than they were worth in terms of blue book value. Range Rovers are similarly afflicted, offering world-class levels of refinement and river-fording robustness but not daily-driving resilience.
I am convinced it's not a coincidence either. Anecdotal evidence suggests that the kind of creativity and attention to detail associated with building such awe-inspiring rolling machines also guarantees a supreme lack of mechanical exactness. I don't really know for sure. What I do know, though, is that opulence and frugality are diametrically opposed concepts and maybe luxuray and reliabilty are too.
Which brings me to Lexus: the undisputed king of reliability and unflinching build quality ... that also aims to be luxurious.
For a long time, Lexus models were just slightly nicer Toyotas but in recent years the brand has made a stronger effort to separate its offerings from its plebian overlord and tarted its cars and SUVs up a bit. The GS 350 F SPORT is the perfect example of that shift.
Riding on a bespoke Lexus chassis not shared with any Toyota models, the rear-wheel drive GS brings with it a level of taut sportiness unseen in the Toyota territory. Powered by a 3.5-liter naturally aspirated V6 producing 306 horsepower and 277 pound-feet of torque, backed by an 8-speed automatic, the GS F SPORT will spring to 60 mph in 5.7 seconds. Undoubtedly, this proves it has the specs to back up the sporty stance, too.
Additionally, the the EPA has rated the GS 350 F SPORT to achieve 19 mpg city, 29 mpg highway, with a combined score of 23 mpg – all on 91 octane gasoline.
Taking it from GS to F SPORT, Lexus made some visual changes. First off, putting that power to the pavement is a set of four 19-inch staggered width split 5-spoke wheels wrapped with summer tires.
Lexus designers then added an F SPORT front bumper and rear lower valance, F SPORT mesh front grille inserts, and a rear lip spoiler. They also increased the size of the front brakes and added high-friction pads and then finished it off with some F SPORT badging around the exterior.
Thankfully, this isn't the end of the F SPORT list. There are several unseen upgrades, including F SPORT-tuned Adaptive Variable Suspension (AVS) with Sport S+ mode and Variable Gear Ratio Steering (VGRS).
The F SPORTitude is carried into the cabin as well, which, as compared to the standard GS, receives a 16-way power sport driver seat that includes power side bolsters, thigh support, and four-way lumbar. Finishing off the sport look, Lexus adds striated aluminum trim and F SPORT aluminum pedals and door scuff plates.
Aside from those additions, it's a standard Lexus story inside, including a 12.3-inch high-resolution infotainment screen, lots of dark grey, well, everything, and an analogue clock in the center of the dash – a staple luxury feature, for some reason.
This is where we can begin debating the luxuriousness of the Lexus brand, as the GS, though undoubtedly well built, is not very fancy. Admittedly, everything feels solid to the touch, and a single rattle of loose trim could not be found. That fact alone, however, does not a luxury car make. It's made in the details.
All of the switches and knobs, for example, are straight off the Toyota line. They look fine and not too wildly out of place, but, unlike, say, Audi, which would never use VW knobs in the A6 sedan, the pieces look cheap and decidedly un-luxurious. In addition, the chunky Lexus sport steering wheel is more cartoonish than refined.
There are some other issues with the interior: As my five-foot-11-inch female friend pointed out as she climbed into the passenger seat, the GS has very little cabin space, from head to shoulder to legroom for both front and rear passengers.
Dynamics (Or Lack There Of)
Sadly, like the interior, the driving dynamics of the GS 350 F SPORT were faux sporty luxury. When I put the throttle to the floor, the engine made a very sporty sound indeed, which was impressive. All other times, the engine was absolutely silent, as if absent.
As for any SPORT feel, that was about it. The steering was heavy, yes. The handling – especially in Sport S+ – was very taut. And the brakes were strong. he GS F SPORT lack any real excitement or passion. It felt as though robots that had been given the mathematical parameters of actual sport sedans designed the GS and not a motley crew of Japanese driving enthusiasts.
That's not to say the driving experience of the GS F SPORT was bad; it wasn't. The seats were quite comfortable. The sound system was very strong. And the overall driving experience was very confidence inspiring. It just lacked the kind of zazz I like to see in a luxury sedan with sporting intentions.
On that note, we come full circle. The Lexus GS has all the bullet points that a luxury sports sedan ought to: 19-inch wheels, a throaty exhaust note, strong brakes, and adjustable sport suspension. Heck, it even has an infotainment screen as big as the Mercedes S-Class. But it still lacks the X-factor that makes German luxury offerings so darn appealing.
All that said, I still recommend the car ... but it's not for everyone.
If you're the kind of buyer who likes to point to parts of your car and profess its overall sporting nature but don't really have the inner machismo to actually drive it as a sports car should be drive, then the GS 350 F SPORT is a fantastic car.
It will be reliable and look and feel brand new for a decade, without question. Where the BMW, Audi, and Mercedes offerings are being towed to the nearest dealer, you'll be able to whiz by without worry because your car was built right the first time. But, because of that, it just won't be a luxury car in the truest sense of the word.
Come to think of it, maybe that's the appeal of a true luxury car: owning an unreliable car and being able to A. not care and B. afford to repair it. Whatever the motivation, the GS just isn't it.
It's a nice car that people will perceive as luxurious but will last you for many years to come. Perhaps that's the best of both worlds.