A dash of sport and a whiff of indulgence – this has always been the mantra of the four-door sport sedan. The Lexus GS, which has now been around for a hard-to-believe 25 years, quietly upholds that creed in the shadow of such stalwarts as the BMW 5-Series. Though Lexus might not be the first thought that comes to mind when the term "sport sedan" is mentioned, the 2018 GS is nonetheless a heavy-hitter.
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2018 Lexus GS Overview
What's New for 2018
A few small updates have been sprinkled throughout the GS lineup. Last year's GS 200t is now the GS 300, there's a new set of 19-inch wheels on the options sheet, the Lexus Enform Safety and Service Connect services are now complimentary for the first decade of service, and there's new low-speed functionality on the GS F's adaptive cruise control.
Choosing Your Lexus GS
With four distinct trim levels and powertrain choices, the GS caters to a breadth of needs and finances. Does this make it a jack of all trades? Well, not to the extent of, say, the Mercedes E-Class, what with that model's three body styles and myriad of motors. But even without a wagon or coupe variant, the range of performance offered by the GS is broad enough to please most anyone.
On the cheaper end of things is the 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder that powers all GS 300 models. Not quite the sprightliest of the bunch, the 241 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque coax the rear-drive four-door to 60 miles per hour in 7.2 seconds. An eight-speed automatic keeps the power moving from up front to out back, and can be manually manipulated via the standard paddle shifters. A perk of the small displacement is the decent gas mileage. The EPA estimates that it should return 22 miles per gallon city, 32 highway, and 26 combined.
With two additional cylinders and a healthy dollop of extra power, the 3.5-liter V6 in the GS 350 presents a strong case for naturally aspirated six-cylinder engines, which are fast becoming an endangered species in this era of technology and efficiency. It makes 311 hp and 280 lb-ft of torque, enough power to get from zero to 60 mph in 5.7 seconds for the rear-driver (all-wheel-drive models are a tenth slower). However, fuel economy does take a hit when compared to the GS 300, and V6 buyers should only expect 20/28/23 if they get the rear-drive model or 19/26/22 with AWD. While the GS 300 uses an eight-speed transmission, the GS 350 makes do with a six-speed unit.
For those that refuse to compromise on either power and economy, there's the GS 450h. That little h, for what it's worth, stands for hybrid. It earns that moniker thanks to an electric motor bolted up to the familiar 3.5-liter V6. The extra assistance boosts total power output to 338 hp and 257 lb-ft of torque, just enough to let the 450h do zero to 60 in 5.6 seconds, two-tenths faster than the GS 350. The EPA-estimated mileage of 29/34/31 meets any reasonable expectations for a hybridized sport sedan. Instead of a typical multi-gear transmission, a continuously-variable unit handles power delivery to the rear wheels.
All the above engines exist in silent subservience to the mighty GS F. Its bellowing 5.0-liter V8 may seem more American exuberance than Japanese sensibility, but look under the innocuous hood of the big-cheese GS and there it is, all five liters shoehorned into the engine bay with blatant disregard for every Lexus stereotype. It churns out 467 hp and 389 lb-ft of torque, and will whisk passengers from zero to 60 mph in just 4.5 seconds. Gas mileage is just 16/24/19, but this compares favorably to most other big-displacement sport sedans. Besides, who buys 467 ponies to conserve fuel?
On top of the spoiled-for-choice engine roster, the GS boasts a number of standard features. The most notable of these is the Safety System Plus, which is a bundle of active safety features that includes lane departure warning, forward collision warning, adaptive cruise control, and smart high beams. This is on top of the also-standard blind-spot monitoring, cross-traffic alert, and 10 airbags. Other no-cost features standard across the lineup include keyless entry, SiriusXM radio, 10-way power seats, a 12-speaker sound system, a power moonroof, and dual-zone climate control. Across-the-board options include a $500 sensor-activated parking assist, $400 power trunk, and a $1,380 Mark Levinson 17-speaker sound system.
The F Sport upgrade is available across all trims (the GS F is where the extra performance is already built in). Opt for this package – which costs between $2,000 and $5,000, depending on the particular GS trim – and Lexus adds a number of both aesthetic and mechanical upgrades, including LFA-inspired gauges, variable-ratio steering, 16-way power seats, a sport suspension, and distinct trimmings.
Unless the hybrid tech of the 450h is that appealing to you, there's no reason to go beyond the GS 350, which offers a good amount of power and all the luxury and safety features you'll ever need. The same advice holds true for the F Sport. Not only is the GS 350 the cheapest trim to upgrade to F status, it's also the only way to get that Torsen differential and the rear-steer system.
2018 Lexus GS Review
The BMW 5-Series and Mercedes-Benz E-Class rule the roost in the world of luxury sedans, but the Lexus GS continues to chisel out a corner of the market with its flowing lines, supportive front seats, and handling prowess. And while a significant visual refresh in 2016 gave it a new lease on life, knee room in back remains tight, gasoline-only models aren't that thrifty, the infotainment interface is distracting, and the engine lineup can't match that of competitors.
The 2018 Lexus GS is available in four different iterations: GS 300, GS 350, GS 350 all-wheel drive, and GS 450h, in addition to the high-performance GS F. While we'll touch on the four-cylinder GS 300 and GS 450h hybrid, Most of our hands-on experience was with the six-cylinder GS 350.
Pricing for the 2018 Lexus GS starts at $47,535 for a rear-wheel-drive GS 300 and rises to nearly $69,000 for a rear-wheel-drive GS 450h. Even the base GS 300 is well equipped with 17-inch alloy wheels, Bi-LED headlights, LED turn signals, taillights, and daytime running lights, auto-dimming inside and outside mirrors, a moonroof, keyless push-button start, LED ambient interior lighting, wood trim, 10-way power driver and passenger seats, a 12.3-inch control screen with Remote Touch Interface, Siri EyesFree, satellite radio, Bluetooth, and navigation.
All GS models are equipped with the Lexus Safety System Plus that includes pre-collision warning, automatic emergency braking, adaptive cruise control, automatic headlights with high beam assist, and lane departure warning with steering assist.
We'd skip the base GS 300 and head straight for the GS 350 (buyers in colder states should opt for one with all-wheel-drive). In addition to the bigger engine, GS 350 models come with larger 18-inch wheels. Do yourself a favor and grab the Mark Levinson audio system – it's reasonably priced for a 17-speaker setup, while the $1,760 Luxury Package adds real leather.
Here's how we'd build it:
- Model: 2018 Lexus GS 350 AWD
- Engine: 3.5-liter V6
- Output: 311 hp / 280 lb-ft
- Transmission:Six-speed automatic
- Drivetrain: All-wheel drive
- MPG: 21 City / 26 Hwy
- Options:Premium Package ($1,760, heated and ventilated front seats, leather interior trim, power rear sunshade, rain-sensing wipers) Heated Leather-Trimmed Steering Wheel ($800, required with the Premium Package), Mark Levinson Premium Surround Sound Audio System ($1,380, 17-speaker surround sound audio system)
- Base Price:$51,590 (including a $1,025 destination charge)
- Best Value Price:$55,530
Torque comes on stronger from about 3,000 rpm, and the 3.5-liter V6 delivers solid acceleration, pushing the GS 350 to 60 mph in less than six seconds. This engine also delivers an incredible soundtrack when doing its 5.7-second zero-to-60 dance. The base GS 350's suspension is a Goldilocks of sorts, providing great stability in the corners but not sacrificing ride quality to do so.
The V6 is mated to a slick eight-speed transmission on rear-wheel-drive models, while a six-speed transmission is reserved for models equipped with all-wheel drive. There's a nice weight to the steering and a decent amount of feedback, while the brake pads offer a nice initial bite to a system that's easy to modulate. Road imperfections – from minor imperfections to large potholes – are absorbed with ease, the body isn't affected by crosswinds, and even grooved pavement doesn't affect handling.
The hybrid is also entertaining in its own way, teaming the V6 with a 147-kW electric motor and a 30-kW nickel-metal-hydride battery pack for strong acceleration and low-speed all-electric driving.
Bump up to the F Sport's adaptive suspension, and you get a noticeably stiffer ride, but you're rewarded with improved agility that feels more analog than you may expect.
That said, we'd pass on the F-Sport. Although fun enough, there are more entertaining vehicles in this class that are a better choice for enthusiast drivers. Furthermore, the standard eight-speed automatic is fine when left to its own devices, but it's a poor companion in manual mode, while the base 241-horsepower, 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder is a step behind the competition.
Finally, the hybrid's overall experience feels more detached, while fuel economy suffers a bit with the V6 at just 20 miles per gallon city, 28 mpg highway, and 23 combined. That drops to 19 mpg city, 26 highway, and 22 combined with all-wheel drive. Our own observed fuel economy in an AWD V6 was 21.9 miles per gallon in a mix of suburban and highway driving.
Despite its age, the 2018 GS 350 is still a gorgeous sedan that stands out in a crowd as one of the best-looking mid-size sport sedans on the market. The sheetmetal undulates rearward from a somewhat subdued spindle grille – looking both voluptuous and squared-off at the same time. In back, the fascia is dominated by large, trapezoidal-shaped taillight enclosures, while the slim lower diffuser contains two elongated chrome exhaust outlets.
The conservatively-styled greenhouse contains an interior where occupants are surrounded by supple upholstery and an array of trim options. The gauges and knobs are intuitive and, for the most part, easy to understand and use, while high-grade plastics adorn those surfaces not covered with metallic trim or soft-touch surfaces. The front seats are very comfortable and tuned well for long-distance drives. These seats also offer 10-way power adjustability standard, but the real treat comes from the optional 18-way power chairs.
At the same time, though subdued, that in-your-face spindle grille may be a bit much for more reserved buyers, while the F Sport model doesn’t visually separate itself from the standard GS 350 enough. We're also not huge fans of the F Sport's seats, as they lack the padding and bolstering found in the best sports-oriented seats. Plus, the rear seats, while suitable for adults, are nowhere near as comfortable as the front seats.
Hauling cargo can also be a bit tricky, as the trunk opening is plenty wide, but trunk space is short, and, since the rear seatbacks are fixed, the only way to squeeze in longer items is through a smallish center pass-through hidden behind the rear arm rest. Finally, the GS is one of the few Lexus models that still features the perplexing, irritating, and distracting mouse-like Remote Touch Interface infotainment controller that needs to just go away.
The Best and Worst Things
Lexus reliability and all-around comfort push the GS 350 toward the luxury end of the luxury-sport spectrum, which is refreshing in a segment that tries to be all things to all shoppers.
The Remote Touch Interface is arguably the worst infotainment control system on the market. It’s distracting, ill thought out, and needs to disappear quickly.
Right For? Wrong For?
The 2018 GS 350 is the perfect luxury sedan for the younger professional who’s tired of the same old German metal that’s starting to blend in with the crowd.
Buyers that want the best, brightest, and newest technology will want to avoid the aging GS. While entries like the Mercedes-Benz E-Class and Volvo S90 are pushing the edge of the envelope on in-car tech, the GS feels its age in nearly every interaction.
The Bottom Line
An aging but competent driver with plenty of advanced safety features, the 2018 Lexus GS is let down by other technologies grounded in the last decade. The result is a vehicle that feels just right for the average age of its buyer, but pretty darn dull for everyone else.