A few weeks ago, I and a good friend had the opportunity to test drive Lexus’ new 2013 GS sport sedan on the Las Vegas Speedway. In celebration of their very first Super Bowl commercial, Lexus flew us and approximately 40 others tech folks from around the country to Sin City to interact with their auto experts, test drive the GS, play with its fancy new high tech cockpit, ride in the LFA, and wrap up the weekend watching the Super Bowl/commercial.
This write up will be part trip report and part review of the GS sedan itself. Fortunately Lexus not only flew me to Vegas but a good friend of mine as well. It just so happens, my friend, Troy, is a through and through car guy. He reads/studies about them, builds them, races them, etc. While I appreciate a fine vehicle, Troy can tell you in great detail about most cars on the road today. He will be guest writing with me on this review, providing a more gear-head perspective. My comments will be in normal text and Troy’s will be Blue italicized.
Thanks so much for inviting me Dave! What an awesome deal, to get in on the launch of the new GS. Coincidentally, I have been lightly shopping the previous generation Lexus GS450H as my wife and I look to replace her 13MPG daily driven SUV with something a little more responsible and luxurious. This opportunity was both fun and timely for me on a personal level.
Friday of Super Bowl weekend, we flew into Vegas and was met by Lance our very nice limo driver.
Lance proceeded to drive us to the Palazzo hotel where we were greeted by several Lexus reps who briefed us and got us dialed in for the rest of the weekends activities.
Friday night, all of the tech writers/bloggers had a meet and greet with the Lexus folks over dinner and drinks. All of us talking excitedly about the the next day out on the raceway.
The Driving Experience
The Lexus GS has been completely redesigned inside and out; a new, more extreme look, better handling and responsiveness, and a more powerful, fuel efficient engine/powertrain. The GS is available in Premium, Luxury or F SPORT packages with rear-wheel drive (RWD) or all-wheel drive (AWD) configurations. The GS’s 3.5 liter aluminum V6 engine produces 306 horsepower and can go 0-60 in 5.7 secs (all of the GS specs can be found HERE).
This seems to be the current target for most major auto companies, a 300 hp V6, (and I would guess a 400 hp V8 to follow), better gas mileage than the previous model, 7 or 8 speed transmissions, and a significant up tick in the interior quality of materials. Lexus is right in the middle of this hunt if not leading the charge.
The thing that surprised me the most about the GS after seeing it in person is that I don’t hate how it looks. In preparation for this event I did a bit of research and picture hunting. Nothing I found really seemed to stand out and shout except for the pictures. I honestly was a bit put off by the new nose. My first impression after seeing pictures was to ask, “Who are they targeting?” Will a company executive want to buy a car that looks as if it has had its front bumper cover replaced with a piece from “Street Extreemz” or something of the sort? My surprise was that the aggressive look of the car in person is not as extreme as it is in the photos. The look is supposedly going to be the new face of Lexus and it just might stick. I am not sure how the pinched trapezoid would be adapted for use on a full up luxury sedan such as the LS, but on the sport/luxury GS it works.
The GS has four driving modes: Eco, Normal, Sport and Sport Plus.
- ‘In ECO mode, a calming blue light surrounds the gauge cluster while the throttle response and engine power output are moderated for increased fuel efficiency. The climate settings are also optimized by periodically switching to recirculation mode to reduce ventilation loss and even using the heated seat function for more efficient warming’.
- ‘Normal mode provides the optimal balance of fuel efficiency, engine performance and, on Luxury-equipped models, the degree of road feel’.
- ‘Sport S mode changes the gauge cluster lighting to a fiery red and alters the powertrain for faster gear changes and more dynamic throttle mapping’.
- (The available) ‘Sport S+ mode goes a step further by also tightening the suspension and increasing steering response. In both modes, the transmission’s shift points are automatically altered coming into and out of corners for sharper acceleration’.
By noon Saturday, we were all out on the racetrack getting briefed on the days activities. The days events included driving the 2013 GS on a timed autocross and road coarse, interacting with the PM responsible for the advanced technologies built into the cockpit, and ending the day with an insanely cool ride in the Lexus LFA. Lexus had many professional drivers available to us to ask questions, instruct us, and ensure our safety while putting the GS through its paces.
The first part of the afternoon was a competition between all the writers and their guests to see who could get the best time around the autocross track Lexus had setup for us. After the scenario and safety briefing, we all took turns pushing the GS to perform…squealing wheels, smoking brakes, sliding around turns, the whole nine yards. As a matter of fact, out of our entire group Troy came in first place in the competition by nearly a full second.
I got lucky on that one, but to give a little perspective here, my time was two full seconds slower than the best time posted by one of the instructors. Two seconds on a 33 second track is an eternity, definitely showing the difference between a pro and an amateur.
While a ride in the LFA was an incredible once in a lifetime moment, driving the GS ‘like we stole it’ was honestly the best part of the weekend. I know both Troy and I pushed the sport sedan as far as our driving skills would allow. The GS took our abuse (of all 40 of us and the pro drivers) and was ready for more. We all had the chance to drive the various GS models on the autocross course as many times as we wished.
We were also given a chance to ride on the autocross course with pro driver, IMSA and SCCA champion Scott Pruett. Obviously a fun ride for all. The thing is, as I sat there hanging on for dear life during my 33 second ride, it occurred to me that Scott had been beating an apparently stock GS350 for over a half an hour with not one little hiccup from the car. Just consider it for a moment, a family sport sedan, street tires, automatic transmission, no apparent additional prep by Lexus, being beaten repeatedly as hard as possible by a professional race driver. Full throttle to maximum anti-skid braking, late apex trail braking, power sliding, one foot on the gas the other on the brake, driven harder than any owner will ever drive their luxury GS, and not one little complaint from the car. WOW!
Checkout Troy’s and Scott’s lap around the course, I believe many of you will be surprised/impressed just how hard Scott pushed the vehicle.
The group then took the GS out on a two mile course and was able to make it truly giddy up and go. Each of us road with a professional driver giving us instruction on how to safely get the most out of GS at speed while whipping it around sharp, hairpin turns.
Various models of the GS were provided during this portion of the event, from the base GS350 to the all wheel drive GS350X to the GS350 with F sport package and even a hybrid version was on hand to drive. There was not enough time to drive each different car individually; however, just the idea that Lexus would make each of these cars available to amateurs for some racetrack time suggests that they are confident in their product! I suppose it is noteworthy that all of the cars made it through the day unscathed!
The New Technology
Along with being a ‘drivers vehicle’, the GS is a tech-person’s car as well. Lexus has gone beyond just a fancy navigation system that can talk to your smartphone and added much greater functionality to the vehicles driving experience. The highlight of the new system is a 12.3-inch high-resolution split-screen multimedia display. It provides access to navigation, audio, climate controls and the new Lexus Enform system.
Within the Lexus Enform system, Lexus engineers have integrated multimedia/social ‘apps’ that include Pandora, Facebook, Bing, Yelp, etc. According to the experts we talked to, they are continuing to develop useful tools to assist the driver better manage a hectic life. As Lexus develops new applications and improves the user interface, the system is capable over-the-air updates to seamlessly and easily tweak or enhance how it operates.
The main interface with the system is a two button and joystick/mouse configuration. The control system is very well thought out and polished but does take a bit of getting use to. Some of the apps have the ability to be controlled by voice.
I really liked how the controller gave a little bump of feedback each time the cursor moved into a new menu area on the large screen. That tactile signal will hopefully help the average user manipulate the system more effectively while reducing time spent with eyes off of the road. For me that is the real question here, is it reasonable to expect drivers to be able to operate the infotainment system in a way that doesn’t put themselves or other drivers at risk. How far does this need to go and what are the possible consequences. We are probably all aware of the efforts to restrict handheld device use in our vehicles. Now the vehicles themselves will be the device. Does this make us any less distracted as drivers? Now our car will be able to Yelp, Bing, Pandora and Facebook just to name a few. To what end? Will this make us safer? Certainly we will be more connected and Lexus seems to think this is the next thing that consumers want.
Troy and I regularly discuss/debate the integration of tech into cars from a multitude of perspectives. But we both agree, the bottom line is…this is the way of the future. Case and point, I have several very nice, zippy, fun cars that I love to drive. But my BIGGEST wish is that when I get in them, my iPhone would seamlessly/wirelessly connect, allowing me/the car to take calls, stream Pandora, use Siri, etc. This desire may potentially be one of the single most driving reasons that I someday upgrade vehicles.
THE LFA Supercar
Lexus and Scott Pruett gave each of us a ride in the $375,000 LFA supercar you see pictured here. The 553 horse-powered car throws you back in your seat like a jet fighter leaping off the runway. It was a two dimensional roller coaster ride that was simply awesome. You can watch my ride in the car here and Troy’s here. We hit speeds in excess of 125 mph and went around the two mile track in what seemed like the blink of an eye. Literally everyone who went on the ride with Scott had a huge ‘cat ate the mouse’ grin on their face as they got out of the car .
The Super Bowl Commercial
On Sunday, all of us, tech writers/bloggers, guests and Lexus folks, met to watch the Super Bowl/Lexus commercial and further chat with each other about Saturdays fun and the game itself.
For those of you who did not watch the game, the Lexus commercial was aired at the end of the first quarter. To be honest, I should have not watched it online and waited for its actual premier….but that was my choice. It was a great first effort in the Super Bowl commercial arena (where many are flops). It definitely showed off the 2013 GS and hinted at the rest of Lexus’ redesigned lineup.
The newly redesigned 2013 Lexus GS sport sedan performs incredibly. Both Troy and I were impressed by its handling, ride, luxury interior, and sportiness. It was also great we could checkout/go hands on with its new high-tech Enform navigation and multimedia system. After our time with the GS, I know both Troy and I look forward to seeing how Lexus transforms the rest of its 2013 lineup with the new look, performance, and technology.