Executive wheels: A great “dad car” from Lexus

2013 LEXUS GS 350 AWD

I still remember when Lexus hit the scene, and the local Lexus dealer parked as many BMWs and Mercedes in his used-car area to indicate how many of them had been “traded up.” Lexus was – and is – a great car line, and has the Toyota bloodline that speaks volumes about quality, but the real reason for the flood of trade-ins was that Lexus had the audacity to offer free scheduled maintenance for the first few years of ownership – something that the Germans charged an arm and a leg for.

Not only was that a selling point in its own right, but it was also bravura about the quality and expected longevity that, I believe, created and maintained the line’s reputation from the get-go. That was a brilliant move, and even though the Germans quickly matched the deal, it was really Lexus, and of course, Toyota, that created what became the American luxury car market.

There has always been something antiseptic about Lexus – beautiful but somehow lacking in distinctiveness. Mercedes and BMW – and for the matter Infiniti, the luxury line from Nissan – always stood out from the crowd with little touches inside and out.  You didn’t need to see the badging to identify them immediately.   

That said, what struck me about the 2013 Lexus GS 350 right off the bat was how Mercedes it is. The look of the dash. The feel of the seats. The way it drives. The controls. Even the look of the GS as it sits on the street is now more Mercedes than Toyota.

My initial impression of the new GS 350 was that I felt swaddled in luxury and that it was quiet, roomy and very responsive for a six-banger. It is something of what my wife likes to call a “Dad car”; that is, a nice sedan that speaks to the station in life of the dad driver, but also that he is a dad.  It that light, the GS has a sober quality to it: the 3.5-liter V6 with 306 hp (rated 19 city/26 highway) won’t set speed records on the track, but it has plenty of power for everything else, and the handling is what I would call pedestrian. Some cars make me want to race and corner and weave in and out of traffic; in the GS 350 I took on the persona of the sober, safe dad.

The more I drove it, thought, the more I liked it. It is luxurious, very solid, easy to drive and park, and I felt very safe in it. It snowed during my test-drive week, and I have never driven any AWD sedan with a better AWD system. It never slipped and slid, had great traction when others around me were having all kinds of trouble, and the brakes in the GS were amazing, even on ice.

I also loved the sound system, the ample room, the rear-view camera, the trunk space (many golf bags, which, oddly, I got to test in the same week of the snow storm), and while I didn’t get to use the AC, the heater could bake pizza. I like a warm car, and with this GS I got all I could handle and then some, and the controls switching from feet to face to windshield are very easy to use and they work beautifully. With the dual controls, my wife could also chill out and stop turning down the heat. 

The GS also has wonderful leather seats, quite comfortable, and my back-seat consultant, my 14-year-old son, deemed the backseats roomy and “great.”

There were a few problems, however. The car has a leather armrest that acts as the middle console cover, and it is comfortable for driving, but I discovered near the end of the test drive that it was also a sliding cover. When I slid it back lo and behold I discovered the rear sun-screen button and the “snow” button, presumably for putting the car in snow mode (fortunately, it was great in the snow without the button). Why would you hide buttons? Also, the cupholders at the front of the console hide away under a cover, and when you lift said cover it makes it difficult to reach behind it to get at the heated-seats and cooled-seats buttons. A clear design flaw, especially in a luxury car.

Also, this car, like most luxury models, has a LED screen that has the map for the navigation and to control the read-outs for the radio and climate, etc., and this one was very, very large. It’s a split screen so you can see all of the radio/climate/map stuff while you can also view the rear-camera. It borders on being a distraction. Also, the rear camera – a feature I really like, by the way – stays on an inordinate amount of time after you go forward.   

The base price on this model is $49,450 which is a good price and competitive for what is standard on the model (particularly the AWD), but they got pretty aggressive on the options: $6,530 for the Luxury Package with heated rear seats, 18” alloy wheels, upgraded suspension, etc.; $1,380 for a Mark Levinson premium sound system; $1,700 for the navigation package; $500 for Intuitive Park Assist; $500 for the blind spot monitor (in the mirror; recommended); and, $242 for trunk mats, cargo nets and wheel locks.   

Add on another $875 for dealer prep and the bottom line is a whopping $61,212. That’s a lot of money for this car. Granted, it’s a Lexus/Toyota and will be just about as reliable as a car can be for many years. There’s a lot to be said for that.

I am personally a little more fancy-free.