Frank S. Washington, Tue, 27 Mar 2012 01:05:40 PDT
LAS VEGAS - Lexus always seems to be rolling along unaffected by the ups and downs of the auto industry. But times are different and the launch of the Lexus 2013 GS 350 midsize luxury sedan is an awfully serious matter.
Lexus climbed atop the U.S. luxury market in terms of quality and customer experience; then it followed that success by becoming the luxury market sales leader.
However, sliding sales of its top selling RX utility vehicle, Japan's earthquake and tsunami that cut 50,000 units of production and a strengthening yen have combined to cripple Lexus sales.
Catch a Lexus executive in a candid moment and he or she will readily admit that Lexus climbed atop of the luxury market because of the popularity of its utility vehicles not its cars. The point is there's a lot riding on the Lexus 2013 GS 350 sedan, if the Japanese automaker is to crack the stranglehold that German luxury brands have on the American midsize luxury market.
"The GS signifies the new, bolder and more confident direction the brand is
taking," said Mark Templin, Group Vice President and general manager of the Lexus. "From a design standpoint, the GS is the first car to wear the new face of
Lexus," Templin told us. "It is highlighted by the Spindle Grille, the symbol for the full scale change taking place at Lexus."
My point is that a lot of work has gone into the fourth generation of the Lexus GS 350. Available in rear-wheel or all-wheel-drive configuration, the car has three trim packages: F SPORT, Luxury or Premium.
The 2013 GS 350, which goes on sale in February, will be powered by a 3.5-liter V6 that makes 306 horsepower. Mated to a six-speed automatic transmission, the GS 350 will be able to get from zero to 60 mph in 5.7 seconds. What's more, Lexus says fuel economy numbers will be 19 mph in the city and 28 mpg on the highway. And for the expressway crowd, the new GS will get from 30 mph to 50 mph in 3.0-seconds.
The launch program was held at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway so we didn't get any seat time on normal streets in the new GS 350 except for a few spins literally around the outskirts of the speedway. Still, even on that short haul a couple of things were evident.
The interior of the GS 350 is radically different from the model it replaces. The seat frames have been redesigned to increase comfort and visibility. Even the steering wheel angle moved to 21 degrees from 23. Most significant is that the interior is no longer dominated by a center stack. Lexus has shifted to a horizontal instrument panel to emphasize the spaciousness and width of its newest luxury sedan.
I was so busy speeding around the outskirts of the track (we were warned to slow down) that I didn't even bother to check out the back seats for comfort, headroom or legroom. Still, I did learn that through sound engineering the 2013 Lexus GS 350 sedan has an authoritative engine growl.
But don't get it twisted, that engine growl came under hard acceleration. With normal acceleration comes the quiet and smoothness that has become Lexus' DNA. There's also a 2013 GS 450h. It's the hybrid version but since I didn't drive it I won't say anything.
The GS350 is equipped with the latest version of Lexus Enform Application Suite. As Lexus says, "users can conduct local searches through Bing, or utilize voice-enabled apps to make restaurant reservations through OpenTable, get movie tickets via MovieTickets.com or tap into internet radio, including Pandora or iHeartRadio. They will also appreciate the ability to check-in on Facebook, and search for various business reviews including restaurants on Yelp."
I was giving a demonstration of the system and was assured by a Lexus executive that all of the apps will be operable by voice commands when the 2013 Lexus GS 350 goes on sale in February.
Other cutting edge technologies that will be available are four-wheel-steering and a 12.3-inch wide high resolution multi-media split display screen. Still, Lexus has set some formidable goals for its new GS 350 sedan. It wants to increase market share, have half of the GS 350's sales be conquest and lower the median buyer age by about 10 years. That's a lot.
Although Lexus had not announced pricing at the time of the launch program; it's doubtful that the automaker expects to increase sales while raising prices. The current Lexus GS 350 starts at roughly $46,900. I expect roughly the same sticker for the new model.