Test Drives

Lexus GS 350 2016 Review: Sleeper Hit


3.5-litre V6-powered GS has an engine update and is still gloriously punchy

Singapore – The Lexus GS has been facelifted for 2016, as we already found out in the test of the newest model to the line-up earlier this year, the GS Turbo.

Taking the 2.0-litre turbocharged inline four engine first found in the NX and RX Turbo models, the GS Turbo replaces the old 2.5-litre V6 model as found in the IS 250  (now replaced by the excellent IS Turbo) and the GS 250 from the pre-facelift era. With the facelift, the GS gains LED lighting all around, plus a much more aggressive front end design (see the bits around the huge spindle grille) and re-styled rear too.

But Lexus has always had natural aspiration at its heart for the greater part of its near 30-year history, so while the Germans stack 3.0-litre turbo sixes in their head-lining models, such as the BMW 340i or Mercedes-Benz E 400, Lexus retains its ‘purity’ with a naturally-aspirated 3.5-litre V6, as we also recently tested in the RX 350.

The 2GR-FSK V6 engine is actually new for the GS – the pre-facelift model packed the older 2GR-FSE engine (see box) and we detail the differences below.

Under the bonnet of the GS, the 2GR-FKS has slightly more power and torque here though (14bhp and 10Nm more) than in the RX 350, and that’s because the GS is a sport sedan. It’s a fact that often flies under the radar, but the new line of F high-performance machines like the RC F and GS F have helped sharpen up the Lexus image to include athleticism. It’s not that Lexus didn’t have it before, though – if you drove the GS  you’d know, even before this facelift.

Open Wide And Say ‘K’ : A peek at the new 3.5-litre V6 engine 2GR-FKS
Is there really a new engine powering the GS 350? That was something of a puzzle to us too: Hallmarks of a new powerplant are typically more power/torque and less fuel consumption. But the previous GS 350 and the new model have almost identical power outputs, torque, bore and stroke (94.0 by 83.0mm) and even compression ratio 11.8 to 1). In fact the official spec sheet states 316bhp at 6,400rpm and 378Nm at 4,800rpm, so the new GS 350 has actually lost six horsepower, even though it revs higher. The 2Nm difference in torque is, for all intents and purposes, the same.

Why bother with the ‘update’ then? We speculated it’s for environmental regulations and a source within Lexus confirmed this. Come September 2017, Euro VI emission standards will be in force for Singapore and a number of current engines from different brands won’t make the cut, especially turbocharged ones. It’s a big question mark for makers of mass market cars such as Hyundai, Kia, Nissan and of course, Toyota. The key difference is that the new engine is rated ULEV 3 according to California’s emission standards (the USA’s strictest) while the old engine is ULEV 2. This doesn’t just measure carbon dioxide (CO2) alone but also hydrocarbons, organic compounds and particulates, and ULEV 3 is known to be more stringent than Euro VI – for example with CO2, ULEV dictates a maximum of 0.625g/km, while for Euro VI it’s 1.000g/km.

Toyota’s engine and its codes have always been a bit of a complex lore, since the factory doesn’t often shed much light on the technologies behind them. What we do know is that the new 2GR-FSE engine wasn’t lacking in tech, it having direct and port injection already, what Toyota calls D-4S. The new 2GR-FKS engine has that, and now also has ‘on demand’ Atkinson Cycle operation plus ‘Dual VVT-iW’. The first refers to modified combustion cycle technology that delays intake valve closing to mimic a smaller overall cylinder capacity (and thus less fuel consumed). In the second technology ‘W’ refers to ‘wide’ which means a larger range of variable valve timing that makes the partial Atkinson cycle running possible. Thus, like the lovely 470bhp 5.0-litre V8 engine 2UR-GSE, the 2GR-FKS can let the car it powers be mean when it needs to be, and green when it doesn’t.

In addition Lexus also says that the new engine has a re-designed oil sump that features friction-reduction tech, as well as a exhaust manifold that is integrated into the cylinder head itself, a feature made possible by using engine coolant to cool the exhaust gases.

Compared to the mentioned Germans, it’s a misconception that Lexus machines are much slower or lardy. 0-100km/h figures don’t tell the whole story and on track, in our experience, the difference is much less than you’d expect.

With 310bhp on tap, the GS 350 is only 16bhp shy of BMW’s latest ‘40i’ inline turbocharged six engine, but it’s the way the Lexus V6 develops and delivers that power which make it feel less violent, smoother, but also easier to handle when the going gets hot.

Like before, you can put the GS into different drive modes. To eke out the most performance, Sport+ works well, down on to Sport, Normal and Eco progressively for more sedation. Sport+ indicates that the GS 350 (which is sold only in ‘Luxury’ trim, alas no F Sport for this stealth fighter) has adaptive dampers.

The V6 goes from soft whine to purring snarl on the way towards peak power at 6,600rpm (the RX’s 3.5 goes up to 6,300rpm only – again this suits the GS better) and around 3,000rpm the GS 350 really starts to move. There’s no turbo ‘hump’ which is so thrilling in a straight line or chillling in the middle of a tricky corner, so the GS truly is one of the easiest luxury big sedans to hustle through a set of twisties.

It’s always been a great handling machine – double wishbone front and multi-link rear suspension with active dampers here – and while there’s no mention of mechanical changes in this nip-tuck, the GS feels better than ever. Switch back to ‘Eco’ mode, engage the cooled seats and it can do easy-going, effortless cruise as well as any other Lexus around. Helping you tap into that broad range of ability, and new for 2016, is an additional drive mode, ‘Customize’ where you can tweak the engine, suspension and steering individually. Before, it wasn’t possible to have say, the sporty damper setting with a normal engine map and so on.

The feeling of opulence and refinement on board is almost a given by now, but Lexus has always had that magical touch of creating a car that lowers your blood pressure once you’re seated, regardless of position. The front seats get cooled, 10-way multi-adjustable thrones – in fact the front passenger seat can do a great impression of a proper Ottoman-style limo seat with its extendable footrest – while the rear seats have plenty of  leg and headroom, plus blinds and individual aircon and radio controls.

As a ‘Luxury’ variant, the GS 350 comes packed to the gills with a long list of things to make your life easier. We particularly enjoy the air-con seats, blind spot indicators, the 10 airbags and Mark Levinson sound system.

At roughly $330k plus COE, the GS 350 isn’t cheap, but strictly speaking it doesn’t have much competition on the ground. There’s no ‘big engine’ spec of 5 Series or E-Class, the former are all POA while the E 300 and E 400 have yet to debut here. The big news in the luxury big sedan market is that the new, much-awaited 5 Series is on the horizon, but that hardly puts a kink in the GS’s armor. Lexus has always maintained that its products don’t compete on a direct level with the German big three, which is true in some cases (NX) and in others not so (IS Turbo). With the GS 350’s case, it’s really a car that’s unique, dynamic and in many areas, more enjoyable than a roughly equivalent German.

Lexus GS 350 Luxury
Engine 3,456cc, 24V, V6
Power 310hp at 6600rpm
Torque 380Nm at 4800rpm
Gearbox 8-speed automatic
Top Speed 235km/h
0-100km/h 6.0  seconds
Fuel efficiency 9.6L/100km
CO2 222g/km
Price $327,800 with COE

Also Consider: BMW 540i, Mercedes-Benz E 400

about the author

Derryn Wong
Has a keen interest in all things mechanical, technological, animal and mineral. Is particularly fascinated by eco-cars and cars which make no logical sense. An avid motorcyclist and photographer, he also enjoys cats.