Mountain Wheels: Lexus GS350’s just-right size emphasizes passenger comfort |

Mountain Wheels: Lexus GS350’s just-right size emphasizes passenger comfort

2014 Lexus GS350 F Sport

MSRP: $49,950; as tested, $59,742

Powertrain: 306-HP 3.5-liter V6 engine, six-speed automatic transmission

EPA mpg figures: 21 combined: 19 city, 26 highway

There are many who felt that Lexus — Toyota’s luxury division — had lost its way in recent years, with a homogenization of product and much less of the forward-looking spirit the brand enjoyed in its early days. It didn’t necessarily stop people from buying Lexuses, mind you.

This year, things have changed considerably as the DNA of the company’s impossible-to-get LFA super-exotic race car really has begun to inspire some much more dynamic offerings.

We’re looking forward to the chance to check out the racy new RC and its high-performance variation; in the meantime, one of the organ donors for the new RC experience showed up on my doorstep — and it’s still a pretty snazzy, considerably larger example of Lexus’ improved trajectory.

The GS350, a long and sporty luxury sedan with all of the standard Lexus finery, donated its nose to the new RC project, indicating perhaps the striking and thoroughly modern attributes the GS carries with it — plus much more passenger and cargo room. It can also be outfitted with all-wheel drive, to add to its mountain-worthy appeal.

I sampled a GS350 with the F Sport package, which tunes up the suspension, adds a load of stylistic tweaks and generally gives you the impression they’ve put a whole lot more horsepower under the hood to match all that upgraded chassis and shine.

That’s not quite the case, unfortunately, though the standard 306-horsepower 3.5-liter V6 is no slouch, either. I just got the feeling that for the GS’s expanded size (190.7 inches, total), you’d love to have more oomph to keep up with the long-wheelbase European machines that share the same stretched sports car ethos. Dig deeply into the throttle and GS will still go, but there is a bit of effort required.

Sporty — and perhaps a little too sporty in some attributes — is what drivers will experience, as GS does indeed provide a stiffer ride and the option to twist a knob on the console and boost up the revs and the response, with a corresponding red color scheme on the instrument panel. Just not 100 extra horses.

Too sporty for some will be the reality that the driver’s seat is just a tad too rigidly bolstered and the overly tall, leather-topped edge of the center console will restrict your knee space. If you want really overly large, I guess you need to head in the LS direction, or toward the softer-around-the-edges ES. Feeling overwhelmed? The older, shorter IS or perhaps that new RC might do the trick.

Does all of this make the GS350 the Goldilocks of the Lexus sedan family? Perhaps. The consolation is that overall design is tremendous, both inside and out — you’ll just have to make the decision on how big a platform you actually want for your lifestyle.

You can see why they opted to steal the GS’s nose for the new car: It’s got a chiseled, intense look that’s better executed than it is on the truncated IS, and the stance is comfortably aggressive.

Inside, there’s more room to meditate on IS’s intense angularities, plus charming affectations such as detail trim that looks as though it was cut from a tree that’s been GMO’ed with aluminum in its DNA. There’s piano black trim, an analog clock, shiny silver control knobs and hand-stitched, high-quality leather absolutely everywhere.

Lexus’s navigation system and the suite of Enform apps are controlled by the still-a-bit-unusual mouse pad on the console, which has a leathery base on which to rest your palm — sort of like some strange and beautiful carpal tunnel treatment device, with a nifty car conveniently attached to the whole thing. Natural speech recognition is not quite there and you’ll need to mention some fairly specific menu items to make the navigation work; once it’s going, the system is great — you also get Lexus’ premium audio system.

The rear seat in the GS is where you’ll get the most pleasure out of the entire package; foot room is gigantic, and the curved seatbacks also contribute to some extra space. Seating itself is a wonderful mixture of slightly sporty and spacious, just not quite as intense as it is up front.

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