I'm always up for a good road trip, especially in an angrier-than-thou sport sedan that comforts like your favorite grandma, kicks it like a Gulstream jet, and looks like it just ate Darth Vader's cat. So, when I had an invitation to visit Flint, Michigan - home of my Alma matter Kettering University - for the unveiling of a statue honoring Albert Champion, I laid tracks.
More Than a Fancy Toyota
If you think all Lexus models are just Toyotas with sassy style and higher price tags, think again. While the ES sedan shares much with America's best-selling Camry under the skin, our GS is a rear-drive-based sport sedan that's more a downsized version of the flagship LS than sportier ES. Think of it as Lexus' E-Class, CTS, A6, or 5-Series - big enough to be comfortable, but small enough to be a true driver's car.
It's actually tough to distinguish the GS from other Lexus models with its spindle grille, cleanly sculpted bodysides, and kinked rear windowline. Lexus is finally grafting some attitude into its designs and they're better for it. I'm especially smitten with the F-Sport version's mesh grille, aggressive front and rear facias, 19-inch alloys, lip spoiler, and rear diffuser with fins to control airflow. It's exuberantly sporty, but won't embarrass grown-ups.
Hustling to meet Mr. Champion, I mostly saw the GS from inside. Being a Lexus, everything is well-made and expertly-crafted. Knobs turn with precision, dashtops are stitched, and seat leather could have come from a well-lotioned Italian heifer. Aluminum panels with grass pattern grace the dash and doors. Heated/ventilated seats, heated leather-wrapped steering wheel, atuomatic climate control, crisp audio, and power sunroof added comfort. Bluetooth and USB ports connect mobile devices easily.
Sure, it's comfortable, but the electronics mesmerize. Every car should have a head-up display that seemingly projects speed, tachometer, and radio settings over the hood. Beyond that, infotainment is handled through a 12.3-inch screen and mouse-style controller (or voice controls) that includes navigation, trip computer, and audio controls. Lexus Enform Destination Services offers apps for Bing, OpenTable, MovieTickets.com, Pandora and iHeartRadio. Siri Eyes Free mode is compatible with iPhone 4S and iPhone 5. Safety is enhanced with a Pre-Collision System that uses the radar cruise control and eye monitor to determine if you're looking ahead when an accident is imminent. If not, the car automatically begins braking.
Traveling Quickly and Quietly
My mission was to make the five-hour drive from Indianapolis, Indiana to Flint, Michigan and arrive at the ceremony no later than 9:30 a.m. Yep, it was an early morning, and I was thankful for the GS350's comfy cabin. I was more thankful for its willingness to gallop like a racehorse when coached with a firm sneaker.
Lexus powertrains are known for being whisper smooth and the GS' 3.5-liter V6, connected to an eight-speed automatic transmission with paddle shifters, is no exception. Drivers enjoy a free-spirited 306 horsepower and 19/29-MPG city/hwy - both appreciated on my long drive. There was always power in reserve and it went relatively light on my plastic.
That's only half of the equation because our car also employs Lexus' Drive Mode Select system that lets drivers calibrate performance for Eco, Normal, Sport, and Sport+ modes. With the turn of a console knob, go from sipping fossils and nearly floating to adjusting the suspension, steering, throttle response, and shift pattern for tearing up two-lanes. Add to that torque-vectoring all-wheel-drive and you have a Lexus with surprising abilities - like getting me to the "church" on time.
Meeting Mr. Champion
I was invited to Flint by Peter Joffre Nye, who wrote the definitive book on Parisian-born Albert Champion (1878-1927) titled, "The Fast Times of Albert Champion." A chance meeting with GM founder William C. Durant in 1908 had the former bicycle racer and aspiring spark plug mogul moving operations to Flint. By figuring out autos (and airplanes - his plugs were on the Spirit of St. Louis) couldn't run without reliable spark plugs, Champion eventually employed over 3,500 workers. It's no wonder he received a bronze statue that stands alongside automotive pioneers Durant and David Dunbar Buick.
The Lexus GS350 F-Sport and I returned to Indianapolis after 10 hours of slamming pavement, tired but no worse for the journey. The car offered smooth power and first-class accommodations the entire way. I'm just glad we could give Mr. Champion a peck on the cheek in honor of his contributions to the automobile. Our trip would not have been possible without him.
Expect to pay at least $48,600 for a GS350 or $60,185 as-tested in F-Sport trim.
Be sure to follow Casey on Twitter: @AutoCasey.
2015 Lexus GS350 F-Sport
- Five-passenger, AWD sedan
- Powertrain: 306hp 3.5-liter V6, 8-spd auto trans
- Suspension f/r: Electronic Ind/Ind
- Wheels f/r: 19"/19" alloy
- Brakes f/r: disc/disc
- Must-have features: Grace, pace
- Fuel economy: 19/29-MPG city/hwy
- Assembly: Japan
- Base/as-tested price: $48,600/60,185