What's your perfect Friday afternoon?
Many will undoubtedly say that they anticipate the reduced workload, others say they look forward to a while others will be heading off to their respective happy hours around the metro.
For me, however, it was spent behind the wheel of this car, the Lexus GS 350 F Sport, foot on the floor and hands firmly on the wheel as I take it for a blast down the open road.
This -to me- is just perfect.
Just two days prior, we were at Lexus Manila, Inc.'s state of the art showroom located in Fort Bonifacio Global City. Carlo Chungungco, the brand's ever charismatic PR and Marketing Officer and protege of LMI's president, Danny Isla, was showing me around the all new Lexus GS 350 F Sport. I just couldn't wait to get behind the wheel of this thing, fire up the motor and go for a drive. Patience.
This car is quite a sight to behold. Subtlety, a typical Lexus tradition, has gone out the window in favor of a design that shares more in common with a modified performance car rather than a sedate gentlemanly sedan. The front just screams performance thanks to the application of the spindle grille (a new hallmark of Lexus design) and a very aggressive, aerodynamic front bumper. From any angle it just looks beautiful, and the F Sport wheels along with the low profile sport tires give the GS that go-fast look... even if its just sitting still.
The GS 350 F Sport may look like a boy racer who never grew up on the outside, but it's all dignified inside. The quality of the materials, the workmanship and the sheer attention to details are quite remarkable. Everything you can think of is powered. Only premium natural leather covers every primary surface you would be touching: seats, steering and shift knob. They even have a new feature that gives the driver full control of the audio, climate and other functions through a hat switch on the center console.
Sitting on the driver's seat for the first time, I settle in and fire up the Lexus GS for a quick drive around town. That striking front end does turn heads, and having the daylight LEDs all lit up gives it that extra boost of 'cool'. This car is a glutton for attention.
Being driven around town really isn't what the car was designed for, even if it does ride over our bad streets very well. Now, it's time to really let the car loose the way its engineers meant for it to be driven: hard and fast.
As serendipity would have it, I happen to have an errand to do in Balanga, Bataan that Friday. I plotted a route that would take me on the North Luzon Expressway, get off at San Fernando, Pampanga, drive to Balanga, Bataan, do my thing, come back, hop on the SCTEx to Clark and then back to Manila via the NLEx.
On the highway, my first impression of the car is that it feels very, very different from the model it replaced. I do miss the old model (the GS 460) that was powered by a 4.6 liter V8 engine with 343 PS, as this new one gets a smaller 3.5 liter V6. After crunching some numbers, the new engine is actually better pound-for-pound, as it develops 91% of the output of the V8 with 312 PS with only 76% of the displacement. Don't think that because it's a smaller engine and has less horsepower that the new GS is a slouch... far from it.
On the open road, the F Sport lunges forward when you floor the throttle, letting all that power loose through the rear wheels and a 6-speed transmission. 100 km/h is dispatched in just over 6 seconds... yet it still feels like 60. The needle went up even higher, and still it felt stable and very composed. The GS even has a unique intake note generator, giving a noticeable growl at high revs.
Now up until this point, I've had it in either Eco Mode (for maximum fuel efficiency, but really restrains the engine) or Normal Mode, but now it's time to really let the GS loose as for the first time, I turn the driving mode knob to the right, turning on Sport S+. This mode gives new meaning to the many “sport modes” you would find in other cars, as not only does it modify how the transmission shifts, it also sharpens the suspension (for better handling) and makes the engine more eager to rev and make you go even faster.
Out of the NLEX (which had quite a bit of traffic) and onto the main highway leading up to Bataan, I made full use of the car's overtaking abilities. And boy, can this thing go. What was actually remarkable was it's cornering abilities, especially in Sport S+ mode. With a stiffer suspension in this mode, the GS 350 F Sport demonstrates the chassis's abilities, and yet it has one more surprise: four wheel steering.
In the long, sweeping and winding roads leading up to Bataan, the GS 350 F Sport takes on the corners with more confidence than any other Lexus I've driven or ridden before... well, except maybe for the ISF. It's poised and composed with that four wheel steering system, and actually begs for more challenging turns.
The new GS 350 F-Sport is priced at PhP 4,818,000. It's pretty steep on its own, but when compared to similarly specced and/or positioned models from its German counterparts, the GS 350 F Sport seems like a bargain for the class.
I'm sure I wasn't the only one of the opinion that every generation of Lexus before were not what we car enthusiasts would call 'emotional' cars. Their brand of automobile -even when it came to their high performance models like the LFA or ISF- is all about making smart, sensible choices for reliability, quality, comfort, refinement and luxury.
The brand of infinite sensibilities has finally embraced their dark side in producing the GS: a car that doesn't just try to pursue perfection, it also commands true emotion.