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Brandon Seiler's Blog on Cars

Archive for June 2012

2013 Lexus GS 350 is more sport for luxury sedan dollar

                                                           

When I first got my hands on the 2013 GS 350 I wasn’t expecting to hit up twisty roads locked in Sport+ mode. The plan was to tool around city streets in a climate controlled car-spa, enjoying all the finer things in life and feeling smug. It was a keen idea; outside of the IS F and LFA Lexus is known for focusing more on luxury than performance.

James Bond might be caught dead in a 2012 GS 350. He drives BMW’s and Aston Martin’s because his car needs to outrun and out-maneuver bad guys, not just warm up a Bond girl with heated seats and a velvety smooth ride.

The James Bond, or luxury sport sedan market if you will, is one the Lexus GS 350 should be taken much more seriously in for 2013. It’s still no Aston Martin, but anyone in the market for a four-door beamer or Audi shouldn’t overlook it any longer.

Power remains about the same from last year at 306hp and 277lb-ft of torque from a 3.5L V6 that pushes the 350 to 60mph in 5.5 seconds. Fuel economy is up to 19 city 28 highway.
Those are very respectable acceleration numbers.

Combined with a throaty exhaust note that wants to be heard the GS 350 packs a punch that made this auto blogger squeal like a little girl the first time I dropped my foot into it on an open road.

In all fairness the air-conditioned driver’s seat was also tickling me with an air-hockey table’s charm.

But straight-line performance isn’t the story of the 2013 GS 350. Last year’s model had that down pat. Lexus dug into significantly improving this year’s iteration where it needed it most: Handling.

To compete with the likes of the BMW 558i, the Audi A6 and Infiniti M37 the GS 350 needed to turn a corner and impress in the twisties as much as the passing lane. It needed to handle less like a luxury car and more like a driver’s car without comprising either side of the aisle.

For the 2013 the GS 350’s suspension was completely reworked to compete with the big boys. The front and rear tracks were widened by nearly 2 inches, the rear suspension is an all-new multilink setup. Larger bushings are used in the front and all of the suspension is now aluminum to save weight. F Sport trim comes with bigger anti-rolls bars, stiffer springs, variable-ratio steering, bigger brakes and staggered 19-inch tires.

Speaking of tire staggering, the F Sport package comes with a particularly intriguing option: Active rear-steering, which as turns out isn’t exactly the same kind used on monster trucks as I first assumed.

Instead the rear wheels are aimed oppositely than the fronts at speeds less than 50mph for more precise cornering. At higher speeds they shadow the front wheels for better stability. The rear wheels can adjust up to 2 degrees in either fashion using the magic of Lexus’ computer wizardry.

All the changes add up to give the GS 350 0.91 g’s of grip, and more importantly, make it feel athletic, responsive and balanced when pushed hard through turns. Combined with V-6 grunt that lets you pass at will and optional all-wheel drive, the GS 350 is now a car that makes a good case for itself over the likes of a BMW 558i.

Not to mention, the 558I starts at $48,345 versus the base GS 350 at $47,775, and at that price point BMW will only let you have 240-horsepower from a twin-turbo four banger with an automatic transmission.

A quality Bond girl is turned on by fiscal conservatism. Now it’s time for a gripe.

Three hundred horsepower harnessed smartly through the new suspension system inspired me to drive aimlessly through backcountry highways locked in Sport + mode for the better portion of a week. Besides turning the dashboard backlighting to a passionate red, Sport + heightens throttle response and dampens the car’s body movements (body roll is reduced).

There’s a magic to throttling a luxury car that’s made to be driven hard, like a privilege that you’re abusing if not taking advantage of. It felt wrong to cruise very long on a main drag in the GS 350 before darting off to a sweeping scenic route to power through the bends.

For all the fun it was here the transmission showed need of some tweaking.

The only available setup is a six-speed automatic with manual paddle controls. Even in Sport+ mode the car has a hard time holding its RPM’s up where you want them most to pull out of turns. It drops revs where they should be propped up longer.

I got the impression that a more aggressive transmission tuning would milk even more fun from the already potent 3.5L V6, especially in light of the handling upgrades.

Having an overly conservative transmission does little if anything to marginalize the major advances Lexus made to the performance of the 2013 GS 350. Everything that’s gotten better about the car shows that Lexus already has the technology available to make it even more of a performance contender if they see fit.

All the car guys out there should keep their fingers crossed, and be careful not to dive into a James Bond-mobile before realizing the GS 350 just graduated to the genre.

Watch a slideshow of the GS 350 here:  http://tinyurl.com/88rcqvu 
  

Chevrolet Sonic takes the high road

The Chevrolet Sonic started its life as one of the dorkier kids in high school. Back then it was known as the Chevrolet Aveo, and anyone who knew what it meant to be cool felt like shoving it into a locker full of old jockstraps.

Then the Aveo went to college, hit the gym with Chevy engineers, got ripped and landed a roll in Transformers 2 as the Chevrolet Sonic. 
Now the Sonic is a car that’s helping to redefine the image of compact domestic cars.

Let’s do a word association with that phrase: Compact domestic cars… Take a moment.

Did you think of ‘boring’, ‘ugly’, ‘slow’, ‘basic transportation girl repellant medley in a rusty can’?

The Chevrolet Sonic is a compact domestic car and it is the opposite of those things. Most obviously the exterior styling is aggressive, youthful, athletic and bold; an appearance that suggests the person behind the wheel prefers to drive a car that exudes a little passion and style.

So far so good Sonic, but we all know just because a lady wears a sporty outfit doesn’t mean she’s really as fun as she looks. Where the Sonic shines on the inside is its sweet, sweet engine. 

Each and every Sonic comes standard with a 1.8-liter four-cylinder pushing out 138 horsepower and 125 pound-feet of torque. It’s nice, but keen buyers with a little more to spend will want to opt instead for the 1.4 turbocharged four-cylinder. 

Sure, it also makes 138hp, but torque is boosted to 148 lb-ft, enough to slam other subcompact cars into a locker of sweaty jockstraps.

If you’re not like that, the turbo engine is also more fuel-efficient than the 1.8-liter. This is a good example of why turbos are a trend right now in the auto industry; they help smaller displacement engines keep up with or beat out larger displacement engines both in the way of power and fuel economy.

Whether you're trying to be fun, green, or both, the turbo is the way to go.

A single transmission option on the Sonic is harder to advocate. Manual transmissions come standard; a five-speed for the 1.8-liter, and a six speed for the 1.4-liter. A six-speed automatic is optional on the 1.8-liter.

Those who plan on taking full advantage of the car’s sporty side should consider a downfall of the auto transmission. In Manual/Automatic mode (where you can shift up and down by clicking the gear shift in either direction), the Sonic substitutes the stick click for a button on the side of the shifter.

You’re supposed to click the button up or down with your thumb to shift, like the volume on a television remote control. I found this to be an awkward endeavor, as if I was thumbing at a button to adjust the temperature of my seat rather than changing gears.

Maybe I just have awkward thumbs, maybe shifting with your thumb is weird. Judge for yourself.

The word nimble is used far too often to describe the handling of cars, but gosh darn-it if the Sonic doesn’t handle that way. Perhaps more importantly, its composure doesn’t come with a skateboard ride that makes you worry about biting your tongue off on bumpy roads.

At six-feet tall I felt much more substantial behind the Sonic’s wheel, but not oversized or cramped. A second me could have rode shotgun with ample room for the Holy Spirit between our shoulders. Not just any compact car will do that for a six-footer and his clone.

The rear seats aren’t a place a six-footer would want to occupy for long trips, but they’re still impressive for the small car segment.

The Sonic’s interior ensemble isn’t going to thrill many or let them down – it gets the job done with decent material qualities that aren’t anything to write home about or pen a note to Chevrolet’s suggestion box for.

More noteworthy are the goodies that come with the base LS trim package: alloy wheels, air-conditioning, OnStar, auxiliary audio jack and a telescoping/tilt steering wheel that will curl up in your lap if that’s your thing.

A bit more dough brings home more pleasantly-priced features with the LT and LTZ trims, such as leatherette premium vinyl upholstery, heated seats, iPod interface and Bluetooth phone/audio connections.

All in all the Sonic makes a strong name for itself and packs enough fun to appeal to the car enthusisast crowd. That unto itself makes for an over achiever in it's market. 

Still, when I told a Car Guy friend I was testing the new Chevrolet Sonic for a couple days he spun around in his chair to his PC, performed a quick internet search and concluded, “No you’re not, you’re testing an Aveo!”

He was right to a certain extent. Then again, the Aveo would have failed an audition for the Transformers movies extremely hard. The Sonic on the other hand doesn’t look out of place beside the bumblebee Camaro and in reality is plenty of fun to drive. 

In fact the Sonic might be the closest thing to a real-life Transformer in any of those blockbuster movies thus far. Think about it: 

An everyday automobile morphs into an exciting machine to do battle against the evil forces of mundane compact cars.

That sounds like an exciting story to me.

Check out a slideshow of the Sonic here: http://tinyurl.com/7epynpf

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About this blog

Brandon Seiler is a bonafide car guy, member of the Northwest Auto Press Association and proud Washingtonian. He covers the latest auto news, technology, and pretty much anything having to do with car culture. You don't have to like cars to read his blogs, you just have to be able to read.

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