The Lexus GS350 is so packed with technology that it needed its own explanation. It comes in two forms; driver aids and infotainment. For someone that doesn’t normally let the car make any decisions for itself, its initially disconcerting. After a week, however, the car only truly comes into its own when the I.T. begins helping the driver. There’s no escaping its reach, no matter what seat you’ve chosen.
Climbing into the car for the first time, you simply can’t ignore the 12.3″ screen. It’s so large, in fact, that it gets treated as two separate screens most of the time. Using Lexus’ Remote Touch pointer-knob-thing, you can cycle through GPS navigation, Bluetooth phone controls, radio bands, media, car settings, and Lexus Enform apps for things like weather, traffic, and sports. The far side of the screen can be set to display climate controls, radio information, or consumption figures. There is a two-day learning curve on using the Remote Touch system to navigate. That’s not to say the system navigation is unintuitive, but it does require a level of tactile control somewhere between using a computer mouse and a laptop touchpad.
For the less tech-savy, Lexus retained some basic radio and climate controls in old-fashion button form. Changing the fan speed is easier with a button than navigating through several menus, though it can be done either way. We found it best to let the system stay on “Auto” and just adjust the temperature. Climate temperature is often a contentious point among occupants, so Lexus has fitted the GS with three zones. The driver and front passenger can each have their own settings. Rear occupants will have to find some level of compromise for their comfort. If you have no companions, a simple button push syncs all three zones to the driver’s settings.
Rear seat occupants have an extensive control panel built into the center armrest. It controls the rear climate settings and the entire car’s media. Passengers can change stations, cycle through songs on an MP3 player, and adjust the volume. They can even raise and lower the powered rear sunshade. Luckily, the driver can lock out these features to prevent “back seat driving” from becoming an issue. With four full-size adults, the whole system works flawless. Everyone is kept comfortable and entertained.
All of this infotainment tech is great, but there are a few disappointments. First, at its lowest level, the system looks remarkably similar to the one in the Toyota Tundra we experienced earlier. That means you get menus that look like they were designed for a touch screen. Second, with a 12.3″ display, there should be no reason for character limits. Despite this, you’re left to make due listening to Phil Collins’ “In the Air Tonigh” and wondering if you’re getting 100% out of all that screen real-estate. Finally, the navigation map isn’t up to par with units we’ve experienced in BMW and Audi. It’s just difficult to read. The system also leaves little “breadcrumbs” on the map every 500 feet or so. These points stick around for 12-24 hours, showing you where the car has been. Why?
Where to begin? Blind spot monitoring and park assist are fairly self-explanatory. I find blind spot monitoring to to be more useful on cars with auto-dimming side mirrors, like the Lexus GS, because its easy to lose depth perception at night. The orange light in the side mirror is a reminder that the car in the other lane is closer than it appears in your peripheral. The GS doesn’t drive as large as it actually is, so its helpful to have reminders of what’s in the immediate vicinity. The heads-up display in the GS is set to keep your eyes on the road. It projects higher up on the windshield than other cars, so you aren’t forced to look down at the hood. It is also the easiest HUD to see, even with sunglasses. The system always displays current speed. It can also cycle through displaying RPMs and gear selection or navigation directions.
This is where the GS gets interesting. Lane Keep Assist (LKA) uses sensors in the car to locate the lane markings on the roadway. It monitors the lanes and beeps to alert the driver if the car is wandering. The GS also has dynamic radar cruise-control. You can set the cruise like any other car, or activate the radar system to maintain a constant gap with the vehicle ahead. The system also includes brake-assist, applying the brakes as necessary, up to almost a full stop. The magic happens when both systems are activated at the same time. With LKA and radar cruise-control active and working, a small steering wheel appears in the gauge cluster. The GS will actually steer itself! A small motor in the steering rack uses all of the sensors to keep the car in the lane. It won’t react to large directional changes, but it conquers a nearly-straight road with zero driver input. The car also uses infrared sensors (the two red dots in the image above) to make sure the driver is paying attention. If it senses that the driver isn’t paying attention or has let go of the wheel, the system beeps and automatically deactivates.
While the Lexus GS isn’t quite a driverless car, it is capable of replicating many of the driver’s responsibilities. For this reason, I’m still a bit confused as to its ultimate purpose. A driver’s job is to drive the car, including all of the responsibilities that entails. Chiefly, that means steering, throttle, and braking all while monitoring the surroundings and staying alert. This system has the potential to breed laziness to all of those points. It’s a point of contention I have with technology like this, but it shouldn’t detract from the fact that all of these systems in the Lexus work remarkably well. Sometimes it’s nice to have another “pair of eyes” watching out for you, so long as your eyes also remain vigilant. All of the driver aids mentioned can also be completely deactivated with the push of a few buttons. Its a nice reminder that the driver is still in complete control.
In truth, the car’s luxury really comes into its own when all the systems are activated. It made for some of the most relaxed commuting I’ve ever experienced, and that’s what you really want from a Lexus. Shutting them off feels hollow, like you aren’t getting 100% of the experience. Its why I learned to keep them all on. Now that all of the technology has been explained, check out the full review of the Lexus GS350 AWD.