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NEAT ATHLETE: Lexus’ GS 350 F Sport delivers a near-perfect mix of luxury, performance

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Lexus has long been known for building premium-quality luxury cars with superb craftsmanship, refined road manners and bulletproof reliability.

Toyota’s premium division offers few truly athletic vehicles, but here’s one – and it’s a doozy.

To my mind this could well be the best all-around sports sedan yet to come out of Japan: It’s the Lexus GS 350.

Sizewise, it matches up nicely with such performance paragons as BMW’s 5-series, probably its most-obvious direct competitor, and such diverse sedans as Cadillac’s CTS and even Jaguar’s XJ.

In standard guise, it makes a convincing case for bypassing Bavaria and betting your yen on Japan. But add on the optional F Sport package ($5,695), and the GS deserves a best-buy rating.

To the base model, if “base” is an applicable description for such an already well-endowed vehicle, the F Sport package jacks up the GS’ athleticism with titanium-tone, 19-inch alloys shod with all-season tires (summer tires on non-AWD models); stronger front disc brakes; an adaptive variable suspension with sportier steering tuning; a modest rear-deck spoiler; a sport driver’s seat with 16-way power adjustability; and F-specific styling treatments inside and out, including a black headliner.

Oddly, the unique F Sport front fascia deletes fog lamps.

Other options on our tester included a cold-weather package (heated/ventilated front seats; heated steering wheel; rear power sunshade); blind-spot monitor; and a navigation system. All these added nearly $9,000 to the car’s sticker.

2014_Lexus_GS_350_F_SPORT_020With all-wheel drive, the GS is relegated to a six-speed automatic rather than the new GS eight-speed box on the rear-drive models. Still, it’s smooth and quick and features paddle shifters for added control.

Acceleration is brisk if not searingly fast. The car clings to the road, particularly with Sport mode dialed in, like a leech. Steering is razor-sharp and brakes perfectly weighted and powerful.

The leather-lined cabin smells delicious, involving yet another sense in the appreciation of such a beautifully designed, engineered and executed machine.

Just one nit to pick: The electronics interface requires too much eye time away from the road for even simple commands.

Otherwise, the GS 350 is well-nigh perfect.

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