Like first-timers on a cheesehead trek to Lambeau, Lexus is on a quest for passion, and it couldn't come at a more critical time.

Toyota's luxury division lost the title of America's bestselling luxury brand in 2011 for the first time in 11 years. Lexus rightly blames Japan's earthquake and tsunami and their effect on supply chains, but have you driven the company's product line recently? A $400,000 supercar notwithstanding, my daily bowl of Grape-Nuts is more exciting.

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Which brings us to the 2013 Lexus GS 350 sedan.

With it, the company is finally looking to appeal to a buyer's passions more strongly.

When viewed in this context, the new GS gets both a gold star and a demerit. From a pure driving standpoint, this Lexus absolutely moves the emotion needle.

Sadly, the new design is a missed opportunity. Like a 12-year-old Scotch in a dollar-store thermos, it falls short of matching the car's performance and its maker's ambitions.

The GS' aesthetics start out nicely in the front. More demure in person than in photos, the nose of the car features what Lexus calls its spindle grille, a design feature that literally and figuratively leads the way for the future of Lexus' vehicles. Complementing the angles this grille introduces is a bowed bumper and lower fascia that's one brush stroke shy of overstyled.

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Move past the front end and you've moved past all the style worth mentioning. The rear end is plain and unadorned. The rest is a near carbon copy of Lexus' lesser IS sedan, or if I may be so crass to say so in a luxury car review, a Hyundai Sonata.

Fortunately, the GS cabin is handsomely designed with a horizontally oriented layout, the centerpiece of which is a massive 12.3-inch, high-resolution screen.

On the road, the GS 350 is finally a Lexus that can dance. The steering is quick and responsive, and it provides good feedback to the driver.

The power comes from a 3.5-liter, direct-injected V-6 that's largely a carry-over from the previous GS 350. In this generation, it makes 306 horsepower and 277 pound-feet of torque, gains of three each.

Lexus should be commended for its latest contribution to the sports sedan ethos.

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Yet, step outside and view the car, and that coherence dissolves. Passion involves focus and risk, both of which the GS needs more of. But it's better than Grape-Nuts.



Base price: $47,775 (including destination)

Price as tested: $50,910

Engine: 3.5-liter, DOHC, direct-injected V-6; six-speed automatic transmission with manual mode and paddle shifters

Horsepower: 306 at 6,400 rpm

Torque: 277 pound-feet at 4,800 rpm

Curb weight: 3,795 pounds

Wheelbase: 112.2 inches

Length: 190.7 inches

EPA fuel economy: 19 mpg city, 28 mpg highway

Bottom line: Walks the walk, but can't talk the talk.