LAS VEGAS – With prices ranging from $46,000 to $54,000, the redone ’13 Lexus GS 350 is not aimed at teen buyers.

But to some extent, Lexus had such young people in mind, at least as potential purchase influencers, when it developed the fourth-generation premium sedan.

Why? Because, although youths typically don’t plop down allowance money on pricey cars, they surprisingly can sway parents of means on what luxury vehicle to buy, or not buy.

“That was an eye-opener,” says Mark Templin, group vice president and general manager of Toyota’s premium Lexus division, citing innovative consumer research gleaned from breaking bread with car buyers.

“We discovered some adults let their kids pick out the luxury cars they buy,” he tells WardsAuto. “In some cases, you are talking about an $80,000 vehicle. I was floored by that. It’s phenomenal.”

It means that a luxury car in some ways must appeal to young non-buyers or run the risk of getting branded as uncool by both them and their parents. “Young people look at styling and driving dynamics” in upmarket cars, Templin says.

Over the years, some critics have rapped Lexus for staid styling. The GS aims to change that perception and lead a design movement across the entire lineup.

It is the first Lexus to sport the so-called Spindle Grille, “the symbol for the full change taking place” at the 22-year-old division, Templin says.

“The GS signifies the new, bolder and more confident direction the brand is taking,” he says at a media preview at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway. “There’s no going back. This is the new Lexus.”

The vehicle features sleek styling, nimble handling and the latest in connectivity gadgetry. It arrives at dealerships in February, intending to vie with the Mercedes-Benz E-Class, BMW 5-Series and Audi A6 in the luxury midsize sedan segment.

The GS 350 is powered by a 3.5L V-6 engine. At 306 hp, it is touted as one of the most powerful base engines in the segment, as well as the only one with both port and direct injection. Enhanced in the ’13 GS, the engine is a 4-time winner in the Ward’s 10 Best Engines competition.

The new GS comes with an all-wheel drive option and a sport package that includes a stiffer suspension, rear lip spoiler and mesh grille inserts. Also available is the GS 450h hybrid.

Lexus expects to sell about 25,000 GS models a year. The new car is “changing the way people think about driving a Lexus,” Templin says.

That includes those affluent car buyers who listen to their kids. Templin and his colleagues learned about that phenomenon during novel and personal market research in the form of dinner parties at the homes of willing Lexus owners. The first gathering was in Beverly Hills, CA.

“Essentially, we were hosting a party at their houses,” he says. “We hired a celebrity chef and picked residences based on whether they had a big enough kitchen and seating area for 20 people.”

For the guest list, Lexus provided some guidelines to get a cross-section of guests “but otherwise, we told the hosts, ‘Invite who you want, even non-Lexus owners, especially non-Lexus owners,’” Templin says.

Customer insight garnered in such informal settings “was helpful to me,” he says. “We are in a very data-intensive industry. We always look at demographics, but something like this – the influence of young people on luxury-car buying – doesn’t come to life until you talk to consumers like we did.”

sfinlay@wardsauto.com