WHEN A BRAND CLAIMS THAT IT HAS 'NO DIRECT COMPETITORS' IT CAN BE A WAY TO SIDE-STEP CROSS EXAMINATION. But with the 2016 Lexus GS F the statement may actually be true.
Could this $150,000 sports sedan be like a much more expensive HSV? Its naturally aspirated V8 and rear-wheel-drive configuration suggests it could be.
Or perhaps this Lexus is an executive-express to rival the Audi S6 that retails for $15,000 more? The quality of the GS interior indicates that could also be the case. Maybe it is a cut-price BMW M5 Pure Edition for $35,000 less?
This 4.6sec 0-100km/h sedan is also loaded with equipment. So it is not only cheaper than German rivals, but it is also better equipped. Let’s find out exactly what the GS F is, then…
Vehicle Style: High Performance large sedan
Price: $148,800 (plus on-roads)
Engine/trans: 351kW/530Nm 5.0 V8 petrol | 8sp automatic
Fuel Economy claimed: 11.3 l/100km | tested: 14.1 l/100km
Lexus claims it went its own way with the GS F. Rather than emulating any particular rival, it wanted to duplicate the character of its RC F while adding practicality with four doors, more cabin space and a larger boot.
With the GS F, Lexus says it wanted to create an ‘everyday’ sports sedan that anyone can have fun in.
The question we have is why Lexus didn’t just build another IS F sedan, and it’s one that the company struggles to answer. The GS F retails for around $25,000 more than the IS F did before it ceased production in 2014, so perhaps there's an answer to be found somewhere there.
Sales expectations are not high; Lexus aims to shift just 30 units per year, though, we're told, 26 are apparently already sold. Maybe it needed a little more confidence in its powerhouse newest member of the family.
- Standard equipment: Active cruise control, leather/Alcantara seats with front and rear heating, power sunroof, power mirrors and auto up/down windows, keyless auto-entry and start, heated leather steering wheel, colour head-up display, tri-zone climate control air-conditioning and power rear sunshade
- Infotainment: 12.3-inch high-definition colour display with satellite navigation and concierge connectivity, Bluetooth phone and audio streaming, twin USB and single AUX ports and 17-speaker Mark Levinson audio system
- Cargo volume: 520 litres
The Lexus GS is four years old and the interior of the GS F is little differentiated from more affordable grades.
There is real aluminium or ($2500 optional) carbon ornamentation that sets it a little apart and provides a subdued but classy feel to match one of the ‘restrained’ exterior colours. Maybe not orange, though.
Build quality, obviously, is flawless, but some of the plastics and switchgear are ageing.
The 12.3-inch centre screen is a standout for high-definition clarity. It’s a shame though the infotainment system persists with a mousepad-controller interface that is tricky to navigate.
Some functions are buried deep within sub-menus, yet Lexus ‘blanks out’ functions on the move, apparently in the name of safety. BMW doesn’t with its iDrive system – it simply provides an intuitive interface to begin with.
Concierge services, which allow owners to call a Lexus hotline anytime to assist with various questions, will likely be a long-term treat, while the 17-speaker Mark Levinson audio system cranks up nicely if blasting Hotline Bling is your thing instead.
Lexus gets its driving position spot-on in most models nowadays, and the front seat of the GS F has broad adjustment and is able to be set low, teaming well with the standard electrically adjustable steering wheel with a lovely leather rim. The $151,700 (plus orc) flagship version with semi-aniline leather seats with front ventilation is a standout for up-front indulgence.
The front seats are supremely supportive, however their sheer size reduces legroom for rear occupants. Setting the driving position low also cuts out toe-room for rear riders.
The back seat is comfortable, though an intrusive centre tunnel eats into space for the centre rider, making this a true four- rather than five-seat sedan.
It is far roomier than the RC F compact coupe, and that lead continues with a 520-litre boot that is 154l more sizeable than that smaller F model.
ON THE ROAD
- Engine: 351kW/530Nm 5.0 litre naturally aspirated petrol V8
- Transmission: Eight-speed automatic, rear wheel drive
- Suspension: Independent front and rear
- Brakes: Ventilated front and rear discs
- Steering: electrically assisted mechanical steering, 11.2m
Naturally aspirated engines are increasingly a rarity these days, and the 5.0-litre V8 in the GS F is a treasure.
It soars towards a 7300rpm redline with a crisp and metallic note plus a linearity missing from turbocharged engines – step forward, M5.
With the same torque and power as the smaller RC F, delivered from an identical 4800rpm and 7100rpm respectively, the larger GS F could have felt a lot slower. However with a kerb weight of 1825kg, the sedan is only 45kg heavier than the coupe.
It’s a slim deficit for the extra cabin and boot space, resulting in a 0-100km/h claim reduced by only a tenth, to 4.6 seconds.
By today’s standards the GS F feels very brisk rather than extremely fast. Some of the blame lies with the eight-speed automatic transmission.
Despite offering Eco, Normal, Sport S and Sport S+ driving modes, even the latter doesn’t keep the engine in its sweet spot often enough.
It downshifts under brakes, but slinks into taller gears if it guesses you’re not having a go. If you’ve gone all the way to Sport S+, you’re probably having a go.
It’s necessary to use the manual mode – accessed via the paddleshifters or tipshifter – that delivers fast and decisive shifts.
At least the steering remains lovely and light even in Sport S+, avoiding the gluggy heaviness the afflicts some sports settings. The steering is quick and accurate, though it doesn’t channel fizzy feel to your fingertips during hard cornering.
Lexus throws even more modes at you for cornering duties. There’s Slalom, Track or Circuit to control the Torque Vectoring Differential (TVD) that juggles drive between each rear wheel.
There’s also VDIM Expert that can be selected to reduce stability control intervention.
Just as Sport S+ fails to make the transmission aggressive enough, it doesn’t permit even slight rear-end movement when powering out of corners. When there are myriad modes, you arguably shouldn’t have to go right to the VDIM Expert edge to feel the work of the TVD.
The fixed sports suspension of the GS F is surprisingly stiff. It helps resist both bodyroll and weight transfer admirably well – and not just by large sedan standards.
When really giving things the beans, this Lexus boasts the sort of front-end point and agility, then natural rear balance, that transcends its stature. An even bigger surprise is that the GS F impressed more on a racetrack than on the road.
Its Brembo brakes are excellent and pushing harder in tighter corners failed to expose a weakness. Even the steering steps up, though Lexus didn’t allow us to engage the less-restrictive stability control mode, which meant limiting even slight rear-end adjustability.
Back on the road, the ride quality is far too stiff for a sports sedan of this price. The GS F is constantly restless and occasionally abrupt. Some competitors with adaptive suspension ultimately provide a better balance of ride and handling.
Safety features: 10 airbags including dual-front, front-side, rear-side and full-length curtain, ABS, ESC, pre-collision warning, blind-spot monitor, lane-keep assistance, front and rear parking sensors, rear-view camera
RIVALS TO CONSIDER
The S6 won’t do track work or offer the supreme dynamics of the GS F, but its cabin design and ride refinement eclipse the Lexus.
The M5 Pure is roomier and staggeringly fast both in a straight line and in corners, though it’s pricier. Surprise alternatives include the HSV GTS that will be faster and smoother riding but lacks quality appointments, and the newly launched XF S, which offers similar sportiness, if not outright speed, for less.
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
Lexus admits most owners won’t take the GS F on a racetrack, yet it genuinely has all the gear – Brembos, stiff Sachs dampers, 19-inch Michelin Pilot Sport tyres – to be a surprise star on a circuit.
This cornering prowess impacts its liveability, particularly in terms of ride comfort, and the compromise is a difficult one to accept in a sports sedan of this price.
The GS F is a unique proposition for the price in this market, just as Lexus intended, and it seduces with its soaring V8 and superb dynamics. It is highly likeable already, but just needs extra polish to become a truly great sports sedan.