Everything is about the rear with the recently updated 2017 Lexus GS F.
New multi-mode adaptive suspension aims at cushioning the rear of occupants previously knocked around by the stiff, single-setting Sachs dampers, and its addition pushes the pricetag up by $4540 to $153,540 plus on-road costs.
Its pricetag also aligns the GS F closer to the $145K BMW M3 Competition than its similarly-sized foe, the $185K M5 Pure. While this Japanese contender is slower than the Germans, Lexus seizes on the M3 with far greater rear legroom.
As with both BMWs, the GS F spruiks its rear-wheel drive dynamic character in the face of all-wheel drive rivals such as the $171K Audi S6 and $160K Mercedes-AMG E43. For class leading handling, however, Lexus has been in arrears for years – let’s see if the revised chassis of this latest contender can help pay its dues.
Vehicle Style: Sports sedan
Price: $153,540 plus on-road costs
Engine/trans: 351kW/530Nm 5.0 V8 petrol | 8sp automatic
Fuel Economy Claimed: 11.3 l/100km | Tested: 14.1 l/100km
Lexus in 2010 released the IS F as its single sports sedan, and following myriad updates it became a genuinely good, cut-price performance offering in the end.
Nowadays, the luxury offshoot of Toyota has the RC F mid-sized coupe or the GS F large sedan. Combining the former’s size with the latter’s door count is no more.
Today’s GS F is about $18K pricier than the RC F with which it shares its 5.0-litre naturally aspirated V8 engine and eight-speed automatic transmission.
Although the four-door GS F is roomier than the RC F, it’s only 45kg heavier at 1825kg, while its 4.6-second 0-100km/h claim is only a tenth slower than that coupe.
The Lexus also matches the sprint time of the E43, although it’s two-tenths off the more expensive S6 and another tenth off an M5 Pure. The M3? 4.0sec flat…
- 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, quad-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
- Options Fitted: Semi-aniline leather trim ($2960)
- Cargo Volume: 520 litres
Despite starting with a more affordable pricetag than its M5 Pure, S6 and E43 competitors, the GS F offers comparable equipment to at least the Audi and AMG.
A head-up display and 360-degree camera are optional on S6, while ventilated front seats aren’t included on that model or the E43 that further lacks quad-zone climate control. All are standard on the Lexus, plus 17-speaker Mark Levinson audio versus the 14-speaker Bose-equipped Audi and 13-speaker Burmester unit in the AMG.
The Germans counter with lane-keep assistance (the GS F only nudges the steering wheel if lane wander occurs) and auto-high beam (which detects vehicles and blanks out only the portion of beam affecting them, versus up/down beam only in the Lexus).
Buyers may not make a purchasing decision solely based on standard kit, but the way the equipment and technology gels with the cabin design may make more of an impact. In this regard the GS F remains hit and miss.
Lexus fit and finish is expectedly flawless, and its quality trim and seat comfort is outstanding. The driving position is of the low and sporty variety, teamed with an ideally sized steering wheel and a racy blend of analogue and digital gauges.
The rear seat is richly padded, too, although from both up front and behind the GS feels narrower and more compact overall than its A6, 5 Series and E-Class brethren.
Question marks surround the cabin design, however. This GS launched in 2011 and its upper-door trim plastics appear Camry-esque while the addition of Alcantara trim on the dashboard – complete with fake ‘rivets’ on the panel edges – isn’t convincing.
By far the least impressive aspect of the Lexus cabin is its infotainment system, which is infuriating both in terms of its delicate mouse-wheel control and also the restrictions placed on accessing functions when on the move.
Using a cursor to access functions on the large screen is fine at standstill, but even small bumps make it easy to make an incorrect selection.
Although the system permits the driver to scroll through and select any number of iPod songs, albums and playlists on the move, it blanks out access to phone contacts, nav entry and settings for the Individual mode for the Driver Select system.
It seems to be a case of overzealous Occupational Health and Safety (OH&S) measures compensating for sub-par ergonomics. Tellingly, the Germans offer both more intuitive and less restrictive systems.
ON THE ROAD
- Engine: 351kW/530Nm 5.0 V8 petrol
- Transmission: Eight-speed automatic, RWD
- Suspension: Independent front and rear
- Brake: Ventilated front and rear disc brakes
- Steering: Electrically assisted mechanical steering
An obsession with OH&S regulations appears to continue on the road, but it should be pointed out quickly before discussing the GS F’s many dynamic high points.
The GS F includes Normal, Sport and Sport+ modes, only the latter of which firms up the new adaptive suspension from its standard setting. It also includes Standard, Slalom and Track modes for the rear torque-vectoring system, the latter two of which aim to make the car more nimble and stable respectively.
By turning off the electronic stability control (ESC) system an Expert mode is engaged, but the name of this mode suggests it should be reserved for Japan drift king Keiichi Tsuchiya only.
All rivals offer a simple Sport ESC setting to permit some on-throttle engagement with a sports sedan, but for all its many modes the GS F does not; the electronics attempt to hide rather than enhance the fact this sedan is rear driven.
Normally, this would be a major error, but thankfully the Lexus electronics actually do an outstanding job of making this large and heavy sedan feel fabulously nimble and athletic, and there is vast driving enjoyment to be found beyond feeling the tail twitch.
Thanks must go to the naturally aspirated V8 engine, which in a world of turbocharging (often times two) provides crisp and linear response that makes working with the high-grip 19-inch Michelin Pilot Super Sport rubber a tasty affair.
The 5.0-litre makes its peak 530Nm from 4800rpm until 5600rpm, with 351kW delivered at 7100rpm just before the 7500rpm cut-out. The engine sings a wonderful tune towards the top-end and feels very fast, with the auto in Sport+ mode being aggressive on downshifts and slamming the engine into its cut-out before upshifting.
The only drivetrain issue is the eight-speed’s lacklustre response at low speed and low engine revs. In any mode at below 50km/h it refuses to kick down to first gear, despite permitting the driver to do so manually. It leaves the engine revving below 2500rpm in second gear and in a dull lull.
Both for front-end point, light and precise yet connected steering, and on-throttle corner exit response, however, this Lexus is a winner. Even without a Sport ESC it is more focused than an S6 or E43, without being as ballistic as an M5.
It’s a middle ground that leaves it feeling a bit like a HSV Clubsport R8 Track Edition, only a Japanese version with superior cabin quality – but for a price, of course.
Still, the outgoing GS F had the stiff ride quality of that HSV racetrack special. The new adaptive dampers are outstanding, providing nuanced comfort and control in either setting. Finally, it is befitting of a Lexus; but one that also loves corners.
The Lexus GS F has not been tested by ANCAP.
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, reverse-view camera.
WARRANTY AND SERVICING
Warranty: Four years/100,000km.
Servicing: There’s no capped-price servicing program with Lexus vehicles, but the first 12 month or 15,000km service is free followed by ‘recommended’ pricing of $709.13/$696.05/$709.13 for the following trio.
RIVALS TO CONSIDER
The S6 and E43 are a formal, fast and feature packed affair. The GS F is more characterful and dynamic, but less polished. But it’s more finessed in terms of quality and refinement than the substantially cheaper HSV GTS, and not quite as basic yet ballistic as the M5 Pure.
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
The Lexus GS F has improved substantially with the addition of adaptive suspension. That’s mainly because it now delivers on the ride and refinement virtues of a Lexus while maintaining the alluring driver appeal the GS F unexpectedly brought to the segment last year.
Its flaws seem to come down to software and programming – lack of Sport ESC, infuriating infotainment controls, odd low-speed auto calibration – but the fact that the ride quality issue has been solved within 12 months of sale is a promising precedent. Lexus is clearly listening.
There are also elements of the cabin design that are starting to date, but they’re vastly outweighed by the comfort and equipment provided for the money.
With a wonderful V8 engine, superb steering and throttle tactility, and delightful dynamics without scaling the extremities of boring or mind-boggling, the GS F is a sports sedan all of its own.