Car reviews - Lexus - GS - 300h F Sport
Pricing, sound systems, seat comfort, refinement at cruise, safety features, economy, in-cabin storage
Room for improvement
Apple CarPlay/Android Auto missing, lazy auto high beam and radar cruise control, infotainment controller, thrummy four-cylinder soundtrack under load, boot space
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23 Oct 2017
LEXUS has just sold its 20,000th hybrid in Australia – part of a worldwide tally that now exceeds one million units.
The Japanese brand (and its Toyota parent) has made the petrol-electric hybrid hobby horse its own, while its primarily-German and British opposition stayed on the diesel train, although that tide is turning too.
The pricing is also sharp and the presence of two models in the medium prestige segment gives Lexus an added edge.
Whisper-quiet, comfortable and backed by serious customer service, the GS300h F Sport offers a large luxury vehicle priced well under the hybrid models of Mercedes-Benz and BMW.
Price and equipment
Lexus made its bones on the idea of cost-effective luxury motoring with an undercurrent of sterling service when it first appeared almost thirty years ago and the GS300h is not going to buck the value-for-money trend.
At $87,680, it sits well below the hybrid opposition from the two main Germans BMW and Mercedes-Benz as well as Infiniti.
The F Sport’s standard features list is typically stocked – body additions (a rear lip spoiler and mesh grille among them) to differentiate it from the Luxury variant, leather trim, heated and ventilated power-adjustable front seats with access mode for the driver’s pew, LED head, tail and daytime running lights, dual zone climate control (which even adds moisture to the air for better cabin comfort, says Lexus), powered steering reach and rake adjustment, keyless entry and ignition, 19-inch alloys (although it’s a steel space saver spare) and an electric park brake.
The mirrors are auto-dimming inside and out and the exterior pair are heated and power-folding – but for some reason shot the view skyward when reversing into a parking space, rather than offering a view of the kerb – and a menu function to change the view eluded us.
The large centre screen displays the satellite navigation with SUNA traffic info and controls the digital-radio-receiving Mark Levinson sound system, which in the case of the test car has grown from 12 speakers (including a sub woofer) to 17 speakers with the optional Enhancement Pack 2, which also adds a head-up display, a sunroof and widens the display screen to 12 inches from eight.
Lexus is not yet on the full smartphone integration bandwagon, preferring to go its own way rather than subscribe to the Apple CarPlay/Android Auto fanclub, so you’ll have to make do with the Bluetooth, multiple USB inputs and the Lexus apps within the infotainment system.
The F Sport model gets a powered front seat-base extension for the driver, a rear sunshade, model-specific instrumentation (which changes depending on which of the EV, Eco, Normal or Sport drive modes is employed), as well as specific F Sport trim additions and a sports steering wheel with paddle shifters for the ‘manual’ mode.
The cabin of most of the Lexus range is a serene and comfortable place in which to dwell and the GS is no different, swathed in quality-feel materials from top to bottom.
Drivers get an F Sport steering wheel with which to come to grips, with paddle shifters should the mood take hold controls for the phone, audio and trip computer are all housed on the wheel, although the cruise control stalk is straight from the parent company’s parts catalogue and cheapens the look a little.
The optional head-up display is useful given the quiet and deceptive cruising speed of the vehicle and it can still be seen through polarised glasses, something many have yet to master – Holden’s system is far and away the best for viewing through polarised sunglasses.
The instrumentation is dominated by a central circular display which changes its look depending on the drive mode selected and its position when other information being demanded by the driver, which can range from sat-nav to music options or fuel use.
A central digital speedometer remains but the tachometer runs around the perimeter in sport modes, replaced by a more conservative band that monitors charge being used or stored.
The main display is wide and offers a good-sized map as well as showing infotainment details, but the system is controlled by the older fixed-mouse system, which has since been replaced by the fixed touchpad in later models – neither is easy to use.
Rear occupants get decent leg and headroom, helped by scalloping of the seat backs and headliner seat comfort is good and there are cupholders in the armrest, rear vents and a 12-volt outlet for those in the cheap seats.
Boot space has been eroded by the presence of electrical systems – petrol-powered GS variants claim 520 litres but the hybrid’s cargo area drops in size to 450 litres, which is useful without being segment-leading.
But given it measures almost 4900mm long and 1800mm wide, it could perhaps be a little roomier overall the 2850mm wheelbase is a little short of its rivals.
Engine and transmission
The fact that this is the slowest of the 1820kg GS variants by nearly two seconds might offset the most-frugal title, claiming 5.2 litres per 100km of PULP on the combined cycle (as well as low 5s for the city and highway cycle) from its 66-litre tank.
Our time in the big luxury sedan resulted in the trip computer showing 7.6 litres per 100km at an average of 37km/h, with some open-road highway work that doesn’t offer the system much opportunity for recharging under deceleration as well as some enthusiastic back road work.
The 95RON fuel feeds a 2.5-litre 16-valve Atkinson cycle double overhead cam four-cylinder engine that uses direct and multi-point injection and variable valve systems to produce 133kW at 6000rpm, with a peak torque figure of 221Nm at a peaky 4200 to 5400rpm range.
The engine is designed to be frugal by way of the Atkinson cycle design, as well as the use of dual injection, but when combined with the electric side of the equation Toyota claims peak power of 164kW but a total torque figure is more difficult to tally.
The electric engine is fed by a nickel metal hydride battery and offers 105kW and 300Nm of torque for the continuously variable transmission (CVT) to send aft for the rear wheels to use.
Getting underway at a sedate pace is a smooth, quiet – almost eerie if the full electric mode is in play, although it doesn’t last long – affair, with the big sedan wafting away without much fuss.
Anything beyond that genteel pace will elicit a four-cylinder thrum from under the sharp snout that’s not noisy as such, just less regal than would be ideal.
Part of the issue is the four cylinder requires plenty of revs on board and that – combined with the flaring nature of the CVT – means it’s in the top half of the rev range a lot of the time.
Torque from the electric motor is more than useful but it gets a little lost in translation before it gets to the rear wheels. It gets underway in a hurry but makes quite a bit of noise when doing so.
Switching to Sport mode and using the paddle shifters to pick one of the six “gears” from the CVT applies the outputs a little more appropriately but the soft nature of the delivery through the transmission isn’t truly sporting in its results.
Ride and handling
The Lexus brand was aimed – in the beginning – primarily at the US market which had little need for handling and lusted after a boulevard ride quality, the brand name was reportedly derived from ‘Luxury EXport vehicle for the US market’.
The brand has since improved itself in the handling department, given its focus on other markets – the LFA and the ‘F’ performance series development programs show what the brand can achieve.
This F Sport doesn’t quite reach those dizzying heights.
While running 19-inch alloy wheels and low-profile (40 front and 35 rear) tyres, the first impressions of the GS300h are of quiet comfort on suburban roads, although it is rare that small ruts and bumps don’t disturb the tyres to some extent in any vehicle.
But the Lexus does a good job of keeping occupants indifferent to the rutted road surfaces in Normal mode, which is what it spent most of its time in.
The steering is similarly serene for the driver, light and easy for low-speed carpark work and not over-assisted when it comes to general duties.
Heading for the hills and opting for the Sport and Sport + modes sees the double-wishbone front and multi-link rear chassis tighten up its dampers, but it’s not a quantum leap forward for the handling from the adaptive variable suspension.
There’s a decent level of agility on a twisting country road but like the transmission and power delivery there’s not a hard edge in sight, preferring to maintain a swift road pace through the bends without resorting to anything sharp.
To its credit, the suspension has lost much of the float that can come with ride quality achieved by lacklustre damping – it is agile for what it is, which is a big, luxurious sedan with a green tinge.
The steering adds some heft to its weighting to give the driver something to tackle and the weighting is more agreeable feel and feedback remain somewhat elusive and the helm is suited – like the rest of the car – to swift progress from A to B rather than record-breaking.
Safety and servicing
The Japanese luxury brand does plenty in the realm of safety gear and it’s certainly one of the reasons why the big sedan is on the portly side – safety gear isn’t light.
There are ten airbags including dual front, front and rear side, full-length curtain airbags and both front occupants get an airbag to cover their lower legs in the event of an impact.
The GS F-Sport also benefits from bigger front brakes, with the range-wide stability and traction control, as well as the presence of the brand’s pre-collision safety system with pre-collision braking, blind spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic warning and an active lane departure warning system that steers the vehicle back into the lane, although it is not as proactive as some of the European systems.
Neither is the radar cruise control, which has improved in its discipline on maintaining a set speed without a vehicle to follow, but down hills far from steep it still runs away from the desired speed far enough to get booked, so there’s still work to be done there.
Auto-dimming mirrors all-round are a worthwhile presence on any safety features list and work well to take the sting out of headlights to the rear of cars ahead.
Both high and low beam on the GS are LEDs, as are the daytime running lights and tail-lights, with the front beams active and also equipped with automatic high beam that masks portions when following other cars or going head-to-head, but the system isn’t as clever as the Audi set-up.
There are also rain-sensing wipers, a reversing camera and parking sensors front and rear.
The warranty stands at four years or 100,000km, with servicing every 12 months or 15,000km – new Lexus owners still benefit from the top-grade service on which the brand is founded – new owners are automatically Lexus Encore Privileges members which offers a range of benefits, not the least of which is a free loan car (sorry Ford, you weren’t first), either brought to you and retrieved when your vehicle is returned (washed and vacuumed if you don’t mind) or supplied when your vehicle is delivered to the dealership.
The looks are certainly polarising but there’s much to like about the big (and heavy) hybrid sedan.
It offers a quiet, refined and comfortable cabin (at least until you put it under real load), plenty of safety features, lean thirst and a much sharper pricetag than the other similarly-sized hybrids in the prestige sedan market.
If greener performance is more your thing then the 450h with the petrol V6 gets underway with less fuss and more muscle. But as a daily drive the 300h gets the job done with little compromise as long as you’re not in a big hurry.
Mercedes-Benz E350e, from $131,600 plus on-road costs
The pricey German sedan is 100-odd kg heavier than the Lexus, not mention $40,000 more expensive. It too is powered by a small (2.0-litre in this case) engine but with direct injection and turbocharging to the tune of 155kW and 350Nm. Add to that the 60kW and 440Nm electric motor (fed by a lithium-ion battery), a nine-speed auto, a greater liking for electric-only mode and the ability to plug it in for battery charging and the Merc has performance on its side. Fuel use is a claimed 2.4 litres per 100km but the real world might say something close to what the Lexus achieved on test.
BMW 530e, from $110,500 plus on-road costs
The BMW has gone a similar way to its German opposition – lithium-ion battery, 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder petrol engine – topping the heap with 185kW and 420Nm, and it is lighter than the Merc and the Lexus. The plug-in electric side of the equation adds 83kW and 250Nm. Neither German can match the Lexus warranty (both are three years) but the Beemer has LED lights, an eight-speed automatic and an artificial noise to warn pedestrians the BMW is coming.
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