Car reviews - Lexus - GS - F
Sonorous engine, lively handling, excellent driving position, top quality interior, generous equipment level
Room for improvement
Tricky traction, lazy automatic transmission, polarising looks
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20 Sep 2016
Price and equipment
BEFORE we get into the critical areas of comfort and performance, let’s first visit one of the GS F’s most compelling features – its $151,490 (before on-road costs) pricetag.
Compare that to its direct rivals and the Lexus is hands-down the most affordable option in the high-end, high-performance sedan market. BMW asks $184,715 for its M5 Pure and the Audi RS6 Avant is $245,116 so the Japanese stormer is already ahead in the value stakes.
Mercedes does not currently offer an AMG variant of its E-Class with the flagship yet to join the new tenth-generation range, but in the previous version, the E63 AMG S carried a hefty $250,540 pricetag.
The good news keeps on coming when you dig a little deeper into the specification sheet with very little optional gear available to add to the kit-packed standard GS F.
Our car was fitted with the delicious carbon-fibre interior trim which adds another $2500 to the bottom line, but other features such as the sunroof, heated Alcantara seats, heated leather steering wheel, top-shelf Mark Levinson stereo, rear retractable sun shade and a host of driver assistance systems are all standard fare, just to name a few.
To get into BMW’s most affordable Pure M5, features such as the sun blind and soft-close doors are omitted with only driver-focused equipment left on the standard list. By comparison, Lexus has retained all the goodies and undercut the Beamer by $36,200.
Lexus sales staff will have no trouble keeping enquiring customers in their seat with the generous list of features and that’s before we have even come to its glorious 5.0-litre V8.
Like the rest of the Lexus range, the GS F carries the trademark massive grille and uniquely styled lights and there is no mistaking the model for anything else, but the styling perhaps doesn’t manage the same grace and elegance as the Europeans.
But not everyone is after a model that will blend into the background and if you are after a conspicuous hi-po luxury five-seater then the Lexus look will likely appeal to a different kind of buyer. With the F aesthetic treatment, the flagship is the looker of the GS line-up.
Hand Lexus another $2900 and they will deck your GS F out in luscious semi-aniline leather but we were very happy jumping in to the Alcantara upholstered cabin and instantly fell in love with the firm but perfectly ergonomic seats, that touch in all the right spots and promote an excellent driving position.
Despite its larger overall proportions, the GS F interior has the same snugness of its smaller RC F and IS F siblings but also offers more room. Comfort in the front row is right on the money for the luxury sedan segment, but the second row is exemplary.
The rear seats offer almost the same support of the deeply bucketed front seats and have a number of positive features for keeping all passengers happy, such as individual air-conditioning controls lots of legroom and tinted glass for keeping out the paparazzi.
The chunky steering wheel continues the same feeling of quality throughout the cabin and its heater was very welcome in the grip of Melbourne’s winter – as were the heated seats. The upholstered dash with unusual tiered layout imparts a sense of individuality without being gratuitously blingy or different for the sake of being different.
Only Audi has bettered the Lexus’ instrument panel with the Virtual Cockpit that does away with all mechanical gauges in favour of an all-digital display, but the GS F’s cluster combines a part LCD screen with traditional mechanical speedo for a beautiful balance of traditional romance and up to the minute tech.
The GS F’s large central screen looks great and is enhanced by fine resolution, but we were occasionally frustrated by how long the system took to respond to instructions and the fixed mouse-style controller is fiddly to use.
No doubt, owners would get used to the system – especially if they were left-handed – but with so many proven alternatives to Lexus’ interpretation we think it’s about time the Japanese brand tried something new.
As with other high-end Lexus models, the GS F gets the Mark Levinson sound system which sounds fantastic and sets the standard for in-car audio.
Engine and transmission
Lexus has shown commendable independence and even a little stubbornness when selecting the engine for its high-performance limo and while all the key players have adopted turbocharging for their offerings, the Japanese maker has stuck with good-old gravity.
Its naturally aspirated 5.0-litre V8 may seem a little dated among its forced-induction rivals, that is until you get your first opportunity to stretch the GS F’s legs and appreciate just what the engineers have worked so hard to produce.
When using the V8 to get from A to B it is smooth, quiet and refined, but a stab of the throttle alters the inlet tract to allow more induction noise into the cabin and for the delight of passers by and as the revs climb the sound is demonic and quite addictive.
Due to its clever variable valve arrangement and natural aspiration, the 5.0-litre is happiest revving out to the red line and pulls the strongest near its limit, and even though it is essentially the same unit under the bonnet of the lighter RC equivalent, the bigger GS feels as though it accelerates harder.
The vicious performance and a satisfying whine from the transmission and timing gear actually had us checking under the bonnet to see if the GS F has a supercharger fitted and we had somehow missed the press release.
Lexus may be trying to appeal to a younger audience with F-badged variants but the automatic transmission is unfortunately still the most apparent connection to a more comfort-focused era of luxury cars.
For more sedate driving, the auto is smooth, unassuming and refined, but for more vigorous motoring, the transmission does not react with the responsiveness of some rival machinery. Using the paddle shifters helped the situation, but the auto could not be provoked to deliver the sense of urgency that some dual-clutch solutions can offer.
A number of driving modes are available to the driver including options for more comfortable travel, but we found the Sport setting to be the best balance in virtually all situations, with the best blend of throttle responsiveness, ride and transmission behaviour.
It may share the same 351kW of its smaller F-sibling but the GS’ greater inertia makes the task of getting all that grunt to the road harder under certain circumstances and we found the ESC light flashing at us more than in the RC F.
When we did find the right combination of grippy tarmac without bends in it and zero moisture, the might of acceleration is intoxicating, especially from the soundtrack sweet spot of 4000 rpm all the way to a 7100 rpm peak power rpm.
Zero to 100km/h feels faster than the stated 4.6 seconds when you can find the traction.
Ride and handling
The GS F rides on a imposing set of 19-inch wheels with tyres of such a low profile that the gunmetal paint appears to be thicker. The suspension is also firm in any setting so it should not be surprising that the ride is on the firm side.
However, the big Lexus would still be liveable for a majority of owners on a day-to-day basis and while the ride is hard, it only manifests itself on jittery finer vibrations with the chassis absorbing bigger bumps with surprising ability.
Despite its 1865kg weight, the GS F is far more agile than we were expecting and changes direction with the vitality of smaller, lighter models. Steering is precise and well weighted.
When scrubbing speed, the vivid orange callipers demonstrate efficiency that, once again, defies the mass of the model and offer a firm pedal feel and lots of stopping power. We wonder how the iron rotors would cope with a track session, but for all on-road applications the anchors are confidence inspiring.
Safety and servicing
The GS F is not just packed full with comfort technology for looking after occupants when the going is good, but is also full of some up-to-the minute safety gear to look after unforeseen eventualities.
Full length curtain airbags accompany the driver and passenger main frontal and knee airbags (10 in total) for the worst case scenario, while Lexus’ Safety System brings a host of driver assistance systems to help prevent collisions, including a pre-collision system, active cruise control, lane keeping assist, lane departure warning, sway warning system and adaptive high-beam system.
Rear cross-traffic alert, 360-degree camera and blind spot monitoring area also included in the price, along with all the usual legally required electronic stability systems.
Owners of all new Lexus models are automatically signed up to the Lexus Encore Privileges program, which is valid for the length of the vehicle’s 100,000km/four year warranty and brings roadside assistance and the choice of a courtesy car or home pick up/drop off for servicing.
Comparing the Lexus’ vital statistics on paper to mighty turbocharged autobahn bashers may settle a few arguments but the real comparison has to happen in the real world.
The BMW M5 will crack 100km/h from standstill faster and Audi’s all-wheel-drive RS6 will surely tear up a wet racing circuit with more confidence, but figures and lap times aside, the Lexus stimulates the senses of driving enthusiasts with the same vigour. Perhaps even more so in some cases.
For a near two-tonne car, the GS F goes in a straight line and around corners with surprising agility, while chucking a sensational soundtrack and top build quality into the mix, and when you ice the cake with the most affordable price in its class, the Lexus is a seriously tempting proposition for those wanting something a little different to the established super sedan staples.
BMW M5 Pure from $184,715 before on-road costs
The venerable M5 may have a smaller engine weighing in at 4.4 litres, but a brace of turbos boost power to 412kW and allow the milestone zero to 100km/h dash to flash up in 4.3 seconds. The Pure version forfeits some equipment over the standard M5 and the forced induction engine doesn’t have the same bark as the Lexus.
Audi S6 quattro from $170,716 before on-road costs
Stepping up to the Audi RS6 flagship will cost a whopping $229,900 but the more manageable S6 is within the Lexus money ball park. The Audi gets a turbocharged 4.0-litre V6 and four-wheel drive traction for a 0-100km/h sprint of 4.4 seconds.
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