Car reviews - Lexus - GS - GS350 F-Sport
Confident cornering, compliant ride, engine note, intuitive controls, head-up display, comfortable front seats
Room for improvement
Frustrating cruise control, rear seat comfort, lack of headroom
27 Jul 2012
WE FOUND many things to like about the Lexus GS350 F Sport during a weekend away enjoying the delights of one of the world’s best drives, Victoria’s Great Ocean Road.
It handled the famed twists and turns with aplomb, ironed out the worst of the well-worn surface’s many bumps and provided the driver with all the toys, performance and comfort expected of a $100,000 car – and more besides.
Dark-coloured alloy wheels and that new ‘spindle grille’ styling are a world away from the anonymous Lexus styling of old and give the car real presence. A comment we heard about the car’s styling while we had it was “blokey”, and we’re inclined to agree.
The interior is a big step up from the almost depressing blandness that was the old GS. Gone is the tacky wood trim and featureless dashboard, replaced by a BMW-esque layout with high-end features like contrast-stitched leather coverings.
We also liked the F Sport’s well-bolstered front seats of perforated leather (to allow cooled or heated air to reach the buttocks and lower back), which provided plenty of long-distance comfort.
Subtle illumination in the footwells and interior doorhandle recesses lift the ambience of the predominantly black, bachelor pad-like interior, but it doesn’t quite exhibit the attention to detail that makes Audi a class leader in this department.
We were not overly impressed by the textured silver plastic trim strips or plastic interior doorhandles, either, especially when, for example, a Skoda Yeti at a third of the price has chromed metal items.
An intuitive mouse-like controller for the colour multi-function screen makes setting the sat-nav and scrolling through options easy, while most other controls fall to hand without having to search about.
Front headroom for tall drivers is on the claustrophobic side, but apart from that the sheer amount of adjustment in the seats and steering column made finding the perfect position – and storing it in the car’s memory – a cinch.
Unlocking the doors and firing up the V6 is keyless, simply requiring a fob to be carried by the driver.
Sliding the soft leather gear-shifter into Drive and planting the throttle results in a meaty V6 growl, which becomes more of a throbbing howl at high revs, to the accompaniment of respectably rapid progress, with 0-100km/h coming up in six seconds.
At all other times, progress is serene and refined, with commendable ride quality considering the F Sport’s unique suspension calibration and 19-inch alloy wheels.
We found the head-up display made driving more relaxing by keeping the present speed within the driver’s peripheral vision and displaying sat-nav directions where appropriate.
Less relaxing was the adaptive cruise control, which falls way short of similar systems offered by the German competition in that it ceases to work below 40km/h, allows the speed to run away when going downhill (even though the system has the capacity to brake) and left us without any cruise control facility when driving in heavy rain, which we assume was because the spray confused the radar.
Respecting the presence of passengers but not holding back too much as the Great Ocean Road got twisty, we found the GS cornered flat and with complete confidence, helped by the presence of a clever rear-wheel steering system that also improves the car’s manoeuvrability around town.
The steering is well-weighted, direct and accurate, especially in the drive select’s Sport or Sport+ modes, but felt disappointingly numb and uncommunicative – the only black mark against the F Sport’s otherwise impressive ride/handling balance.
The look of delight on the faces of three friends as we pulled up in the swish Lexus that would take them on our weekend away did not last long once they had piled into the back seat.
Outboard passengers are quite well catered for and there is enough legroom for a six-foot passenger to sit comfortably behind a similarly tall driver, with a couple of centimetres separating their knees from the front seat.
However, the centre pew is a narrow, rock-hard raised hump with a backrest punctuated by a leather strap used to pull down the armrest and the two outboard passengers also suffer when the centre position is occupied.
There is a head restraint and a lap-sash seatbelt for the central position, officially making the GS a five-seater, but it is uncomfortable for a short journey, let alone hundreds of kilometres of twisty roads.
Rear passengers sit quite high (especially if perched on that hump in the middle) and if they are of average male hight or above there is very little headroom, and they felt as though they were peering down through the side windows without much view of the road ahead.
If the driver gets out of the car first, the electrically-adjustable front seat automatically moves backwards, making it easier for the driver to get out but crushing the shins of the passenger behind them in the process.
There is a way of preventing this through the car’s long menu system, but before realising this we had to wait for passengers to disembark before getting out on our many stops along the way to visit sights and attractions.
This was not so easy on petrol stops, which were more frequent than we’d hoped, but necessary given the average fuel consumption we experienced of more than 12 litres per 100 kilometres compared with the official figure of 9.7L/100km. And, to make matters worse, it required more expensive premium unleaded.
We came to the conclusion that the GS becomes a far more convincing proposition if not frequently needing the back seat.
As a competitor to the big three German brands, the Lexus wins on value and there is no doubt it is catching up on style, interior ambience and dynamics.
The amount of equipment for the money makes it a cosseting luxury car that, despite a few niggles, is a pleasure to drive and ticks a lot of boxes, but overall we found it to be another competent but soulless car – and that lack of emotional connection somehow makes it harder to justify the price.
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