The axis of access
In contrast to German rivals’ techno-missiles, Lexus delivers driver enjoyment in an oldschool sports sedan format
JAPAN’S major car makers have as a rule steered clear of big, high-performance luxury sedans. Perhaps when they considered what it would take to match the firepower of Audi, BMW and Mercedes, they thought, “Nope. Too much effort and too much money.”
Lexus is the exception. It’s having a crack at the Germans with its F performance brand and its GS F sedan goes up against storied Teutonic blasters such as Audi’s S6, BMW’s M5 and the imminent Mercedes-AMG E63.
Priced at $151,490 with Alcantara trim, or $154,450 with leather, the 5.0-litre V8 Lexus GS F is a very different car to its German rivals. That’s arguably its greatest attraction.
Much about the GS F is oldschool sports sedan, including conservative sheet metal with flowing lines rather than shouty creases and curves. It’s one of those Q-cars that looks more polite than it is. Don’t be fooled.
Huge slotted brake discs and 20 pistons’ worth of Brembo aluminium monobloc calipers, in orange and embossed with the F logo, are standard.
The GS F squats low on bespoke suspension, with Sachs monotube dampers, aluminium control arms and 19-inch alloys shod with 275/35 (rear) and 255/35 (front) Michelin Pilot Super Sport tyres.
Understated opulence is the story inside, where the dash layout is vaguely similar to BMW’s M5. Lexus delivers exquisite materials, fit and finish quality, with soft-touch Alcantara upholstery, door and dash cowl trim, pukka blue stitching and, at this level, musthave carbon-fibre (a $2500 option) and aluminium ornamentation.
Infotainment is operated by a super-sensitive mouse-style controller on the centre console, which makes it difficult to place the cursor where you want it on the big screen.
A customisable TFT tacho, with digital and analog speedos, looks cool and lights up like a race car instrument as the needle swings towards redline.
Rear accommodation, in two individually shaped, heated bucket seats, is comfortable and supportive, with ample legroom.
Every second car I test, including this one, has a remote boot release that doesn’t work. The boot itself is long and shallow, with a tyre-repair kit under the floor.
When you first jump into the GS F you can’t help but think it may not be too long before you want to get out, because the driver’s seat is, shall we say, unyielding to the cheeks.
A heavily bolstered faux race shell, it’s shaped to hold you tight at GS-F’s considerable cornering velocities. On a long drive its supportive contouring looks after you well but comfort would be improved if there was just a little more padding in the right … er … places.
The naturally aspirated V8 is matched with a smooth, efficient eight-speed automatic. In Eco or Normal drive modes you can trundle around the city using 12L-16L/100km. On the highway the Lexus can return 7L-8L. Not bad for an atmo V8.
ON THE ROAD
Turn the drive mode dial to Sport or Sport +, give the accelerator a jab and the engine changes from mild-mannered cruiser to serious bruiser.
Peak torque of 530Nm kicks in at 4800rpm, which is at least 3000rpm higher than most turbocharged V8s, so in the lower half of the Lexus rev range things are fairly sedate.
This engine isn’t about grunt, it’s about power. At 4000rpm there’s an eruption of noise and thrust and it’s game on. Redline is 7300rpm, so you have a lot of revs to play with.
The V8’s responsiveness and urgency increase exponentially as the redline approaches, with a luscious howl (synthesised in part) and an immediacy at the pedal no turbo can emulate. Lexus claims 4.6 seconds for the 0-100km/h sprint.
Sport+ mode renders the eight-speed quick to downshift under brakes, but too eager to then change up, so if you want to keep revs high in the sweet zone the paddle-shifters are handy. Shifts are crisp and smooth.
Lexus takes the regular route to sports handling: brace the body, drop it as close to the road as possible and nail it down tight on non-adjustable, heavily damped suspension. Adjustable torque vectoring keeps things tidy under power.
It works. Delightfully responsive, well-balanced and taut for 1.86 tonnes, the GS F feels lighter in tight corners.
The springs, with just enough compliance to prevent flex, let the dampers control body movement properly on rough surfaces. Sharp, not too heavy, intuitive steering tells you exactly what the front wheels are doing.
The price of non-adjustable suspension is a pretty hard ride. Compliance improves with speed but on rough roads you get jostled around a bit and the tyres generate some noise.
Its turbo Audi, BMW and Benz rivals ultimately will smoke the Lexus with grunt, code and numbers but the GS F has the accessible performance and driver enjoyment that the Germans seem to have forgotten about in the quest to top each other’s figures. The magnificent Teutonic missiles don’t deliver until you’re nearing the speed of light. The Lexus is a unique, seductive mix of Japan Inc precision performance engineering and old-school sports sedan cool. I could happily have kept it.