The axis of ac­cess

In con­trast to Ger­man ri­vals’ techno-mis­siles, Lexus de­liv­ers driver en­joy­ment in an old­school sports sedan for­mat

Herald Sun - Motoring - - ROAD TEST - BILL McKIN­NON bill.mckin­non@news.com.au

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.

DE­SIGN

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.

AROUND TOWN

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.

VER­DICT

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.

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