The axis of ac­cess

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

The Courier-Mail - Motoring - - Road Test - BILL McKIN­NON

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. 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 , door and dash cowl trim, pukka blue stitch­ing and, at this level, must-have 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.

The long, shal­low boot has a tyre-re­pair kit un­der the floor. As with ev­ery sec­ond car I test, this one’s re­mote boot re­lease doesn’t work.

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.

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 (at least 3000rpm higher than most turbo V8s), so in the lower half of the Lexus’s 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 — 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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