2016 LEXUS GS F REVIEW
LEXUS HAS PULLED back the curtains on its GS F sedan, the fourth F series model following the IS F of 2008, the LFA V10 supercar and the RC F coupe, released in Australia just last year. Powered by a 5.0-litre V8, the GS F develops 351kW at 7100rpm, and 530Nm of torque between 4800 and 5600rpm. Drive is put to the road through a four-mode 8-speed automatic transmission and an electrically controlled torque-vectoring differential. Fuel consumption is a combined, gulp, 11.3L/100km with a theoretical range of 520km from a tank of fuel, although you can expect to get much less than in stop-start city driving.
The GS F is available at two price points, differentiated by the upholstery material used in the seating. The Alcantara version retails for $148,800+ORC, while the model equipped with semi-aniline leather sells for $151,700+ORC. Aside from the grade of interior materials, there is no other difference between the two models, although high grade polished 19-inch wheels and carbon interior ornamentation can be specified for $2500 each respectively.
Other standard equipment includes LED headlights, 19-inch forged alloys, Brembo braking highlighted by lairy orange calipers and a 12.3 inch high definition display in the centre of the dashboard. There’s also a 17-speaker Mark Levinson sound system, three-zone climate control, a colour head-up display, moonroof and a heated leather-accented steering wheel.
The GS F is the first Lexus F model to feature a head-up display (HUD), providing key driver information in a full colour, high visibility format. It provides current speed, audio information, lane guidance display and two types of F model-exclusive sports displays. Sports Mode Display A shows current speed, the tachometer and shift display.
The GS F features 41.9% high-tensile steel to ensure the body is as stiff and yet light as possible. Taking floppiness out of a high-performance vehicle’s body is always a good thing, actually, it’s a good thing for any vehicle to have sogginess taken out. But for a performance sedan like the GS F it gives the suspension engineers a rigid body to hang the suspension off and make the vehicle as sharp as possible.
The new GS F runs custom coil springs and ZF SACHS monotube dampers all around, as well as new characteristics for the bound stoppers and stabiliser bars. The GS F’s multi-link rear suspension consists of two upper control arms, two suspension arms and a toe-control arm (rear tie-rod assembly), with monotube dampers and a hollow stabiliser bar. It draws on the RC F design, with the new features of hollow forged-aluminium upper number 1 and lower number 2 arms, and bespoke calibration for the coil springs, dampers, bound stoppers and stabiliser bar.
Safety is taken care of by a host of acronyms, including a pre-collision system, active cruise, lane keeping assist and adaptive high beam. Other autonomous systems, as are becoming available on comparable vehicles in the market, are not available. The GS F brake package has 380mm by 34mm front rotors with six-piston opposed callipers and 345mm by 28mm rear rotors with four-piston opposed callipers.
One thing that caught my eye in the press kit and this is becoming a very common thing to read, but on a high-performance vehicle? Hmmm. Like the Lexus LFA, the GS F offers Accelerated Sound Control and that’s basically engine noise piped into the cabin… even the EcoBoost Mustang we recently drove has this. According to Lexus, the engine development team paid “meticulous attention to tuning the engine sound” but, surely a decent exhaust system would have done that?
Make no mistake, the Acceleration Sound Control (ASC) is a clever thing but it’s not strictly necessary. Anyway, according to Lexus it “helps create a deep tone up to 3000rpm, a higher-pitched tone as revolutions rise and the sensation of the engine soaring freely above 6000rpm”. The piped in engine noise is delivered via the front and rear speakers.
There’s no point summarising it, this is straight from the press kit “Sound output from the front speaker rises along with the engine speed, to emphasise the high tone of the air intake as well as the mechanical sounds from the engine itself.
“The rear speaker simultaneously delivers a strong low frequency sound that emphasises the powerful exhaust note coming from the rear of the vehicle. The front and rear speakers operate during SPORT S+ mode, while only the rear speakers function when driving in SPORT S mode. ASC is automatically turned off when driving in NORMAL or ECO mode”.
So how is it on the road? Overall, the car has a Jekyll and Hyde character, partly dictated by the naturally aspirated engine, which makes its peak power high up the rev-range, and makes maximum torque at higher RPM than the turbo engines found on many of its competitors.
The changeable character of the vehicle is also emphasised by the four-mode 8 speed auto box, which has settings for normal, eco, Sport S and and Sport S+.
On relatively light throttle openings, with the gearbox set in either Normal or Eco, the GS F is a refined boulevardier. The steering is relatively light, and the exhaust note is muted. That all changes when the drive mode is set to either Sport S or Sport S+. Steering becomes more sensitive, turn in, thanks to the torque vectoring diff, is sharp, and the exhaust note takes on the character of a charging elephant. Put the throttle down and the car charges off the line, exhaust bellowing (but not booming) and the autobox rifling through changes as fast as required. It’s an addictive feeling.
For additional control, either on the track or on winding back roads, the gearbox also has a full manual mode, controlled either by nicely finished paddles behind the wheel (they move with the wheel, rather than being fixed), or by the centre console shifter. According to Lexus, M-mode upshifts are made in just 0.3 seconds, while downshifts are a mite faster, at 0.2 seconds. GS F’s transmission has driver-selectable Vehicle Dynamics Integrated Management settings and a menu of three settings for the torque vectoring differential.
On the launch, Lexus provided hot laps of the Mallala race track, in South Australia, driven by Rick Bateman and former F1 World Champion, Alan Jones. Bateman, on his laps, noted that he preferred running in M-mode, while using the centre console shift, as he said the paddles, moving as they do with the wheel, are too hard to locate under the hammer. Jones preferred to leave the vehicle in full auto mode for his hotshoe laps.
While Normal and Eco are preferred for town running and highway use, the Sport S and Sport S+ modes are really where it’s at for enthusiast driving. Everything is sharper, and both performance modes include a G-sensor AI-Shift Control, which uses information from the G-sensors on vehicle status and driver input, including accelerator angle, to provide the optimum gear for sports driving.
In SPORT S mode the transmission will automatically downshift during hard braking for a corner, hold the lower gear through the corner for greater control, and then monitor the degree of throttle opening to provide the appropriate gear for the desired response on exit.
Another significant contributor to the sports driving feel of the GS F is its trick torque vectoring diff. This has clutch packs, controlled by electric motors, on either side of the diff to adjust the torque distribution across the rear axle 1000 times per second. The diff has three operating modes, including standard, which is the default setting and designed for balance and stability; slalom, for emphasis on nimble steering response and the agility of a smaller vehicle; and track or circuit, which is designed for consistent, stable behaviour and to ensure that the car stays on the intended cornering line as the driver applies more throttle.
Lexus wouldn’t be drawn on how many GS Fs it hopes to sell in the Australian marketplace. Newly-minted Lexus Australia managing director Peter McGregor said the company had done psychographic profiles of the intended buyer, but he declined to share those profiles with the audience.
Obvious competitors include various AMG, Audi S and BMW M models, but the general consensus is that Lexus buyers are Lexus buyers, and that is something that Lexus is, perhaps, trying to do something about. The F models are intended to inject some excitement into the range, and to change the image of a Lexus driver from the stereotypical white-haired accountant into someone a little more, well, lairy.
As an overall proposition, the GS F is compelling. It’s well equipped, goes like a rocket (once the throttle is down and the appropriate drive mode and diff mode selected) and its looks, aside from the polarising spindle grille, are handsome. It’s even available in a hero colour called Lava Mica, an orange hue matching the Brembo brake calipers on the car. The GS F is always going to be a niche proposition, but cross shoppers with its obvious rivals, if they exist, would have to give the big Lexus a second look.