REVIEW: Lexus’ new GS-F luxury car was built for the road, but is actually better on the trackFeb 25th, 2016
It’s a stinking hot day at Mallala race track in the middle of nowhere. Seriously, this would have to be one of the world’s most remote race tracks, surrounded by dusty, dry Australian outback. Even former F1 world champ Alan Jones was asking before we left Adelaide for the track whether Mallala had a tree yet.
To answer his question – it does. About three, and a couple of patches of green grass being watered at midday on a 38°C day.
I’m here to drive the new Lexus flagship, the $148,800 GS-F sports sedan. It’ll comfortably fit 5 people, and also has a corker of a naturally aspirated 5.0-litre V8 engine under the bonnet that sends 351kW and 530Nm to the rear wheels, launching you from 0-100km/h in 4.6 seconds.
My first experience of the car was driving to Mallala. The convoy of journalists picked up the cars from Lexus of Adelaide and headed to the Adelaide Hills, driving through Lobethal, the home of the 1939 Australian Grand Prix and 1937 international TT motorbike race. Rumour has it that Nazi Germany sent a team of spies with their entrants to suss out Australia before the war.
As we head towards Lobethal, driving through a few small South Australian towns on the way, all the town locals stop and stare at our six GS-Fs. And how couldn’t you? The design is strikingly Japanese, the exhaust has a nice loud, deep tone to it, while two are painted in a loud royal blue colour and another two are in a bright orange. Would you believe it actually took seven years for a team to come up with that shade of orange. Seven years. For a paint colour.
To improve dynamics and handling, Lexus says it has a new suspension setup compared to the RC-F coupe. The GS-F is essentially the sedan version of. But because of that, the ride itself is quite firm, much firmer than you would would expect a circa $150k luxury sedan, even if it doubles as a sports car.
And while we’re on things you wouldn’t want in an expensive luxury car, it’s a stupidly hard to use entertainment system. Seriously, the controller in the centre-console used to navigate is possibly one of the most counter-intuitive options on the market. It’s almost like using one of those red balls on an old IBM laptop.
Why Lexus couldn’t implement something similar to Audi or Mercedes is beyond me. At least the 12.3-inch screen in the middle is a nice high resolution and looks great.
The automatic gearbox also annoyingly changea up gears too quickly in sports mode, pushing you out of the sweet spot before you want it to. Thankfully that can be fixed in manual mode, with shifts surprisingly quick considering it’s just a traditional auto box and not dual-clutch.
But back to the good stuff and the glorious Adelaide Hills.
Aside from feeling the odd road bumps – there’s only one suspension setting and no adaptive dampers, which seems ridiculous when you can get them in a $25k VW Polo – the GS-F was a monster through the hills, which was especially surprising considering the sheer size and weight of the car. The nose turns in sharply, and if you have all the right sport settings on, you can even feel the rear slip just that little bit, adding a certain level of playfulness.
The huge Brembo brakes are fantastic too, even if they lack a tiny bit of feel, pulling up all 1825kg with ease, allowing you to rev that big V8 right up to the redline before pulling yourself up leading to the corner.
Oout of the hills, I chuck on cruise control and head along the flat plains out to Mallala. At one point the car said the temperature outside was 41°C and I was extremely grateful to be in a car with cooled seats, one of my favourite features in any car lately. Those cooled and semi-aniline leather seats are actually the only available options for the car – everything else standard, including that special bright orange if you’re so inclined. The seats are one of its highlights too, keeping you perfectly bolstered when driving hard, while also being comfortable and looking great.
The rest of the interior is great, as we’ve come to expect with a Lexus.
When we finally arrived at the track – where the roads literally no longer appear on the navigation system – the big Lexus surprisingly felt more at home.
It absolutely loved tearing up the main Mallela straight, pushing the big V8 to the redline, it dipped into turns like a car half its size and the 19 inch 275 tyres gripped fantastically even on the old slippery tarmac. But at the same time, turn the right settings on and you can get the big luxury car sideways around nearly every corner. I genuinely don’t think I’ve driven something that’s primarily a luxury car that felt this at home on the race track. It’s just a shame few owners will actually do that.
At the end of the day though, it’s hard to work out what this car goes up against. It’s significantly cheaper than the BMW M5, which is around the same size at about the same price as a BMW M3 or the considerably smaller Mercedes-Benz AMG C63. Then there’s maybe the Volvo S60 Polestar, which is just about as quick but all-wheel drive and a touch smaller. But maybe the thing it reminds me of the most is – and I’m sure Lexus and its buyers are going to hate this – a Holden Commodore SS V. Granted a much more luxurious and slightly faster Commodore, but its cracking V8 engine and agile dynamics are very similar. And that’s not a bad thing either, because the SS is a great car, and thus first to mind.
After I handed back the keys to the GS-F, I flicked through the pictures on my phone and came across one of a quote by Yukihiko Yaguchi, the godfather of the Lexus F brand performance arm: “The car should be fun to drive no matter who is driving or where it’s being driven.”
Despite its shortcomings in ride and infotainment navigation, the GS-F hits that mark splendidly. With the added bonus of cooled seats.
The Fine Print
The GS-F starts at $148,800 with the only optional extra being cooled and semi-aniline leather seats which adds $2900. The extensive list of standard equipment, including a sunroof, big Brembo brakes and 17-speaker Mark Levinson sound system is a welcome addition over German rivals.