IS IT just me or has Lexus quietly become a bit sexy these past few years?
Often associated with the more mature buyer seeking an alternative to the ubiquitous big Germans, its current boldly designed offerings are clearly directed towards a younger buying demographic.
You can hop in a CT 200h Hatch for under $40k, while Lexus' trio of SUVs make them luxury players in the family buyer market. But nothing brings in the crowds quite like the sporting stuff. Even if shoppers can't stretch to a true performance model, having a few halo cars to get the juices flowing does no harm to the brand.
Explaining, no doubt, why Lexus' "F" division has been kept busy of late. Back in 2008 we were given the IS F V8 sedan, then the otherworldly LFA V10 supercar in 2011, and finally the RC F V8 coupe last year.
Fresh to F is the all-new GS F, sprinkling the magic F dust on Lexus' mid-size four-door GS sedan. And even though Lexus has recently embraced turbocharging in its range after years of resisting, the GS F sports an old school naturally aspirated V8 to present a compelling alternative to the likes of BMW's M5 and Audi S6 and their purist-enraging turbos.
The GS F's 5.0-litre bent eight may be turbo free, but it still produces 351kW and 530Nm of torque and sends it to the rear wheels via an eight-speed auto 'box. Excitement, sophistication and accessible performance are all key Lexus tells us, and the GS F certainly features a raft of intelligent systems to cope with the performance.
Price is also cheaper than those German rivals, with $148,800 getting you in the first of two GS F choices.
Despite its performance bent, the cabin still has an as-you-were Lexus level of comfort with excellent build quality.
Yes, seats are of the bucket variety rather than armchair, but are nicely hugging and you sink comfortably into a position to tackle both a cross-continent slog or track day. The entry-level car has sporty Alcantara trim, while blue stitching and seat holes for harnesses (an appreciated but token gesture) are your F signatures.
Touch points are a delight throughout, the mighty 12.3-inch high-def display is excellent but I'll admit to getting lost in a maze of menus and buttons, not helped by the car's Remote Touch mini pad which sometimes takes surgical precision to operate successfully.
The leather steering wheel is heated rather than flat-bottomed to show Lexus still errs towards comfort rather than out-and-out sportiness, and it is quite a big thing in the hands, as opposed to the gear shifter which is an appreciated sporty little stumpy number.
On the road
We tested the super sedan through the sublime roads of the Adelaide Hills with undulations and twists almost a match for the stunning views. The GS F can't help but feel a big car on such routes, but makes up for a lack of nimbleness with brute force.
With no low-down turbo kick a la BMW M5, you need to reach above 4000rpm for the Lexus to show its hand. The car feels quick enough in the lower rev range, but gets serious urge the closer to the redline you play; and if you like an old school atmo V8 growl this car has nailed it. The eight-speed auto does a silky smooth job when cruising, but isn't the sharpest during more aggressive play, meaning its best to select Sport S+ mode (it also has Eco, Normal and Sport S settings) and take charge of the paddles.
Highway cruising is a delight in the big GS F as you'd expect, but typical Lexus buyers may struggle with the stiff ride over poor surfaces. Trade off is the lowered suspension teamed with a super smart electronic torque-vectoring differential which delivers effortless balance and grip when you stretch its legs.
This was best tested on a fling (albeit incredibly brief) around SA's Mallala track. A few laps proved Lexus had nailed its mission of making the performance accessible, in other words it's quite an easy big thing to drive fast - and stop quickly thanks to might Brembo brakes. But even in Sport S + (which modifies throttle response, steering weight and gear shifts) the steering is on the lighter, less communicative side, and although the car always feels predictable, it lacks the real mongrel a super sedan should reveal when hitting the track. But let's be honest, will any GS F owner be track bound?
What do you get?
Two near identical GS F models are offered, the only difference being seat trim levels. The $148,800 car has Alcantara trim with heated seats front and rear, the other at $151,700 brings premium semi-aniline leather-accented seat trim and the addition of ventilation for front chairs.
Standard on both are a four-mode drive select system, torque vectoring differential, 19-inch forged alloys, Brembo brakes, LED headlamps, 12.3-inch HD screen, 17-speaker Mark Levinson audio, tri-zone climate, head up display, heated steering wheel, moonroof and power rear sunshade. Safety inclusions are 10 airbags, a pre-collision system, active cruise control and lane keep assist.
BMW's M5 Pure ($185,000) and Audi S6 ($169,510), or if you can fancy a ballistic Lexus with just the two doors, sample the RC F ($133,110). Cheaper super sedan V8 fun can be had for much less coin too - if not quite the luxury - with a Chrysler 300 SRT ($69,000). Feeling left field? Go a Tesla Model S 90D (from $161,889 drive away): it's larger than the RC F, quicker than to 100kmh and yes, a bit more economical.
Practicality and economy
Rear seating for two sees excellent leg and head room, but stay out of the middle seat which is painfully hard and sees your head squashed on the ceiling. You score 520-litres of deep boot space - identical to a BMW M5.
On the fuel bill front, you're in charge of a thirsty normally aspirated V8 that always orders 98 at the bar. Quoted economy is 11.3-litres/100km, while we saw over 13 on a squirt through the Adelaide Hills.
Slightly longer and wider than a normal GS sedan thanks to its wider arches and chunkier bumpers, it's an imposing big thing with its distinctive pointy front end. It does look cracking from the rear with its stacked exhaust exits, but arguably the small boot lid spoiler would look better in the body colour rather than carbon fibre.
Speaking of colours, it doesn't come much funkier than the Lava Mica (orange) Lexus paint. Go for this if you like your super sedans a tad more in-yer-face.
A worthy alternative to its turbo super sedan rivals, the plush and highly-specced GS F's delicious-sounding naturally aspirated V8 is the Lexus's compelling point-of-difference. It won't sell many, but buyers who can live with its stiff ride will enjoy an intelligent halo machine which easily delivers fast-paced rewards.
What matters most
What we liked: Typical Lexus massive standard spec, naturally aspirated V8 soundtrack, ease to drive quickly, cabin comfort.
What we'd like to see: Doesn't feel as animal as the turbo German rivals and really needs revs to feel quick, overwhelming amount of display menus and buttons in the cabin, very un-Lexus crashy ride on poor road surfaces.
Warranty and servicing: Four-years/100,000km.
Model: Lexus GS F.
Details: Four-door rear-wheel-drive premium super sedan.
Engine: 5.0-litre V8 generating maximum power of 351kW @ 7100rpm and peak torque of 530Nm @ 4800rpm.
Transmission: Eight-speed automatic.
Economy: 11.3-litres/100km (combined).
Performance: 0-100kmh in 4.6 seconds, top speed 270kmh (limited).
Bottom line plus on-roads: $148,800 or $151,700 for higher grade model with ventilated semi-aniline leather seats.
Driving experience 15/20
Features and equipment 18/20
Functionality and comfort 18/20
Value for money 15/20
Style and design 14/20
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