When Lexus said it was going to “F” its GS I was skeptical. The GS has handsome but conservative looks which surely wouldn’t translate to high speed track worker, but they did, and it does, and what a cracker it is.
The fabulous RCF engine has been transplanted into the heart of the GS. Tyres, brakes, and suspension have all been given a bit spit and polish by the team once headed by Yukihiko Yaguchi. He is the man responsible for the IS F and RCF and the magnificent LFA Supercar about which I am obsessed.
Throughout the day, Lexus frequently referred back to their LFA as the they described how the GSF came into being. The GSF was unveiled at Lexus of Adelaide to the well-timed sounds of an LFA revving in the service bay. That sound, once heard, will never be forgotten. It added to the sense of drama to the extreme heat of an Adelaide summer.
We spent the next hour surrounded by a dozen GSF’s, and a distant LFA as Lexus detailed their hopes and dreams for their new model in great detail.
If Adelaide seemed a strange place for the launch of a luxury racing saloon, the special guests brought that into focus.
Australia has a long and illustrious racing history and South Australia has been right at the centre of it. The tracks at Mallala and Lobethal harken back to the very dawn of motoring when racing safety meant wearing a warm jacket and goggles with your dinner suit.
There was a Q and A during dinner where Alan Jones, and racing and wine identity Tony Parkinson, told stories about racing, South Australia, wine, and Lexus. So as it turned out, Adelaide is intrinsically connected to motor racing and a very good place to launch a track car..
The cabin has sporty highlights such as race-inspired rivets, sports seats, and carbon fibre surrounds.
The dash has clear well laid out instruments and a killer sound system. However, the infotainment system and its toggle/button input seems complex and clumsy. the big three Germans, Jaguar, and of course the Italians manage easier systems of input. The toggle is painfully sensitive and inputs such as Satnav and settings cannot be done while the car is moving. This is an American thing. There is an assumption that no passenger is ever going to want to programme settings or input an address. There are many bings and bongs to let you know you done something but they would drive you mad in 5 seconds flat. Most of them you can’t turn off. Once you get used to it, the menu is easy to get around but the system remains awkward and needs a complete rethink.
The Mark Levinson Speakers are superb. I’ve long been a fan of the 17 speaker system with its high output digital control. The sound is deep and rich with a musical lustre you’d hope for from a premium brand.
The 12.3” LCD Display is set deep into the dash. If it was a touch screen, it might go a long way to countering the need for the toggle. Having said that, the screen rarely suffers from glare as you get with LCDs mounted on the face of the dash as the Germans do. Regardless of surface, they’re impossible to read with even the slightest hint of sunlight. Lexus, well done.
The seat upgrades come with part aniline perforated leather to accommodate cooling fans that waft chilled air through the seat coverings. The system will only operate if the seat is occupied.
GSF is more rigid than the regular GS. The body is 41.9% high tensile steel with 980MPa tensile strength in the underbody. There is RFC-style under-bracing, with more braces in the front and rear body sections. There are redesigned suspension points, and a body that’s 5mm wider, and 35mm longer.
The specially developed low friction dampers are designed to reduce body roll, wheel bounce, and nose dive under heavy braking in a track situation.
The body is built using laser screw welding and a robot-applied bonding adhesive over and above the standard GS.
The engine is fresh from the RCF and is a 5.0L naturally aspirated V8 which feels and sounds spectacular. There is simply no point banging on about fuel figures. It’s a V8 and that’s bad news for committed greenies. Our morning spin in the hills managed about 18L/100k.
In short, the GSF is not just a base model GS (if there is such a thing at Lexus) with a big engine and stiff shockies, it is bespoke engineering and Japanese perfection.
Adelaide and the surrounding hills were chosen because of the racing heritage, scenery, and fabulous roads. Lexus is keen to show that their muscle car is as comfy on the roads as it is as it is on a track. They topped this off by handing the car over to, Alan Jones, to take jaded journos on a hot lap.
It was a relief to get into the hills away from the extreme heat and the plethora of red-light and speed cameras. The winding road is punctuated by narrow bridges and badly pot-holed undulating surfaces. The suspension is firm but not uncomfortable. It handled the smooth bends with ease. The ruts made the big saloon skip but control was always maintained. For this section, we left the stability control on with SPORT mode selected. The 8 speed auto was also in SPORT mode, meaning the onboard computer was set for tighter, harder driving and the automatic transmission held gears longer. In addition, the auto uses sensors to allow the computer control change down during braking and cornering. It then to holds the gear as the car accelerates out the other side without changing up unexpectedly. Normally I would use the paddles to choose my own gear but the gearbox did a sterling job all by itself. It feels almost like a double-clutch gearbox. The revs instantly rise and fall in a visceral crescendo, with only split second changes sprinkled about for good measure. The only word for it is fabulous. There is much LFA in the GSF.
Turns were handled with great poise, and even when pushed there was plenty of grip and power in reserve. A gentle press out of the corner propels the GSF like a missile. There is more power than you could possibly need in a road car.
I don’t want to create the impression that the firmness of the ride and the ferocious engine means the road manners are unacceptable in a daily driver. In normal driving model, the GSF is a pussy-cat. Sport mode makes it slightly less pussy-cat-ish, and Sport Plus is for experts. Then there is Expert Mode, which is for professional drivers only which as the pics show. It is a white knuckle experience on steroids.
It isn’t everyone that gets to drive a race-inspired car on a track. Track days are supervised by professional drivers to make sure carnage is minimized. No GSFs were harmed in the writing of this story.
I was teamed with V8 supercar driver, Dean Canto, who must be the most chilled passenger I’ve ever encountered. “Point at the cones,” he said as we topped out at 170kph. “Brake hard,” he said as I didn’t brake hard. I muscled the big Lexus onto the rumble strip and off again. Putting a foot flat to the floor in a 351kw monster V8 is more satisfying than winning the lotto, but not of course the 1st division, because, silly. There is no turbo lag to worry about so the power is right there, almost from the word go. My time of 3.5 hours was not really good enough to take up the racing profession full time, but Dean encouraged me all the same. You have to admire the man’s pluck.
I thought I really pushed the GSF to the limit but I was soon to discover the car was scarcely out of 2nd gear. The day was rounded off with a fast lap. Alan Jones drove the GSF as if he stole it. Hard braking means exactly that and with the electronic nannies disabled, each corner felt like and emergency braking situation. Each acceleration was as if we were trying to escape carjackers. Several corners saw a wheel cocked at a jaunty angle with some corners only held by brute force. The sound was extraordinary but because Adelaide was in the grips of a heatwave, the windows were up and the airconditioning worked as if it was doing nothing more than a city commute.
You would think the erstwhile F1 champ would be concentrating on the job, but the track is his office and he had plenty of time to talk about Lexus for whom he is a Brand Ambassador. Lexus retains one of the 10 LFA supercars in its collection at their secret bunker, in The Shire just south of sydney on Captain Cook BLVD near the roundabout. It had about 11,000k on it last year when I had a play in it. Sadly, the but memorable brief flirt was limited to starting it, giving it a rev or 15, and having some photo taken as proof of flirt.
But I digress, Alan is the person responsible for most of the 11,000 k’s on the LFA and 99% of those were on the track. The LFA has needed nothing more than a regular service and the odd brake pad. Much of this tech is in the GSF and RCF.
As I got out, I was reminded that our single lap in the GSF with Alan Jones at the wheel was the equivalent of about 200k of normal driving. If gives you some idea of how hard track life is on car and human. After 11,000K, the LFA shows little wear. Of course the GSF is 1/5th of the cost of the LFA when new but the engineering is shared even if all of the materials aren’t.
I got out pondering the excellent build quality, before realizing my legs had completely gone. After my attack of the vapours has passed, I was able to come to terms with the GSF and its performance. In the hands of an expert it is an elegant weapon at the pinnacle of Japanese design. The performance is ferocious, so the obsessive engineering begins to make more sense.
Most buyers probably won’t go past a track let alone put their $150,000 Lexus on one. Still, it wouldn’t be the first time a car had been towed to a public road for insurance purposes.
The Japanese love a gadget or two and the lexus isn’t short of them, even down to the electric rear sun shade. Under daily commute conditions, the GSF is comfortable, luxurious and capable. As a race ready road car, it has presence which commands respect. The massive tyres are $800 a pop but either you have 150 grand or you don’t. If you do, then 800 bucks a tyre is of little concern.
The only down side of the big Lexus is the awkward toggle input for the infotainment system, otherwise it is perfection.
The question remains that the GSF buyer is also in the market for a hot E class, Audi RS, Jag R or BMW M. Will a mean-looking Lexus be enough to tempt them away? Ideally the buyer would take each car to a track back to back, but since that won’t ever happen, a decent test drive is essential. In this case it would make the choice more difficult than before because the Lexus is a worthy competitor.
I can easily imagine a well-dressed couple on a romantic week away. 2 beefy boys would be easily accommodated without any trouble. If another 2 beefy boys want come for a weekend’s antiquing, they even have their own AC controls in the back seat. The electric boot-lid conceals a capacious cargo hold, and you can opt for air conditioned front seats. What’s not to like?
Would I buy one? I wouldn’t want to choose between the above. Each is a favourite, so the choice would probably come down to “him indoors”. I prefer the individual look of the RC coupe. Even the non-hot RC350 looks positively piping. I’d probably have a martini instead.
Price: $148,800 and $151800 plus onroads
Engine: 5L naturally aspirated V8, 351kw/530Nm
0-100: 4.6 seconds
Econ: 11.3 L/100k (claimed)