Lexus GS-F

Atmo samurai shows the Germans that power isnít everything

GLENN BUTLER

FIRST OVERSEAS DRIVE

FORGET power. Grip is the new god. Well, youíd expect Lexus to say that, wouldnít you? After all, the companyís new GS-F large performance sedan large performance sedan - launching in Australia in February with a circa-$155K price tag - has Ďonlyí 351kW and 530Nm with which to tackle the might of BMWís 423kW M5 and Mercedes- AMGís 430kW E63 S, both of which use twin-turbocharging to bolster their bullish V8s.

So, in a bar-room numbers war between owners, the Lexus can only lose (unless youíre talking price, because the GS-Fís tag is closer to the $155K C63 than the $250K E63).

Except... Lexus did not talk gripover- grunt. All they asked is that we judge the GS-F for what it has and what it does. And, with that in mind, itís a cracking sports sedan.

The Lexus GS-F is a sweet balance of sporting flavours, where no single ingredient overpowers the others. Itís the kind of sports sedan that loves driving, and not a little like an Aussie HSV or FPV (remember those?) with more polish.

At its core sits the same 5.0-litre naturally aspirated V8 engine that powers the RC-F coupe. Itís a fantastic engine that spins hard and screams harder, all the way to its 7300rpm cut-out. Sure, it canít match modern turbocharged engines for low-rev torque, which means youíll be banging on the eight-speed autoís paddles more often to keep revs high, but involvement feeds excitement, and the sound of this engine at max attack is totally intoxicating.

It also makes the GS-F searingly quick, as a 0-100km/h time of 4.6 seconds highlights.

Our day-long drive included some hot laps of Spainís Jarama racetrack near Madrid, and it was here where the grip from the GS-Fís chassis and its Michelin Pilot Super Sport tyres first impressed. The GS-F runs front wishbones and a multi-link rear like lesser GS sedans, but in a much firmer state of tune. The chassis also gets a few judiciously placed strengtheners to improve dynamics. The result is an incredibly sharp, yet stable - and flat - platform for spirited driving.

Itís a one-mode suspension tune, and doesnít have adaptive dampers to adjust the ride to suit the mood. It is firm, and it is reactive to road surfaces, which may not play well at times in country Australia.

The GS-Fís electric steering feeds inputs quickly and fluently to the front end. It pivots into corners with poise, and it sends a constant stream of feedback to the driver from the road.

Get on the power too early and the front end will want to push wide. Then the GS-Fís trick torque-vectoring diff Ė standard for Australia Ė apportions drive to the outside rear to help Ďsteerí the car around and out of a turn.

Coming into corners, it can do similar tricks on a trailing throttle and under brakes, keeping the car stable right to the apex then helping you hustle on exit.

On the road, the GS-F continues to impress, but thatís less about mid-corner grip and more about how all of the carís elements gel so cohesively together. All key ingredients are balanced and in harmony. Itís not unlike the Toyota 86ís mantra, except this time with a 5.0-litre V8 at its core.

So, while some may choose to see a big V8 with no turbochargers or superchargers in a premium rear-drive sports sedan as an outdated dinosaur, thatís not fair at all. This is a thoroughly modern interpretation of an old favourite, and gives Lexusís growing reputation for building spirited and engaging performance cars a massive boost. And rightly so.

PLUS & MINUS

Firm ride may struggle on Aussie roads; polarising exterior styling Drivetrain response; steering; grip; sound; enthusiasm for a flogging

Model Engine Max power Max torque Transmission Weight 0-100km/h Economy Price On sale el eren t hyee Lexus GS-F 4969cc V8 (90į), dohc, 32v 351kW @ 7100rpm 530Nm @ 4800-5600rpm 8-speed automatic 1865kg 4.6sec (claimed) 11.3L/100km $155,000 (estimated) February 2016

01 RUNNING WITH THE HEARD

GS-Fís soundtrack involves some aural trickery via something Lexus calls Acceleration Sound Control (ASC), which harnesses the front speakers to emphasise intake and engine sounds, while the rear speakers are called on to add some baritone boost to the exhaust note. Itís subtle, and it can be turned off.

02 POSITIONS OF POWER

Torque-vectoring diff (TVD) has three modes: standard, slalom (to emphasise steering response and agility) and track (for acceleration and high-speed stability). There are also four Drive modes, each adjusting throttle response, gearshift mapping and steering weight.

03 STOP AND ROLL

GS-Fís 19-inch wheels are wrapped with excellent Michelin Pilot Super Sport tyres Ė 255/35R19 front, 275/35R19 rears. Tucked behind these are 380mm discs with six-piston Brembo calipers up front, four-piston in the rear.

Your pilot speaking

LEXUS says the undeniably tech-heavy and premium feel interior is Ďpilot focusedí. It does feel cosy without feeling claustrophobic, and all controls are easily within reach. Some of those controls - like Lexusís omnipotent mushroom mouse - take some getting used to, but work well once mastered. A good driving position is achievable with tilt and reach steering adjustment over a wide range, and a brilliantly supportive, electrically adjustable driverís seat.

OR TRY THESE...

Audi S6 $169,510

A LITTLE more expensive than the GS-F, but in the same ballpark in terms of outputs from its smaller 4.0-litre twin-turbo V8. Overall character is more aloof and buttoned-down than the boisterous and willing Japanese warrior.

Mercedes-AMG C63 S $154,510

YES, itís a class smaller than the Lexus, but the rabid punch of its 4.0-litre twin-turbo V8 will help take your mind off any complaints from those in the rear. Belts the GS-F for torque, so feels more energised and thrusty when not being spanked.