The Lexus GS has never been renowned for its sportiness. Can the latest GS F Sport carry off a little more attitude? Jonathan Crouch reports.
Ten Second Review
The Lexus GS F Sport features the same powerplant found in the hybrid GS 450h coupled to a more focused suspension setup and some aggressive body styling modifications. It's quick enough to wear them without seeming self conscious and offers a distinctly cerebral alternative to the usual German powerhouses.
The Lexus GS has plenty of deeply admirable qualities. It's beautifully built, it rides smoothly and quietly and it's packed with safety and convenience features that work and work well. It's even a distinctly handsome thing in its latest chiselled iteration. What it's never been is anything to get the pulse racing. Even when fitted with a 4.3-litre V8 engine, it was always a car that felt happiest just feathering along on the lightest whisper of throttle. The GS F Sport isn't a car that will transform the GS into a fire-breathing monster. Despite the promise of the F badge, this isn't a tarmac-cremating powerhouse like its little brother the IS-F or the supercar LFA. In fact it doesn't offer any more power under the bonnet than the standard GS. So a case of wolf in sheep's clothing? With 341bhp on tap and a revised suspension and braking package it's actually more lupine than you might at first think.
Although the powerplant hasn't come in for a tweaking, don't think the GS F Sport is purely a cosmetic exercise. The GS F Sport has retuned front and rear suspension, supported by Adaptive Variable Suspension to optimise body control and steering response, so improving overall vehicle agility. The front and rear dampers have been modified , with those at the back inclined further to the rear, working in concert with larger and and stiffer bushings. The variable suspension system allows the driver to fine tune the ride with a choice of two damper settings: Normal, for everyday driving, and Sport S+, for sharper responses. Switch to Sport S+ mode automatically increases the difference between inner and outer damping when driving through corners, further reducing vehicle roll. At the same time, the Variable Gear Ratio Steering automatically reduces the steering gear ratio by about 10 per cent, while the Electric Power Steering increases steering assist torque by about four per cent. These measures combine to minimise body roll, sharpen handling and optimise steering feel, helped in turn by the car's Dynamic Rear Steer system. Bigger 356mm front brake discs beef up the stopping power. The GS platform is much more rigid compared to that of its predecessor and this, coupled with a track that's wider by 40mm at the front and 50mm at the rear, allows the revised suspension to offer better cornering performance. The hybrid 3.5-litre engine is boosted by an electric motor that together produce 341bhp. As with all Lexus hybrid vehicles, the new GS 450h is a full hybrid capable of operating in petrol-only or electric-only modes, as well as a combination of both.
Design and Build
There's little doubt that the GS F Sport has overtaking presence. The big air intakes and the revised bumper design give it a menacing front end, set off by mesh upper and lower grilles. The wide front track also lends the car a planted, confident stance that is in sharp contrast to its often high riding predecessors. Move round to the back and you'll spot a grey metallic diffuser and some chrome trim on the bumper as well as a rear spoiler. The dark metallic 19-inch alloy wheels are fitted with 235/40 series tyres at the front and 265/35 rubber at the rear. Glass flake paintwork is also offered, with an almost high-definition look to its metallic finish. The cabin is even more special and unlike previous generations of the GS, it looks as if a real effort has gone into the styling rather than concentrate on function to the detriment of aesthetics. The layout of the long, sculpted dash gives the driver and front passenger a sense of roominess through its clean centre stack and large high-resolution display screen. Most of the comfort and convenience controls such as audio and climate are relocated to provide a cleaner and more sophisticated dash layout. Matching door and seat upholstery is offered and is available in a deep red shade that is exclusive to the F Sport. Other features include aluminium trim elements, 16-way adjustable F Sport front seats, a black headliner and pillar finish, dimple perforated leather steering wheel and gear knob covers and aluminium pedals. The scuff plates bear the F Sport logo in black and the F Sport badge is also featured on the steering wheel.
Market and Model
There's only one version of the GS-F Sport offered, Lexus having no plans to sell a version based on the entry-level GS250 petrol model. Priced at around £50,000, the GS F Sport seems a rather expensive indulgence, but compared to many of its key rivals it offers a lot for the money. Customers get DVD audio and video compatibility, MP3 sound enhancement, 5.1 Surround Sound, and a high-resolution eight-inch central control display centrally located high up in the instrument panel. Models fitted with the navigation system will have an industry-first 12.3-inch high-resolution multi-media screen, large enough to support simultaneous, split-screen viewing of a large map display, plus audio, climate or other vehicle information.
Cost of Ownership
With no hard data on the engines, insurance or residual values yet to hand, we'll have to wait until a full product launch in June 2012 to flesh out cost of ownership figures.
The Lexus GS F Sport isn't the car that will turn the GS into a sporting emblem, but it is a welcome and interesting addition to the range. The GS 450h isn't exactly shy of power, and 341bhp is more than enough to carry off the sporting look and feel. In fact, I think I like this car exactly because it doesn't add more brake horsepower. Exactly how fast do you need to go in a big, executive car? Accelerating to sixty miles per hour in around five and a half seconds won't see you beaten off the line by too many vehicles. We'll have to reserve judgment on the efficacy of the Sport's suspension changes until we can subject it to a full drive on British roads. For the time being at least, this is a car that promises much and seems to carry little in the way of caveats.