Lexus GS350 F-Sport – Review

Slick new offering from Lexus, and we test the best variant of the lot

By Shahzad Sheikh

Having driven the new GS at the launch – read that story here. We later got some longer seat time with our pick of the range – and the car that’s proving the most popular amongst buyers – the GS350 F-Sport. It’s expensive, but it’s got the best chassis/engine combination and the clever LDH active rear steering that is fitted with F-Sport on the 350 and 450, but not the 250, is extraordinary.

Essentially a combination of the rear steering, and the electronics driver’s aids make this car an incredible partner to have in times of trouble – high speed avoidance is managed for you and to a large extent it’ll save you ended up a mangled mess at the side of the road. Okay, it can’t help if you’re a complete idiot being silly, but it improves dynamic response, grip and road-holding almost miraculously.

In this guise, you’d have to spend AED290,000, but you could pick up a GS250 from AED195,000, but that’s not what you really want. That does it put it bang up against a BMW 535i M-Sport edition, priced at AED20k more.

Performance

A 3.5-litre V6 produces 312bhp and enough torque to get it to 100kph in under six seconds with a limited top speed of 228kph. Depending on which mode you’re in though, it feels quicker than those numbers suggest, unless of course you put it in Eco mode, which you never would.

There’s normal mode for the transmission which is for everyday driving and then a Sports S setting that sharpens up changes, and a Sports S+ setting that also firms up the suspension – did somebody mention BMW? Still, you can feel the differences straightaway. It transmits more of the road’s surface, but also tightens up the body movement – so a tad more vibration, but less lean and pitch.
Normal is okay, but Sports S is probably the best compromise (keeps the more compliant suspension). And you don’t need to switch it back every time you get in and start it up – it remembers where you left it and picks from the same mode. It’s clever like that. It’ll even announce what day it is each morning.

Ride and handling

As befits a Lexus, the ride is smooth though, managing to smother most of the road into submission. The performance is punchy enough, particularly between 4000-6000rpm, the gear-changes look after themselves, or you can enjoy taking charge by using the paddles.

As for the handling – well if you didn’t already read our launch report it’s incredible verging on spooky. It feels as stable as a four-wheel drive, but with an element of rear-wheel drive naughtiness about it. It’s not as rigid as Quattro and allows more movement, yet keeps things under check at all time. In fact, with the LDH rear-wheel steer, when you think you’re sliding the back end out, all that’s actually happening is that the rear steering is compensating for your eagerness. It’s the best of both worlds in some ways – it’s keeping your safe, and letting you think you’re drifting.

But that much we established on the track. What we wanted to know was if it was as desirable on the road.

And the answer is yes, definitely. Apart from the fact that this car got attention, looks and even people stopping and asking me about the new GS, the fact is that whilst you might be initially miffed at spending a seemingly outlandish sum of money on the car, very soon, you’d forget that and just be totally delighted with your purchase. It’s just so likeable.

Interior

The interior is spacious and the seats are comfortable, the fit and finish is on par with the best, the trim is exquisitely presented and delightful to the touch, and everything is where you’d expect. You get used to the mouse-style joy stick that operates the big screen, and we do mean big – it’s a massive 12.3-inch hi-res screen with superb graphics, and controls the climate, entertainment, trip computer and settings such as Bluetooth which even does brilliant audio streaming through the 17-speaker premium sound system.

For the F-Sport in particular you get smooth striated aluminium trim on the dashboard panels instead of wood, unique perforated leather trim, black headline, aluminium pedals and F-Sport badging. The driver’s seats has 16-way electric adjustment with powered side-bolsters. And of course the cabin is a massive leap forward from the dour Toyota identikit style of the previous car. And it’s not just you, the rear bench is also comfortable with very decent leg, head and shoulder room even for the larger amongst us. Okay, it doesn’t threaten the flagship LS, but few will be complaining.

Its key attribute is an ability to convince you that you’ve put your money in the right car, each time you get in it – rather like old Mercs used to do. And it’s not just the inside – you find yourself looking back at the car when you’ve parked and walked away, admiring its deeply chiselled and jutting jaw – so much more striking with the F-Sport – and its 19-inch F-Sport wheels. And if you’ve glanced back, you know you’re in love!

Verdict

The whole GS model range is better in every way, but although the thought of opting for the F-Sport pack might put some buyers off because of its overt styling and the ‘sports’ badging, it’s actually the one to go for because you might find that one day it will literally get you out of tight spot… at speed… on a highway… if you suddenly need to swerve violently.

‘Pure drivers’ might complain that it’s taking away some of the driving from you, that it’s behaviour is artificial (although the simulated feel through the wheel is remarkably convincing) and that really we should all be better drivers rather than rely on clever cars to keep us safe. And I wholeheartedly agree with most of that. But the reality is that the standard of driving is generally, shall we say, not quite as good as it should be.

And on a personal level, no matter how good you think you might be, and obviously we’ve all got the inherent ability to control a dramatic swerve at over 160kph (not!) if you know the car will also be used by your loved ones, or you’re putting your kids in it, it’s just reassuring to know there are clever computers programmed by extremely fastidious Japanese engineers that will look after them. Gosh – does that make Lexus the new Volvo – but more desirable?

Lexus GS350
Price: AED290,000 ($78,800)
Engine: 3456cc, V6, 312bhp @ 6400, 277lb ft @ 4800
Performance: 0-100kph 5.9seconds, 228kph, 13L/100km
Transmission: six-speed auto, rear-wheel drive
Weight: 1721kg

Shahzad’s verdict: It’ll put a smile on your face, pamper you, and keep you alive

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