The next Lexus performance sedan will present its race circuit breeding in fitting style by taking an active role in the upcoming international motor-racing series
THE first chance to judge how much competition the latest Lexus performance sedan presents to some well-regarded German rivals will come at five of the country’s race tracks, starting in a few weeks’ time.
Lexus New Zealand has confirmed that its GS F, a hot-rodded edition of the low-key sedan that competes against the Mercedes Benz E-Class and BMW 5-Series (plus the Audi A6), will effectively launch in this market by becoming part of the spectacle of the national summer motor-racing championship, kicking off at Ruapuna, Christchurch, on January 16-17.
Featuring the 351kW naturally aspirated 5.0-litre V8 familiar from the RC F coupe, and with a projected 0-100kmh time of 4.6 seconds, the new model potentially has enough punch to be considered something of a bone fide competition threat straight from the box, but racing is not the brand's intention.
Instead the GS F will fulfil as a halo model and run duty as a hot lap car, for guests - customers, media and a few other fortunate - who get to ride shotgun while a professional driver demonstrates the car's mettle.
The track time is hardly a circuilt debut. This car has already done those hard yards during development. The "F' part of the designation stands for Fuji, not so much in respect to Japan's most famous mountain as the renowned track at it's base. Lexus 'F' products is developed at Fuji Speedway.
Lexus enjoys this special race weekend opportunity through being a sponsor and also from parent brand Toyota being the driving force behind the summer series’ pinnacle category, the Toyota Racing Series.
This single seater class for five consecutive weekends delivers a field of top domestic and international talents in identical high performance cars. Their ultimate goal is to win the New Zealand Grand Prix, the very last race of the championship, contested at Manfeild on February 12-14. The other round are at Invercargill, Hampton Downs and Taupo.
The GS F’s on-track duty is a reprisal of a role taken last year by the most special car Lexus has ever built, an LFA supercar.
But the difference is that whereas Lexus NZ had to borrow an LFA from Taiwan - and only after the V10 car's production run was ended and all examples were sold - the GS F is immediately a take home model.
Lexus NZ has already announced the car will pitch in at $174,900, well below the Audi RS6 and S6 and BMW M5 that will likely be considered competitors. Another rival might well be the next AMG 63 version of the new Mercedes E-Class, though that’s further down the track as the new-generation E will launch in 2016.
Lexus New Zealand general manager of sales Steve Prangnell has told Motoring Network he believes there is simply no other four-door Lexus that comes close to offering the same level of track-ready performance as the all new GS F.
“… as comfortable on the race track as it is on the school drop-off, this is a true performance car without sacrificing practicality,” he said.
The car has already attracted plenty of attention, he suggests.
“Interest is ramping up already without even having landed our first cars so expect production allocation to be tight.”
The version is easily distinguished from regular GS variants due to highlights including its massive Brembo brakes, low-profile Michelin Pilot Super Sport tyres, performance-tuned chassis and suspension, torque vectoring differential, synthetic and mechanical sound enhancers, and generous lashings of carbonfibre inside and out.
It also benefits from Lexus’ full suite of infotainment and safety technologies and has an eight-speed automatic gearbox.
The flagship arrives when the remainder of the GS range receives a significant facelift to ensure it remains in keeping with the brand’s bold design direction.
New interior and exterior colours, a new range of alloy wheels, heads-up displays and the Lexus Safety System Plus now standard across the range are among the numerous enhancements.
While Prangnell argues that the car is an “impressive offering that’s too often underestimated” he also agrees that the sector in which it competes is in decline, having lost many past supporters to SUVs and so concedes “the GS has had its work cut out for it.”
With just 10 regular GS expected to sell in 2016, Lexus NZ has rationalised the lineup from eight derivatives to five: An entry GS300h plus a GS350 and GS450h, each of the latter in Limited and F Sport guise.