Lexus GS VS Jaguar XJ
- Super-smooth V6
- Lots of interesting tech
- Lovely (if old-fashioned) interior
- Media system
- No Apple CarPlay/Android Auto
- Characterful supercharged V8
- Agile handling with great ride
- Individual looks
- Options pricing
- InControl software a bit ordinary
- Too much in-cabin chrome
Ah, yes, the Lexus GS. Toyota's luxury off-shoot had high hopes for the new big boy when I first saw it a few years ago. Not thousands-of-sales high hopes, but the company thought a rear-wheel drive luxury sedan stacked with gear you didn't even know you wanted would be a dead-set winner.
And to be fair, they were right. I ran a GS as a long-termer and it was impeccably-mannered. In hybrid form. It wasn't sparkling, but my goodness, it used barely any fuel; especially impressive given its size.
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As a child, my parents - who aren't car people - would see a Jaguar and point. It didn't matter if it was an XJ, Daimler Double Six or a Mark II, there was a great deal of mystique around these bastions of Britishness. It also didn't matter that these weren't necessarily good cars. The Seventies and Eighties saw the brand slide into a funk while being passed between owners like hot potatoes.
Somehow, the brand survived its brush with Ford's useless Premier Automotive Group strategy which only came good towards the end as Jaguar's management woke up and put in place a change in direction that produced the Ian Callum-designed XF. Riding high on that design, Jaguar then promptly introduced the very pretty Jaguar XJ.
It has been on sale for ages, but with the addition of a few bits and bobs to stay competitive, it's as compelling as ever. Most importantly, the performance-focused R has kept its unique supercharged V8.
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Weirdly, given all the good things I've had to say about the GS F Sport, it doesn't quite hang together. It's missing that certain something the Europeans have in their chassis, particularly the BMW 5 Series, and with ageing interior tech, it's struggling to keep up.
It's a car built for specific tastes, and they're more California than Straya. And that's perfectly okay, but unfortunately, that doesn't translate to a stampede of buyers. Having said that, none of its German rivals (or its beleaguered Japanese counterpart, Infiniti) could claim wild sales success either.
The GS is a terrific car, underrated but also just not quite there for my taste. The GS F, though, that's another thing altogether.
Does Lexus even register on your big luxury sedan radar? If it does, what stops you from taking the plunge?
It might be old and facing German competition bursting with advanced technology, but the XJR is still a car you can buy with heart and head. But mostly your heart. It goes like stink, has a much better interior than the Quattroporte and is more interesting than just about anything this big or this grand.
It's also a better car than the Maserati Quattroporte if you want to get on with the driving yourself and is far prettier than the Porsche Panamera. It's a wonderful thing and even more wonderful that Jaguar continues to build it. Long live that supercharged V8 and the XJ is a great home for it.
Is the XJ your cup of Earl Grey or are you more interested in a Maserati espresso (sorry) or a Porsche stein (sorry, again)? Tell us what you think in the comments below.
The GS is ageing well, but it's still a bit heavy-handed around the headlights and a little on the slabby side along the flanks. It doesn't look poised for action, even with the F Sport additions, but nor does it look frumpy, mostly due to the whopping blacked-out spindle grille, a Lexus signature.
The rear end is good looking but a bit bluff, again neither surprising or delighting.
Little has changed inside, but it's still a very nice cabin, and always will be apart from a couple of clangers (the gear shifter looks super-cheap).
What's more, it's welcoming, lots of very nice materials, comfortable, seats - it's exactly what it needs to be. Whatever you might think of the looks, one thing is absolutely certain - if anyone builds cars better than Lexus, it's a very, very short list.
The XJ has a marvellously exaggerated length, with a rear overhang redolent of Jag's sporting coupe and roadster pair of the time of its launch, the XK. There's nothing else in the segment like it, with the three Germans - Mercedes' S-Class, Audi's A8 and BMW's 7 Series - having gone all Hugo Boss and and in the latter two's case, almost shrinking violet. The only credible Japanese alternative, the Lexus LS, looks like a Lexused 7 Series. The XJR is a more emotional car, like Maserati's Quattroporte.
The R adds an aggro grille, 20-inch wheels with low-ish profile tyres, a bootlid spoiler, red brake calipers and vents in the bonnet. Bits and pieces get the black gloss treatment and there are V8 and R badges, as well as a rather large leaper on the bootlid. Capping it all off are four exhausts poking out from the bumper and distinctive vertical taillights.
Inside remains largely unchanged. The cabin is big and luxurious, leather-lined and very, very comfortable. The front air vents have to be modelled on the de Havilland Comet's integrated jet engine intakes and, again, the dash design stays away from the horizontal lines of its obvious competition.
There is probably a bit much chrome for my liking, particularly on the centre console and around the rotary dial shifter, which reflects sunlight into your face during the day.
The lovely 'Riva Hoop' - a band that sweeps from door to door across the top of the dash - is a great touch and remains a defining feature in the cabin. The last update brought an Audi-like digital dashboard, including maps, but it's not nearly as slick as the German. The graphics for the dials are good (and quick) but the maps are a bit so-so.
Being a big car, there's plenty of room inside. Four passengers will be very comfortable although rear legroom was a bit on the skinny side given the car's size.
The cabin contains a good-sized console bin, four cupholders and each door pocket into which you could conceivably slot a bottle.
The 520-litre boot is a useful shape, with a sensible load height and a space-saver spare under the floor. The 5 Series and E Class both best the Lexus by 10 litres, so the GS isn't far off the norm.
It might be over five metres long, but the Jag's cabin isn't as gigantic as that might suggest - luckily, if you want space, the XJ L has it. The SWB version is roomy enough, though, just not palatial. You can fit five people, but the big transmission tunnel will limit the size of that fifth.
Front and rear passengers have a pair of cupholders each, with rubber bubbles to help hold smaller cups in tight. The front and rear doors have pockets but aren't really for bottles.
Price and features
We had the pleasure of the GS 350 F Sport for the week, which is well over $10,000 cheaper than the Luxury and is therefore the 'default. If you're not sure what F Sport means, it's Lexus' answer to an M Sport or AMG pack, without all the high-powered engine shenanigans to go with it. If that's what you're after, the V8-powered Lexus GS F is definitely for you.
Starting at $95,300, the F Sport has a spectacular standard features list - 17-speaker stereo, 19-inch alloys, variable-geared four-wheel steer (!), adaptive suspension, dual-zone climate control (with moisturising function), hectares of leather trim, head-up display, electrically-operated heated and ventilated front seats, rear sunshade, F Sport instrument screen, auto LED headlights, keyless entry and start, sat nav, front and rear parking sensors with around-view cameras and a space-saver spare.
The media system is run from Lexus' 12.3-inch screen embedded in the dashboard and controlled from an infuriating console-mounted mouse-clicker with a couple of shortcut buttons. It really is spectacularly irritating and made worse by the rotary dial stationed next to it that acts as the drive mode selector. Why not use that instead?
As ever, the system is mildly baffling to use and hard to look at, but the sound is absolutely lovely from the Mark Levinson-branded speakers. Lexus is persisting with a DVD player but it also has DAB+.
As is expected at this level, Jaguar was not mucking about with price or specification - the XJR starts at a mildly terrifying $299,995, which is very close to the rather more tranquil Autobiography long-wheelbase relax-o-mobile.
Standard are 20-inch alloys, a 20-speaker stereo, power everything with three memory positions, four-zone climate control, keyless entry and start, front and rear parking sensors, heated and cooled front and rear seats, sat nav, LED headlights and DRLs, leather everywhere, auto wipers and (LED) headlights, electric boot lid, heated steering wheel and a space saver spare.
The Meridian-branded stereo is an absolute cracker, powered by the improved but still laggy 'InControl Pro' system. Oddly, it's all crammed into an 8.0-inch touchscreen when there is seemingly room for the larger (and better-performing) 10.0-inch screen. The software is far superior than the version that preceded the last update, but the screen is hard to use, as targets are placed right in the corners and are hard to hit.
A long list of options are available, some of which should probably be included in the big sticker price - DAB+ ($620), premium paint is a splutter-worthy $2060 (although, to be fair, the vast majority of the 19 colours are free), adaptive cruise with queue assist ($2200), adaptive headlights a further $2620 and 'Parking Assist', which adds side sensors and a front camera, a further $2780. Reverse cross traffic alert, blind spot monitoring and forward collision warning cost yet another $1460. Ouch.
Engine & trans
Jaguar's lovely 5.0-litre V8 with supercharger continues under the XJ's long and shapely bonnet, delivering a walloping 404kW and a tyre-shredding 680Nm. The sprint to 100km/h for all 1875kg of XJR is completed in an impressive 4.6 seconds, which was very competitive at the car's launch in 2009.
A real world 13.7L/100km is a solid miss of the claimed 9.3L/100km, which itself is hardly earth-shattering. It's a big heavy car and that's the penalty. It drinks fuel fast, so the 66-litre fuel tank does drain quickly and it's worth knowing you have to fill it with the 95 RON or better.
The combined cycle figure for the V8 is listed at 11.1L/100km but fully expect to see the 16.1L/100km we got, especially as you try and fail to tyre of the monstrous power delivery and lovely (if muted) V8 roar.
Luckily, even if you're belting it, the 82 litre tank is a generous size and you'll cover a fair amount of ground.
There are things you expect in a Lexus. Quietness. Composure. Smoothness. The GS delivers all three of those things effortlessly. But it has a few extra things in its bag that I can't say I was expecting.
For a start, the 3.5-litre V6 moves the car without any carry-on and in doing so, I was constantly amazed at how quickly the speed in the head-up display reached the posted limit. It just doesn't feel or sound like a six second car, but there you are. The transmission is virtually faultless, the engine sound distant and refined, the power impressive.
It's a heavy car, no question, but two things work to make it feel much lighter. First - and it doesn't matter which mode you choose - the adaptive suspension somehow knocks about 200kg out of how heavy the car feels. The brakes, while a little soft on pedal feel when you first step on them, are very effective and again help to make the car feel lighter than it is.
The four driving modes are quite distinct. As usual, Eco makes everything soft and doughy or as I prefer to say, unpleasant. Normal is great for every day, with just the right throttle response and steering weight.
Moving to sport ups the aggro slightly while Sport+, while never harsh, firms everything up to the point where it starts to feel like a different car. Sport+ makes the car feel race-car pointy, the suspension holds the body in check and the power seems readily available without jerky progression
The all-wheel steer is a big part of the change in feel. It's is especially sharp in Sport+ mode. The steering's gearing changes up quite a bit, meaning a lot less steering lock required for your favourite hairpin bend. Of course, at real speed it all calms down because neither you nor Lexus are fond of sneezy lane-changes or Armco-swiping. At first I thought it just made the big car feel a bit too nervous but as I got used to it (and was able to dial it down by switching back into a less racy mode) I found it fun but a little bit out of character with the car itself.
And just because it's the F Sport, that doesn't mean it can't do all the things you'd expect from a Lexus. You can still waft, you can still creep up on people and it's really very comfortable when you're cruising or stuck in traffic.
Indecently quick, surprisingly agile and heaps of fun. While the first descriptor applies purely because of its size, the next two shouldn't when you're in command of 5.13 metres of motor vehicle. As with the Audi and now the 7, the Jag has a lot of aluminium to help keep the kilos off and good gracious, it has worked.
The R is based around the short wheelbase version of the XJ for perhaps obvious reasons. Even so, it appears to be the shorter-again XF's because this thing turns in like a demon. No, it won't stay with the dearly-departed XF-R but it does a mighty fine impression of one, just with a better ride quality.
Rear seat passengers should be prepared to feel a lot of wheelslip, especially when in Dynamic mode, as even the fat Pirelli P-Zero's struggle for purchase when the right foot hits the carpet. The V8 rumbles rather than bellows, but the rears cheerfully spin up until the computers and active differential rein things in. Traction control off and you've got a proper tyre-smoker if you're not playing by the rules. Jag's engineers are clearly hooligans at heart.
As always, ZF's eight-speed transmission does an incredible job of marshalling the horses in a rearward direction and when you're not after a bit of sound and light, have achieved a tremendous amount with the damping. When in normal mode, the car glides along, so much so that the lady of the house wasn't so sure it was a sporting sedan.
Once she was apprised of dynamic mode (you have to cycle the button through winter mode first, for some reason), her only complaint was that it was too long and the steering wheel too big for this type of car. I was persuaded of the latter, especially after stepping out of an Audi S3 which has a tiny wheel. Long story short, the XJR is now 'her' car (to be more accurate, the XFR is, but that hasn't arrived yet, so...), as it felt smaller than it was when not parking and she's a sucker for a torquey V8.
The GS scores 10 airbags, ABS, stability and traction controls, blind spot monitoring, rear cross traffic alert, forward AEB, active cruise, auto high beams and lane departure warning with lane keep assist.
The GS doesn't have an ANCAP or Euro NCAP rating while the USA's IIHS (Insurance Institute for Highway Safety) rating is good for each key crash-worthiness measure. The IIHS suite of tests is quite rigorous but differ from our ANCAP/Euro NCAP standards.
There's one area where Lexus smashes the Germans and that's after-sales. While the warranty is hardly ground-breaking at four years/100,000km and service intervals are reasonable at 12 months/15,000km, it's how it all comes together.
For the duration of the warranty, when the car needs a service, Lexus will either come and get it then return it to you, or give you a loan car. Anecdotal evidence suggests this continues long after the warranty runs out. Like, 10 years after the warranty runs out.
This is a small thing, but if there's one thing I hate about car ownership, it's the servicing experience. If I was a betting man, I'd dare you to find someone who genuinely has a problem with Lexus after-sales care.
On top of that, you get a generous roadside assist package for four years.