In its 25 years of existence, Lexus has built cars to rival the S-Class and 3 Series. So with the introduction of the GS F, has Toyota’s luxury division finally decided to take on the beastly BMW M5?
Engine: 5.0L V8; 467-hp, 389 lb-ft of torque
Transmission: 8-speed automatic
0-60 MPH: 4.5 sec.
1/4 Mile: 12.8 sec.
Top speed: 168 mph
Price (USA): $85,380 including destination
EPA fuel economy: 16 mpg city, 24 mpg highway, 19 mpg combined
The answer, unfortunately, is … not really. Though this Lexus is far from being a disappointment.
Super Sedan Style
First, let’s talk about the way this super sedan looks. While BMW’s performance machines have always erred on the side of subtlety, this car is anything but inconspicuous.
From the signature stacked quad-exhaust pipes to the shockingly big front grille, the GS F is dripping with style. Sure, this new-look-Lexus has its critics, but they’re the same hypocrites who’ve ragged on the brand for two decades for delivering dull designs.
In the immortal words of 3LW: haters gonna hate.
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The car is actually both longer and wider than the standard GS with a lower overall stance, unique 19-inch wheels and a carbon fiber rear spoiler.
Then there are the brake calipers. Red ones would just be cliché and the German rivals now offer everything from gold to blue brakes, so Lexus has chosen to stand out even further with optional orange ones.
And if that’s not enough stylistic drama, you can actually get the entire car painted orange too – though Lexus calls it Molten Pearl.
No matter the shade, it draws looks everywhere it goes.
But perhaps the GS F’s over-the-top styling makes its performance all the more disappointing.
Where’s the Beef-y Engine?
True, it sounds absurd to say the car’s 5.0-liter V8 engine makes only 467 hp, but the reality is, that number is well below what’s offered by the entire competitive set, which includes the M5, E63 and RS7. And lets not forget the Cadillac CTS-V, which tops them all with 640 hp.
So how does everyone else deliver so much more thrust? Simple: forced induction.
There’s a lot to be said for the responsiveness of a naturally aspired V8, but a big sedan like this needs torque to compete and 389 lb-ft just isn’t going to cut it.
Is Lexus perhaps planning just such a powerplant? Company representatives on hand vehemently denied it, saying a horsepower war just isn’t something they want to get involved in.
Make no mistake, this car is fast and will hit 60 mph in just 4 and a half seconds. It won’t, however, pin you back in your seat.
Thankfully, Lexus isn’t pretending to directly challenge the German super sedans, pricing the GS F at $85,380 (including destination) or roughly $10,000 less most rivals. It should be noted, however, that the CTS-V is actually cheaper.
The good news is that this machine still delivers performance beyond what you can fully experience on the street; something we got a taste of on the many hairpin corners of the Jarama Circuit, a former F1 track outside of Madrid.
So, is the GS F just a parts bin car? Or worse, an afterthought? At first, it appears to be both, with a make-do engine dropped into a platform that has to be nearing retirement.
But this car is much more than just its engine.
Inside are stunning sports seats, carbon fiber trim and plenty of Alcantara, with a unique steering wheel and pedals, as well as a G force meter and lap timer.
Look deeper and you’ll learn that not only are there new chassis braces, but there are custom coil springs and ZF Sachs shocks as well as unique sway bars and bushings.
Plenty of attention was paid to aerodynamics, from the rear spoiler, to the new shape of the mirrors, to the undertrays designed to keep the car stable at speed.
And then there are those huge six-piston front and four-piston rear Brembos that stop with authority, repeatedly. Even during six lap sessions on the track, they held up – and that almost never happens.
Lexus did go the BMW route in using the car’s sound system to amplify the engine noise in the cabin. Purists who are offended by this can opt to turn it off with a button to the left of the steering wheel. It does add some high octave notes to the engine noise, but at wide open throttle, it sounds so good you don’t need anything else.
Using the Drive Mode Selector to drop the car from Normal into Sport and then Sport+ mode tightens the steering and ups the engine and transmission responsiveness significantly while reducing the intrusion of the traction and stability control programs. At that point, the car comes alive.
Sure it doesn’t make M5 power but it’s lighter than all of its rivals and on the track, it feels like a well balanced package.
Yes, it’s still the same eight-speed automatic that’s been around the Lexus lineup for quite some time. And while it can react slowly at times, when in Sport+ and when you drive it hard, it responds with immediacy.
And to further improve vehicle responsiveness, this Lexus now has a new program that can measure g forces and steering angle and help the transmission respond more quickly.
The single largest reason for that is the rear differential. Optional on the RC F, it’s standard equipment on the GS F. While many automakers have gone the backwards route of using the brakes to slow the inside wheel in a corner, the Lexus TVD (Torque Vectoring Differential) system uses clutch packs to properly distribute the power where its needed most. In fact, it doesn’t just work under throttle, but off-throttle too, and Lexus claims it can adjust output in 1/1000th of a second.
With three settings (Normal, Slalom and Track) you can feel the benefits on Jarama’s tight corners, helping put the power down as you unwind the steering and then blast down each straight.
A sedan of this size will understeer, but the differential helps eliminate some of this by letting you drive it with the rear wheels. The steering itself is pleasantly predicable. The 255 wide front tires are far from big, but still respond to quick changes in direction at speed. And with a long wheelbase, the rest of the car follows along without some of the twitchiness of the shorter wheelbase RC F.
There’s a lot to like about this car. It’s dramatically styled, has a wicked naturally aspirated V8, a stunning interior that might just be its best feature and for a pragmatist like me, it’s a Lexus, so reliability will be bulletproof. But let’s not fool ourselves here. The Germans are not scared.
True, the GS F might not win any specs comparisons, but its surprising just how rewarding it is to drive.
Has Lexus built an M5 rival? Not yet, but this car gives hope that we might not have to wait too much longer to see one.