Lexus GS F review - has Lexus developed an M5-beating super saloon?
Unlikely to trouble the M5 and its ilk in the eventual comparison, but the GS F is a fun and characterful alternative
What is it?
Yukihiko Yaguchi, chief engineer emeritus at Lexus, is the man behind the Lexus GS F. And if he’d had his way, evo would have been writing about it in 2007, rather than 2015.
It’s taken over twenty years and four model generations for Lexus to present a rival to BMW’s M5, but Yaguchi first raised the idea with the Lexus board around the time of the brand’s first F model, the IS F. They said no, but an LF A supercar, RC F coupe and plenty of persistence down the line, that answer has finally changed.
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Engine, transmission and 0-60mph time
The GS F takes its engine and transmission wholesale from the RC F coupe. That means a 4969cc, naturally-aspirated V8, sending its power through an eight-speed automatic transmission and torque-vectoring differential to the rear wheels.
The output is unchanged: the V8 produces 471bhp at 7100rpm, and 391lb ft of twisting force in a narrow band between 4800-5600rpm. While hardly under-nourished, these are figures dwarfed by the turbocharged and supercharged cars now offered in the class, many of which now top 550bhp.
Thankfully, it’s also a little lighter than some of these and at 1790kg, a scant 25kg heavier than the smaller RC F, so performance is similar – 0-62mph takes 4.6sec, with an electronically-limited top speed of 168mph.
A Drive Mode Select system and a torque-vectoring differential allow the driver to tailor the car’s electronic systems to their driving style. The modes comprise Normal, Eco, Sport S and Sport S+, with the expected effects on throttle response, steering weight, noise and transmission ferocity.
The torque-vectoring diff uses electronically actuated clutches to vary torque transfer to the wheels. Standard (stability with agility), Track (additional stability at speed) and Slalom (extra agility) modes can be selected.
It doesn’t stop there: Next up is VDIM or ‘Vehicle Dynamics Integrated Management’. Sport mode on VDIM relaxes the stability and traction control systems for track use. Normal mode keeps the active system fully engaged, and Expert mode switches everything off – until it decides you’re taking liberties, throwing a stability control safety net over you when things get hairy.
Thankfully, the dampers are of the unadjustable, passive type – Yukihiko-san says that they already deliver his desired balance of comfort and handling.
What’s it like to drive?
As per Mr Yaguchi’s vision, it’s 'different'. Despite a set of bewinged leather seats and a splash of carbonfibre, it’s all very serene and Lexus-like inside. That’s not a bad thing – the GS cabin is a thoroughly pleasant place to spend hours at a time. Once comfortable – the work of but a moment – your next task is to tiresomely tweak half a dozen different buttons and knobs to adjust the electronic systems to your liking.
Initially, you’ll wonder what the fuss is about. The 5-litre V8 delivers little below 3000rpm, when turbocharged rivals would have long picked up their skirts and scurried away. Stick with it and eventually the rewards come – a rousing soundtrack (even without the piped-in sounds), a beautifully linear power band (another of Yaguchi’s goals) and sharp throttle response.
Less sharp is the gearbox, which never responds quite as quickly as you’d like and thumps through changes on part-throttle. The steering too has a light, remote feel to initial inputs that only improves slightly as you wind on more lock. It is however predictable, so you quickly learn to tolerate the lack of feedback, and eventually adapt to it.
Leave the car in Slalom mode (having already selected Sport S+ for best response) and the GS F also does a good job of hiding its bulk. Grip is strong from turn-in to corner exit, and while the lack of low-down urge means a low gear and big commitment is necessary to unstick the rear tyres in the dry, it’s also less intimidating than some of its rabid turbocharged equivalents.
We’ll reserve judgement on the car’s seemingly pliant ride until driving the car on UK roads. Likewise the Brembo iron, rather than composite brakes, which proved dependable on this impression (if a little grabby beyond the initial soft pedal response) but may wilt under greater strain.
Lexus is very keen to point out that the GS F has been designed not to fell Germany’s equivalent super saloons in battle, but to offer customers an alternative.
Nevertheless, the internet loves a comparison, so we shall indulge you. BMW’s masterful M5 is 71bhp brawnier, yet only £4000 more expensive. The entertaining Mercedes-AMG E63 is also around £4k more for 68bhp extra. Closest on paper is the Porsche Panamera GTS – it’s a chunk more money at over £93,000, but its 434bhp, naturally-aspirated V8 and 4.4-second 0-62mph time and idiosyncratic styling all seem like a closer match for the Lexus – but the Porsche’s feedback is on another level.
Lexus asks £69,995 for a GS F, with UK deliveries beginning in February 2016. It’ll be a rare sight on UK roads – Lexus is realistic about the car’s (and the brand’s) reach, and expects to sell around 100 units in its first year in the UK.
Those 100 customers will be glad Mr Yaguchi pestered the Lexus board for as long as he did. The GS F is characterful and – importantly – it’s fun too. It’s no match for an M5, but as an interesting alternative it certainly holds appeal.