Lexus loaned us a 467 horsepower sedan and made us put down our glass of BMW Kool-Aid.
Writing from my perch on a rainy Monday morning, I was able to pick out the distinct metallic roar of eight cylinders stumbling against each other followed by a blue sedan emerging from the clouds. The man who knocked at my door to toss me the keys had a grin wrapped around his face. “Do you like performance?” he asked, half speaking and half laughing. “Because if you do, you’re gonna love this thing.” And so began my week with the Lexus GS-F.
Even though the cars are two different animals, the best way to describe the GS-F to someone who doesn’t know any better is to say it’s a four-door version of the RC-F. It’s not too far off either, both feature Lexus’ naturally aspirated 5.0-liter V8 making 467 horsepower and 389 lb-ft of torque, both share a fancy torque vectoring differential, and both look nearly identical from the front. In either car, power goes to the rear wheels after passing through an eight-speed automatic, but after that, the similarities end. Saddled with the responsibility of being able to take the family on vacation comfortably adds wheelbase, length, height, and 80 pounds over the RC-F’s hefty curb weight.
It also makes it that much more impressive when playing footsie with the throttle and finding that the supposed anchors don’t really hold the GS-F back. Commuting in the rain on my first day with the Ultrasonic Blue Mica badboy, the precise steering worked with a vast budget of grip to make wet corners a carefree experience. This was in direct contradiction to what stomps to the accelerator delivered. As hard as the tachometer’s needle tried, it couldn’t reach the 7,300 RPM redline since incidents of wheel spin helped the traction control find its life’s purpose by intervening to keep surrounding traffic from calling the cops.
When I did happen to find myself relapsing into the engine’s intoxicating roar, large 15-inch slotted Brembos chomped hard and kept me from facing a judge, although like any modern sedan with multiple personalities disorder, it behaved well on the streets. Though the “F Spec” double wishbone front and multilink rear suspension was tense enough to inspire cornering confidence usually reserved for lower weight classes, it doesn’t jar to the very bone when navigating a bumpy road. It reserves a very Lexus-like air of comfortable control on imperfect surfaces, although those living in one of the many American cities lacking infrastructure may get tired of driving it daily.
The payoff, of course, is that the GS-F remains an old school machine that’s been phased out from the ranks of the modern performance sedan, a relic of an era when the technology to make the perfect jack-of-all-trades sedan was still unencumbered by fuel economy regulations. As an artifact, it’s also hugely expensive. Eyes rolled and jaws dropped at the CarBuzz offices when I described that the GS-F stickered for $87,470, just a few clicks under the BMW M5, the papa of the genre. Despite the major gains Lexus has made as a company, even edging out BMW’s and Mercedes’ sales numbers during some periods, it’s tough to justify writing a paycheck that approaches six figures for the new automaker on the rich boy block.
So is it worth it? Well, after a week and nearly 500 miles behind the wheel, I know two things.The first is that the answer depends on the experience a buyer wants out of a luxury sports sedan, and second is that no matter how you answer the first question, the GS-F is hugely underrated. You wouldn’t get too much of an idea of its performance capabilities inside the cabin though, the only clues to its fitness are the bolstered front seats, fake carbon fiber trim, a drive mode selector with a Sport S + option, and suspiciously large swaths of alcantara on the center armrest and ceiling. Aside from that, it’s nothing special, even somewhat lower tier than what Lexus has me accustomed to. Complaints were immediately dispelled by how the car behaves around town.
Driving home from the office or around town doing errands, it’s relaxing, with dual zone climate and heated or cooled front seats keeping the atmosphere similar to that of cloud nine, which is a good thing given that Lexus’ infinitely annoying and difficult to use mouse pad infotainment system is present, albeit with a large 12.3-inch screen that dominates the dashboard. At least the steering wheel controls can change what’s playing on the 17-speaker Mark Levinson sound system to keep cortisol levels down. Around town, Eco mode keeps your fuel gauge from dwindling at alarming rates, but it was likely only put in to keep the EPA happy since it does nothing that reserved driving in Normal mode can’t do.
Nevertheless, I only managed 11 mpg despite the 19 mpg EPA rating (16 city, 24 highway) but my lead foot and dense stop and go traffic had a hand in that. Now the beautiful thing about endorphins is that they can be secreted during meditative states or in the heat of battle against a Porsche 911 on a winding mountain road. All it takes to switch means of hormone delivery in the GS-F is a flick of the drive mode selector. I see no reason for Sport S when the more extreme Sport S + is an extra click over, so that’s where it stayed, helping sharpen up the throttle response, weigh down the steering, and manipulate the eight speed with the wit of a professional racing driver.
As the first few corners are dealt with, using the throttle to steer since the three-mode torque vectoring differential helps lay down the power in the twists with no loss of grip, confidence grows. Hard post corner acceleration turns into full throttle exiting, with brakes biting hard before the next corner and buying more room of high-speed travel between the bends. Small disruptions up front or at the rear are projected seamlessly through the bolsters and up my spine, allowing for corrections on the fly. The bland-looking steering wheel becomes a best friend, dizzying itself by translating wrist flicks into G Force. The experience is exhilarating, although at times the 467 horsepower feels like it could use some company to motivate the heavy sedan.
It’s about that time when I began to wonder how my experience would differ from behind the wheel of a BMW M5. The super sedan that set the precedence for the segment has unfortunately gone soft. Bavaria’s engineers got lazy by letting the M5 get fat and replacing lost driving feel and cornering ability with more horsepower. The Lexus, on the other hand, is a bit underpowered, but it can be argued that it’s the better of the two cars. In a straight line the M5 would lay the GS-F to waste, but who cares when smashing the throttle unleashes the visceral yelp of protest from 5.0-liters of f**k yeah. It isn’t perfect; the gearbox lacks a mode between Normal and Sport S that would help make the GS-F more livable.
Passing attempts in Normal mode consist of wasting seconds while the indecisive automatic stalls before delivering a lower gear, but it's not a deal breaker for a car that sticks to the segment's aim to produce the best sports car experience possible in a package that’s usable in daily life. The GS-F checks off that box, and given the M5’s slide from the top, I would guess that it’s the better of the two cars as well. Even Jeremy Clarkson thinks so, mentioning that the GS-F is the best car from Lexus since the LFA. Those are fighting words, and despite being one of the few examples of a 467 horsepower car that’s slightly underpowered, they help justify its price, which still beats the M5 by almost $10,000.
At the end of the day, while having the GS-F’s semi-autonomous cruise control and lane keep assist guide me to the twisting roads for a final thrashing before giving the keys back, I couldn’t help but feel that I was in on a special secret that those drinking the blue and white roundel Kool-Aid were missing out on. As a naturally aspirated large displacement sports car, its days are numbered anyhow, but at least it has Lexus reliability so that one day, when self-driving electric cars dominate the road, a lucky owner can take it out of the garage and relive the glory days of the automobile.