My impression is that Lexus cars are well made but boring to drive.” When somebody made this casual comment to Akio Toyoda at the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance in 2011, the president and CEO of Toyota Motor Company, owner of the Lexus brand, took it to heart. For a man who has proudly said ‘Toyoda might be my last name, but Lexus is my middle name,’ that would have come as a rude awakening. But the grandson of Kiichiro Toyoda, a racecar driver who personally tests all Toyota and Lexus prototypes before they’re green-lit for production, isn’t one to shirk responsibility or live in denial. Quoting the aforesaid remark five years later, at this year’s Detroit motor show, Toyoda said since then he was determined that the words ‘boring’ and ‘Lexus’ never showed up in the same sentence again.
It’s a big ask, especially considering the average age of the brand’s customers is around 60, and that it carries the baggage of a parent company that sold its soul for commercial gains. But Lexus had already set the ball rolling with the introduction of its high-performance ‘F’ division back in 2008 with the IS F, later spawning more models including the radical V10-powered super exotic LFA in 2012, and the RC F in 2014. Although an F variant of the third-generation GS mid-size saloon was scheduled for 2010, the idea was temporarily shelved due to unfavourable market conditions, until late last year when the GS F based on the current model was launched. But by then, the definition of a sports saloon had long been rewritten by the Germans and the Americans. The BMW M5, the Mercedes-AMG E 63, and the Audi RS 7 had all moved far away from the segment’s roots by ditching their historically free-breathing motors in favour of turbocharged mills, joined stateside by the Cadillac CTS-V with its supercharged engine.
Rather than trying to follow suit and join the race for more power, more pace and obviously a heftier price tag, Lexus decided to keep it simple, straightforward and old-school. Naturally then, the resultant car, the GS F, is unlike any other sports saloon on the market today. No turbochargers have been allowed into the car’s engine bay, which is owned by a howling 5.0-litre atmospheric V8 that delivers 467bhp of raw power, unadulterated by any force-feeding sorcery. Unlike the abrupt smack of mid-range torque experienced in its rivals, the torque from the GS F’s 32-valve double overhead cam block delivers its punch in a delectably linear manner across a wider rev range.
While the power output peaks at an ear-splitting 7,100rpm, the 530Nm of torque crests at a relatively high 4,800rpm. And as you’d expect from such an engine, it sounds deep and sinister in the mid-ranges, building up into a manic, malevolent yowl closer to the redline. The engine and exhaust notes are so strident that they pierce through the otherwise superb insulation of the cabin. But if the natural resonances aren’t enough for you, then Lexus has provided what it calls Active Sound Control, which electronically synthesises these notes and conveys them into the cabin via the front and rear speakers. However, to me this feels like a contradiction in an old fashioned set-up. My recommendation is to leave this artificial enhancement off. This car doesn’t need it.
No turbochargers have been allowed into the car’s engine bay, which is owned by a howling 5.0-litre atmospheric V8.
Without any aid from boosters, the GS F’s V8 doesn’t have the same firepower as its European or American competitors. It is bound to lose any instrumented performance test against its rivals. But what many makers of sports saloons today forget is that it’s not instruments that drive their cars. It’s real human beings with high-octane petrol flowing through their veins who take the wheel. And that’s where the Lexus GS F blows its competition out of the water. If the rest of today’s super saloons are precision-guided ballistic missiles, the GS F is a loud black powder cannon. It leaves it to you, the driver, to wring the most out of it, rather than let force-feeding and a million on-board computers serve up tailor-made fun, and give you an inflated impression of your own piloting skills. Here, you reap what you sow. Nothing more, nothing less.
Aiding the engine perfectly in its smooth, direct power delivery is a torque-converter-equipped eight-speed automatic gearbox. It’s not the quickest shifting of eight-speed autos, and it doesn’t hold a candle to the advanced dual clutch set-ups seen in most other cars of its ilk. But it still somehow perfectly suits the GS F. It comes with Lexus’s G-force Artificial Intelligence Shift Control, which alters shift times, ratios and revs by constantly monitoring the car’s G sensor as well as throttle inputs.
If the rest of today’s super saloons are precision-guided ballistic missiles, the GS F is a loud black powder cannon.
It also offers four different drive modes, Normal, Eco, Sport S and Sport S+. While Normal is the best mode for general urban and highway driving, the two sport modes let you extract more out of the car’s reserves of driving pleasure with much sharper throttle and steering responses.
Unlike the current M5, which in its Comfort mode is as comfortable as a 7 Series, the GS F is stiff across all modes.
The chassis is firm. It’s noticeably firm, not just for a Lexus, but for any super saloon. Unlike the current M5, which in its Comfort mode is as comfortable as a 7 Series, the GS F is stiff across all modes. There’s no fancy adaptive damping here, but a traditional, static set-up, but one that’s been tuned to perfection. Yes, it’s rigid, but it sits bang in the middle of that sweet spot between compliance and sporty dynamics. The lightweight forged aluminium control arms, new suspension mounts, stiffer springs and uprated ZF Sachs dampers help keep the car poised and taut in any situation. Add to this the excellent torque vectoring differential, which enhances handling capabilities by controlling torque distribution to the rear wheels, the GS F just wraps around you, and makes you feel one with it.
It’s no grand tourer then, and so the GS F gets suitably stiff but well-bolstered sports seats. While they might prove a bit of a squeeze for exceptionally big built drivers, they’re generally comfortable and supportive. Finding the perfect driving position behind the admirably damped steering wheel is not an issue at all. Visibility is great all around, and there’s plenty of head-, shoulder- and legroom for four adults. The only annoyance in the cabin is the Remote Touch Interface, which continues to be a test of patience. My advice is to leave controlling the infotainment interface to the passenger, while you focus on the endless thrills you get from certain other controls.
Although different and old-school in many other ways, the GS F is still a Lexus when it comes to the vast array of technology features it’s packed with. Apart from a 17-speaker mark Levinson surround sound system, it comes with a raft of connectivity, convenience and climate control features. Safety has been given particular importance; blind-spot monitoring, lane departure alert, dynamic radar cruise control, automatic high beam, rear cross-traffic alert, parking assist sensors, and a pre-collision system that uses camera and millimetre wave radar sensor to pre-empt collisions, come standard. Also standard are dual-stage front airbags, and knee and side airbags, which promise to keep you safe if you decide to have more fun than your skills can back up.
The styling has also been upgraded to give the GS F a fittingly more aggressive countenance than the regular GS 350 saloon. Gaping front air dams flanking the belligerent spindle grille, apart from adding drama to the car’s appearance, also funnel substantially more air to cool the brakes and the other internals. While the blue and silver ‘F’ logo on the fenders add to the car’s street cred, the rear gets a downforce-generating, boot-mounted, carbon fibre spoiler, a diffuser and the F range’s signature quad exhaust pipes.
With its naturally aspirated V8 and raw dynamics, the GS F is more a spiritual successor to the E39 M5 than the current M5 itself.
The Lexus GS F is without doubt the best Lexus I’ve driven, with the exception of the LFA, which I have only piloted once at the Dubai Autodrome, although unfortunately nowhere near its limit. I know what I’m going to say next will raise many an eyebrow, but before raising an objection, get behind the wheel of a GS F, and you’ll agree that this is arguably the best sports saloon on the market today. Yes, going by the real, conventional criteria that used to define a super saloon, this car is better than any other available today including the BMW M5, the previous-generation Mercedes-Benz E63, the Audi RS 7 and the Cadillac CTS-V.
With its naturally aspirated V8 and raw dynamics, the GS F is more a spiritual successor to the E39 M5 than the current M5 itself. And with a starting price of Dh330K, it’s superb value, too. This indeed is a brave new Lexus, one which is very much in line with Akio Toyoda’s aim of making cars “to fill people’s hearts”. It filled my heart to the brim, and I didn’t have to use the words ‘boring’ and ‘Lexus’ in the same sentence throughout the review.