The letter F is to Lexus what M is to BMW, RS is to Audi and AMG is to Mercedes-Benz – a high-performance sub-brand; a badge of honour reserved for its most extreme models.
The Lexus GS F, as you can guess, is an ultra-powerful, heavily tweaked version of the GS saloon, and is the fourth Lexus model to boast the F branding, after the IS F, LFA and RC F.
Although Lexus refuses to say so, it is clear that in terms of pricing and market positioning, the GS F has the likes of the BMW M5, Audi RS6 and Mercedes-AMG E63 squarely in its cross hairs. When it arrives in Singapore this month (January), the vehicle is likely to carry a price tag of half a million or so.
The visual changes to the boxy shape of the recently facelifted GS saloon are quite restrained.
There is the obligatory deep front bumper with gaping air intakes; the wheel arches are slightly flared; and there is a slim, vertical vent just aft of the front wheels. At the rear, a diffuser-like undertray protrudes from the bottom of the bumper, punctuated by a quartet of tailpipes in a subtle hint at the car’s potency. And there is a small lip spoiler at the trailing edge of the boot lid.
The car rests on lovely, spindly spoked 19-inch rims, from which peek huge Brembo discs and callipers (6-pot in front and 4-pot behind).
Chassis-wise, there are additional stiffening braces, lightweight suspension arms all round, new suspension bushes and different rear suspension mounts. The GS F also sits purposefully lower than the standard GS, on bespoke springs and dampers (made by specialist firm ZF Sachs).
The usual plush, lavishly equipped cabin has been enhanced with high-backed bucket seats at the front, and a unique stitching pattern is applied to the leather seats, to further set it apart from the standard GS saloon. For added sportiness, the dashtop, door trim and centre console are swathed in Alcantara, and “F” insignia is applied to the headrests as well as the steering wheel.
At the heart of the GS F is a naturally aspirated 5-litre V8, essentially identical to that powering its coupe stablemate, the RC F, save for some very minor internal developments for efficiency.
This engine delivers 471bhp and 530Nm, which means it is quite significantly outgunned by the turbocharged German trio (M5, RS6 and E63), which on average boast an almost 100bhp power advantage over the Japanese machine.
Indeed, the GS F’s century sprint time is merely on par with that of the RS6’s lesser sibling, the 420bhp S6.
And the difference is discernible. Certainly, this Lexus is extremely quick for a large, luxurious saloon, but it never feels as insanely rapid as the German cars do.
Still, there are merits to the decision by Lexus to eschew forced induction in favour of natural aspiration and big cubic capacity. There is ample urge available at any revs, power delivery is very linear, and throttle response is scalpel-sharp.
The 8-cylinder engine is so smooth-spinning, it feels like it could rev forever, which makes its 7300rpm rev limit seem way too low – there is no hint of strain or of the power tapering off at this point, so having to flick the right-hand gearshift paddle when the upshift buzzer sounds at 7000rpm always feels premature to me.
A big V8 naturally makes a lovely noise, but Lexus has chosen to employ some additional electronic assistance (much as BMW has done with the M5).
Dubbed Active Sound Control (ASC), the system uses two speakers (one at the front of the cabin to simulate the intake note, the other behind to reproduce that of the exhaust) to amplify certain desirable frequencies of the powertrain’s natural acoustics, while cancelling out other less pleasant ones.
There are four driving modes on offer, selectable via a large rotary switch on the centre console. In the two tamer modes (Eco and Normal), the ASC is disabled and the cabin is as hushed and cocoon-like as that of the standard GS. In Sport S mode, the rear speakers are enabled, while in Sport S+ mode, both front and rear speakers come into play.
Purists may question the ethics of such aural artifice, but it does add to the entertainment factor – from the midrange onwards, the engine note hardens and rises in line with the revs and power delivery.
Curiously, though, in timbre it sounds more like a V6 than a throbbing old-school V8.
Power is relayed to the rear wheels via an 8-speed paddle-shift-equipped autobox, whose gearchanges are predictably intuitive and slick. It would have been better still if the engine blips itself on downchanges.
The steering is linear and quite quick, but more weight and feedback in the helm would be good. Weight distribution is about 53:47 front-to-rear, but in tight bends, I can feel the weight over the front wanting to push the nose wide (remember there’s a 5-litre V8 over the front wheels), so I need to temper my turn-in speed.
And because of the slightly uncommunicative steering, it can be hard to discern the grip limits. I end up having to just turn in and trust that the tyres will bite, which they almost always do.
One party trick is the car’s Torque Vectoring Differential (TVD), which can be switched among three modes – Standard, Slalom and Track. In each mode, the TVD juggles the distribution of torque between the rear wheels to match the chosen driving style.
Slalom is tuned for agility, while Track’s emphasis is on stability through high-speed bends. Even during hard driving, the differences between modes are very subtle, but Track would be my preferred choice for the more planted, confidence-inspiring feel that it bestows.
Unusually in these times when even Golf-class hatchbacks have switchable adaptive damping, the GS F employs fixed-rate dampers.
The car’s “Emeritus Chief Engineer”, Yukihiko Yaguchi, explained that they preferred to go with a single setup that would work in all conditions. On the evidence, it is hard to argue with this decision.
This Lexus rides very well indeed over all surfaces, yet when charging about on track or hurtling through mountain bends, it maintains its composure very well. There is a touch of body roll, but no more. And over undulations, the damping keeps a tight rein over vertical body movement.
This is in keeping with the GS F’s remit as an everyday sports saloon rather than an all-out track weapon. It is not as brutally quick or as focused a driving machine as its German rivals, but is instead a hugely comfortable yet effortlessly swift device.
In this case, “F” stands for Fast and also for Finesse.
Lexus GS F 5.0 (A)
Type V8, 32-valves
Bore x stroke 94mm x 89.5mm
Compression ratio 12.3:1
Max power 471bhp at 7100rpm
Max torque 530Nm at 4800-5600rpm
Power to weigh t 263.1bhp per tonne
Gearbox 8-speed automatic with manual select
Driven wheels Rear
0-100km/h 4.6 seconds
Top speed 270km/h
Consumption 8.9km/L (combined)
CO2 emission 260g/km
Front Double wishbones, coil springs
Rear Multi-link, coil springs
Front / rear Ventilated discs
Type Michelin Pilot Super Sport
Size 255/35 R19 (front), 275/35 R19 (rear)
Traction aids ABS, VSC
Kerb weight 1790kg
Turning circle 11.2m
Price incl. COE To be announced
Warranty 3 years/100,000km
+ Great refinement, excellent ride, ample equipment, effortless pace
– Numb steering, performance not as focused as German rivals’