Word by Vince Pornelos Photos by Sebastian Mauroy
Every single road Lexus has taken has led to this moment.
Here I am on an ex-Formula One circuit in Madrid, wringing as much as I can from the newest super sport sedan that’s set to enter the market. Together, it and I try to max out on the main straight. A quick glance at the speedo reveals the digits 2, 5 and 0, in that order, and this is the time that the Nomex-clad, Portuguese race instructor beside me finally decides to talk.
“Okay, felt good, eh? Now let’s go even faster for the next 4 laps.”
Obregado, I believe my reply was. Driving this fast on a track is very rarely this easy in a car this big, this luxurious, this heavy, and this powerful.
Such is the way of the new Lexus GS F.
I’m sure I wasn’t the only one of the opinion that every generation of Lexus before were not what we car enthusiasts would call “emotional” cars.
For nearly two decades since their founding, Lexus’s brand of automobile has always been about making smart, sensible choices for reliability, quality, comfort, refinement and luxury. Impeccably built, but not exactly exciting to drive and look at.
In 2007, that all started to change, something that was the result of Lexus allowing a small team of enthusiast engineers to exist within their ranks with the sole purpose of building exhilarating machines. That group was led by Yukihiko Yaguchi, and their purpose was to make a more exhilarating car, one that they can drive fast, drive hard, or even race. They called themselves F after the Fuji Speedway (Toyota’s home course), and the first car they built was the IS F sedan in 2008.
With the IS F, you can say Lexus jumped into the deep end of the pool right away as it was pitted against some very stalwart Germans. But then Lexus F started to swim out to the open sea for their sophomore effort in the LFA; a supercar that challenged the Italians for visceral supercar thrills. When the LFA’s production run ended, Lexus then turned to the high performance coupe game with the RC F and went head to head with the Germans. Again.
The way we see it, however, all of those prior F models could be considered the undercards for this: the GS F.
The reason for that statement is that luxury high performance super saloon game isn’t straight up, toe-to-toe boxing. No, it’s mixed martial arts; meaning that any car which is tossed into the ‘Ring (pun intended) has to be able to hit high marks in performance, comfort, features, design, practicality and the like. The expectations in this class are very high and complex… a stark contrast to the class where the RC F plays in; a niche that appeals more directly to the bachelor in every man but not to their very real wives and statistically-accurate 2.33 children.
But this class of ‘Bahn stormers has always been dominated by the Germans; specifically the Bavarians over at Munich. Sure, Mercedes-AMG makes the growling E63 while Audi has power and quattro (4WD) on their side with the RS7 but, truth be told, it’s BMW that is the keeper of the faith and the guardian of the holy grail with the M5.
Can the GS F match up to the high bars set in the class?
Let’s wind the clock back about six hours to the time when I first walked up to the Lexus GS F parked just outside of our hotel on a rather windy and chilly day in Spain.
In the hierarchy of Lexus, the GS is their midsize rear-wheel drive (or four, in some versions) sedan, slotting in just under the LS flagship and above the ES and IS. Truth be told, the GS has actually been around since 2012; so technically, this GS F is a variant of the facelifted GS. Or at least that’s how it seems.
The first thing that struck me about the GS F sedan is the subtle anger of its look because F division did a good degree of visual tuning to make it so. An aggressive application of the brand’s now-signature spindle grill dominates the front, flanked by a pair of Lexus’s avant garde split headlamps; triple LED projectors up top with L-shaped daylight running LEDs just below. The body itself has been modified by Lexus F with larger air inlets up front and wider fenders with vents to allow for improved air flow for the brakes.
There were plenty of other details that draw the eyes to the GS F such as the 19-inch 20-spoke wheels, the quad tip exhaust, and the lip spoiler, but I had to get moving because I could see rush hour Madrid traffic was already building up. Time to buckle up and take the GS F out for the morning drive.
Too late, as I found out; morning traffic in Spain can get quite heavy, though it provides plenty of time to examine the cabin further. This may be a car with serious performance potential, but the GS F’s cabin does not blatantly tell the driver to race it. The only things that really tells the driver that this is a special model is the pair of semi-buckets, the red upholstery (other variants get light cream leather), and a few other small touches like the blue and white stitching on the shift knob and steering wheel, as well as a couple F badges. Apart from those, the GS F is still all luxury inside with the application of premium materials like the soft touch surfaces, leather, alcantara, and modern trim pieces.
Neither do the drive and ride make it known that this is a powerful machine. With the powertrain in Normal mode, the GS F really drives like the best that Lexus has to offer. Yaguchi and his team had to preserve the qualities that make their cars worthy of the L badge. Things like sound suppression, suspension pliancy, the smoothness of the powertrain, rear legroom, and other aspects that contribute to overall refinement had to be up to Lexus’s scratch… a tough act as performance and comfort are usually at opposite sides of the same spectrum.
Once out of the jam and onto the Spanish Autovía, I can now start to explore the potential of what’s under the hood: a 5.0 liter, quad cam, 32-valve V8. Equipped with the Toyota group’s technologies such as VVT-iE variable cam phasing and dual injection (direct and port), the 2UR-GSE motor has 467 bhp and 393 foot-pounds of torque at its disposal. The engine is the same one in the RC F, a testament to F’s decision to stick with a large displacement naturally-aspirated engine instead of downsizing and turbocharging. The reasons for that are simple: throttle response and sound, things that we’ll get to explore out of the heavily speed-restricted motorway.
With the drive program selector in Sport S mode, every time the driver prods the throttle deep enough, the GS F’s powertrain kicks down a few gears and accelerates. The response is quick, both from the engine and from the 8-speed Sport Direct Shift (SPDS). The gearbox is a further development of the SPDS that was in the previous generation IS F, and now it comes with intelligent shift control that reads a G-force meter and the throttle sensor. The SPDS will shift quicker if it senses that the driver wants higher response gear changes.
In the more remote regions north of Madrid, the GS F displays a quickness that you wouldn’t expect from a 1.8 tonne luxury car. Naught to a hundred is dispatched in 4.6 seconds, but dragstrip enthusiasts would enjoy the 12.8 second quarter mile time that the GS F can register.
Every time I prod the throttle, the music from the powertrain gives me a chill down my spine as it actively reverberates in the cabin. I say actively because the GS F – like its two-door brother, the RC F- has something called Active Sound Control; a system that enhances the aural experience of that engine in the cabin. In Sport mode, the ASC activates its own rear speaker to deliver the sound of the exhaust, but in Sport S+, the ASC also uses a front speaker to simultaneously deliver the intake and mechanical sound from the V8 up front into the cabin. Some say it’s lip-synching like Milli Vanilli, but I say it’s like Spinal Tap; the unpleasant sounds are tuned out, but the V8 music is turned up to 11.
These mountain roads offer long, wide-open stretches of tarmac where each crest just opened up to a wide, picturesque view of Spain’s countryside. Villages, rustic churches, towers, vast expanses of greenery; all in HD. But there wasn’t much time to get sidetracked sightseeing, however, as the GS F and I had a schedule to meet, and so quicker we went.
Cutting through switchback after switchback, one blind mountain bend after another, the GS F exhibited the expertise put into it by Yaguchi and Co.; stable and easy to maneuver around quick corners. Part of it is the weight because despite being a four-door saloon with seating for five, the GS F is only 100 kilograms (thereabouts) heavier than the two-door RC F. But mostly it’s the mechanicals: the chassis, suspension, and brakes.
Lexus F worked to make the unibody stiffer all around, and utilizes better front and rear supports to further enhance rigidity. Under braking, the GS F squats, thanks to those huge slotted and vented Brembo brakes; 6-piston calipers up front, 4-piston calipers in the rear. The suspension has benefited from F division’s continuous development of the spring rates, geometry and damping, and even utilizes ZF Sachs shock absorbers. The cornering motions of the car are kept in check, and the VDIM steps in once in awhile if you misjudge a bend. The steering -while accurate and precise- is electrically assisted, so it’s best not to expect the same level of communication from the front tires the way a hydraulic system would. Such are the reasons why the GS F -heavy as it may be- can dance with lighter cars on a tight mountain road.
Back on the Autovía A-1, I can make out our destination in the distance: the Circuito del Jarama. Once through the tunnel and inside the main complex, there’s no mistaking that you’re on a racing circuit.
Jarama actually dates back to the earlier days of Formula One, hosting 9 Spanish Grands Prix on its 3.85 kilometer-long, 11-turn layout. Great F1 champions have taken the top step of the podium here; names such as Graham Hill, Jim Clark, Jackie Stewart, Emerson Fittipaldi, Niki Lauda, Mario Andretti, and even James Hunt.
We can save the trip down legendary lane later, as it was time to get buckled in and see what the GS F can do. Pulling out of the pits, the first lap in the GS F was really a recce run. “Be mindful of the kerbs”, said the instructor to my right. He wasn’t kidding; the kerbs were old and looked a bit more jagged than on other, newer tracks. And this was the time when the conditions started to change, as a light drizzle made the track significantly more greasy, and the natural rubbered-down racing line would become very tricky. Is there a better way to test what the GS F can do than this?
A lap was all it took to get the brakes up to temperature and the tires up to pressure. In Normal mode, the car drives, well, normally. Gearbox response isn’t as sharp in this mode, though you can override its commands either by slotting into the +/- gate on the shifter or pulling on the paddles on either side of the steering wheel. A twist of the Drive Mode Selector pops the system into Sport S, but given that we’re on a racetrack, another twist sends it into the most aggressive setting: Sport S+.
In Sport S+, the 5.0L engine up front is much more eager to rev, giving the driver the maximum acceleration and quickest response it can provide. And it’s this setting that I stayed in throughout the laps. Jarama is a mix of blind corners and daunting crests; get it wrong and you’re off into the gravel trap.
I take a breath on the main straight of Jarama to glance at the speedometer on the GS F. 250 kilometers per hour it read just as my foot slammed on the brakes to make Fangio (Jarama’s name for Turn 2). I misjudge it a bit, braking a little late. Mind you, it wasn’t enough to miss the corner, but it was definitely enough to put too much weight up front on an increasingly greasier track, allowing the unloaded rear tires to step out sideways. Here we go.
I let the car slide for a split second and catch the counter-steering wheel just as my right foot began applying power as gradually as it could. That V8 up front is very easy to control; peak power may be at 467 horses, but each one of them comes into play one after the other. Such is the linear feel of a big naturally aspirated motor over a peaky boosted engine; NA serves you the power course by course while turbos drop it all in front of you. Believe me, there’s a big difference.
Amidst that unintentional drift (really, it was), I gradually fed in the throttle to shift some weight aft, and brought the car back into line for the exit. The thing that surprised me, however, was how easy it was to accomplish. That’s the TVD at work, or Torque Vectoring Differential. Normal (open) differentials will just spin the wheel that has the least resistance, wasting power, wasting tires, and wasting time on a lap. Limited slip differentials will usually spin both wheels as equally as they can, but the downside is they take a higher skill set to master since they can easily induce power oversteer in a rear-wheel drive like the GS F.
TVD works differently. Unlike many of the other “vectoring” systems out there which function by applying brake to the inner drive wheel while cornering (physics: path of least resistance becomes driving wheel), TVD actively sends it by using sensors and electric motors. As power was being fed, the TVD was picking which rear wheel can best use it. This automated channeling of torque actually lent the feeling that the GS F was correcting itself, helping the nut who misjudged the corner (i.e. Me) to get out unscathed. The active differential also has three settings: Standard, Slalom, and Track. For this drive, I’ll keep it in Track mode. Now that I knew how the TVD feels, I can adjust my driving accordingly to maximize it.
The TVD, the brakes, the linear power and delivery of the motor and the gearbox, of the engine, all start to make sense together. Once you adjust to it, the GS F can be driven faster and faster, lap after lap. Eventually you’d want to turn on the more aggressive settings such as Expert which allows for even more slide (read: drift) control, but we’ll only recommend that after sufficient driver training.
After 8 laps, it was time to pull in to the pits and take the whole experience in.
The key to the GS F is its approach to the performance sedan. Its German rivals focused on outright performance figures, naught to 100 acceleration times, top speeds and Nurburgring lap times, so much so that even the current M5, while a fantastic car to drive, doesn’t have the essential feel and soundtrack of its predecessor: the E60 M5 V10.
Lexus went the other way, and focused on the driving experience -the drama of it all, so to speak- instead of the numbers. The aggressive look, the premium feel, the goosebump-inducing music from the V8, and the ability to satisfy a variety of driving desires regardless of skill level are hallmarks of the new GS F. Such was F division’s founding mission, and this 2016 GS F is proof positive of that.
Heading out of the Jarama Circuit one of the guys in charge asked if I wanted to take a quicker way back to the hotel using the Autovía or take a much longer, more scenic, and more exhilarating route.
“Long route, please… twice,” was my response.
2016 Lexus GS F
Engine: V8 Location: Front, Longitudinal Displacement: 4,969 cc
Cylinder: (Block) Aluminum / (Head) Aluminum, dohc per bank, 4 valves per cylinder, Dual VVT-iE
Fuel Injection: Port and direct, D-4S
Max Power: 467 bhp @ 7,100 rpm
Max Torque: 393 lb ft @ 4,600-5,800 rpm
Transmission: 8-speed SPDS automatic, rear-wheel drive, TVD
Suspension: (Front) Independent, double wishbones / (Rear) Independent, multi-link / ZF Sachs dampers, F tuned coil springs, stabilizers and bushings
Fuel Capacity: 66 liters (17.4 gallons)
L x W x H: 4,915mm x 1,845mm x 1,440mm Wheelbase: 2,850mm
Brakes: Brembo, (Front) 380mm [15.0”] vented and slotted discs, 6-piston calipers / (Rear) 345mm [13.6”] vented and slotted discs, 4-piston calipers
Wheels: Forged aluminum, (Front) 19 x 9.0” / (Rear) 19 x 10.0”
Tires: Michelin Pilot Super Sport, (Front) 255/35/ZR19 92Y / (Rear) 275/35/R19 92Y
Weight [Kerb]: 1,865 kg (4,112 lbs.)
0-100 km/h [0-62 mph]: 4.6 sec.
Top Speed: 270 km/h
Fuel Mileage: 6.0 km/l (14 mpg) City, 12.3 km/l (29 mpg) Highway
Price as Tested: PhP 7,588,000
Easy to drive, experience-focused, plenty of tech and power
Needs more in terms of steering feel, could be made lighter
Editor’s rating: 9.5 / 10