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Driven: Lexus GS F. Image by Lexus.

Driven: Lexus GS F
With a 5.0-litre V8, the Lexus GS F is a stunningly rapid saloon - but is it rapid enough?

 



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Lexus GS F

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Good points: Differs from the German supersaloon norm, characterful engine, linear throttle response in Sport driving modes, supreme chassis

Not so good: Long gearing, V8 needs to be revved, poor infotainment controls, running costs

Key Facts

Model tested: Lexus GS F
Price: GS F from 69,995, car as tested 70,995
Engine: 5.0-litre V8 petrol
Transmission: rear-wheel drive, eight-speed Sports Direct Shift automatic
Body style: four-door saloon
CO2 emissions: 260g/km (2,310 first 12 months, 450 per annum next four years, 140 per annum thereafter)
Combined economy: 25.2mpg
Top speed: 168mph (limited)
0-62mph: 4.6 seconds
Power: 477hp at 7,100rpm
Torque: 530Nm at 4,800- to 5,600rpm

Our view:

It's astonishing how quickly things move in all areas of the automotive industry. But one area where this incredible pace of change is most evident is in the rarefied supersaloon sector. Cast your mind back, if you will, to 1999 and the launch of the third iteration of BMW's legendary M5. Based on the fourth-generation 5 Series, called the E39, it had an astonishing headline figure of 400hp - eclipsing such mighty four-door icons as the Lotus Carlton and the Mercedes-Benz 500 E 'Hammer'. It was a massive amount of power for an executive saloon to have at the turn of the millennium, and the car was duly revered, not just because of its sheer grunt but thanks to the fact the E39 M5 was blessed with a sublime chassis.

A mere 16 years on and 400hp is simply not enough. Even the smaller BMW M3/M4 has comfortably more than that, and the leading lights in the hot hatchback world are knocking on the door of quadruple-ton horsepower. Perhaps more shocking is the realisation that this beefy Lexus GS F might - despite packing a lovely 5.0-litre V8 engine doling out ample thump of 477hp backed up by 530Nm - already find itself hopelessly outclassed in the power and performance departments, having only been launched in 2015.

Allow us to explain. The outgoing M5, now in its fifth incarnation, has at least 560hp and even comes with 600hp if you can bag one of the ultra-rare Competition Editions. Audi doesn't currently make a saloon RS 6, but you can choose to have the Avant estate with either 560- or 605hp as the remarkable Performance variant; it, like the BMW, is about to be given its cards and sent into retirement, with a replacement almost certain to have at least 600hp from the off. Jaguar is no doubt working on a 575hp+ R version of the XF, Volvo is toying with Polestar working on its 2.0-litre Drive-E engines that can already make 400hp in hybrid format, and even Alfa Romeo, so long in the doldrums, has become resurgent with the fantastic biturbo V6 Giulia Quadrifoglio. And then we have Mercedes-AMG, that offers not one but three hot versions of the E-Class, starting with the E 43 4Matic; however, the most mental is the E 63 S 4Matic, a phenomenal saloon with a faintly ludicrous set of stats that read 612hp and 850Nm.

What links all of the cars above is that they are all (or will be, in the case of the ones not built yet) forced induction motors, packing turbochargers, superchargers or even both. That gives all of them massive torque outputs that stretch across bands comprising thousands of revs per minute, meaning they have effortless and enormous acceleration at pretty much any rpm. But the GS F is not forced induction. Its 5.0-litre V8 breathes in what it can of the atmosphere in a normally aspirated fashion.

That results in a car that is not going to win universal approval, as it has plenty of characteristics that could be described as either quirks or even flaws, the performance being one facet that requires some understanding. Like the RC F Coupe with which it shares a drivetrain, the GS F's relative lack of torque in this class - 530Nm delivered from a peaky 4,800rpm until just 5,600rpm - is only exacerbated by Lexus foisting comically long gearing on the car. Select the wrong cog in the eight-speed automatic transmission and you will not be blown away by the manner in which the GS F accelerates. Furthermore, if the GS F is running in Eco or Normal modes, it has a strangely fuzzy throttle response and a real lack of aural drama until about 3,500rpm.

Like any Lexus, its infotainment controls are not in the least bit intuitive to use in comparison to the German class standards. And while it has admirable, variable-display instruments in the cluster, the dashboard is no TFT-toting wonder. It has an excellent standard equipment list - the solitary option fitted to our car being a 1,000 Mark Levinson Sound upgrade, well worth the cash - but it's also only marginally cheaper than the BMW M5 or the E 63 S, and it's considerably more expensive than the Alfa Romeo... which is faster, prettier and much better on fuel. Indeed, on that score, the Lexus' lack of a turbo- or supercharger means it has very poor on-paper economy and emissions data, resulting in the highest possible levels of taxation and a mediocre claimed return of 25.2mpg. We saw a meagre 19.7mpg in about 185 miles of driving. Ah.

And yet... for all that, we can't help but love the GS F. The NA 5.0 V8 might be the thing that forces the biggest compromises onto a potential buyer of the Lexus, but it is also its USP. No rival has the crisp linearity of throttle response the GS F possesses when it is in Sport S or S+. And when you do breach 3,500rpm, the magnificent rumbling bellow of the V8 is something truly wonderful. Yes, it is slightly augmented in both modes, either one or two speakers amplifying the engine and exhaust via the Active Sound Control feature, but we still think the noise the GS F makes is one of the best in class, especially the clean, soaring voice it takes on as it homes in on the 7,100rpm point of peak power.

However, the real star of the show is the Lexus' chassis. The steering is fabulous, beautifully weighted and providing a decent amount of feedback. Understeer is absent from proceedings and its mammoth Brembo brakes are unimpeachable in road driving; with a kerb weight of 1,865kg, there might well be eventual fade issues if you take it on track but, in reality, who buys this sort of car and then heads to their local circuit for some hot laps? Better still is the ride/handling balance, because for all the GS F's dynamic acuity in the road-holding stakes, it's a supremely refined and comfortable car when you're not driving it hard. It's perfectly hushed and serene in town, extra-urban and motorway conditions, the long gearing now paying dividends in ensuring the V8 is operating at little more than tickover if you're holding a steady 70mph motorway cruise, thus keeping noise levels to a minimum.

Add in the car's fantastically well-judged exterior looks - not too subtle, not too brash - and a cabin that is fabulous in terms of the fit and finish (the F-branded bucket seats in red leather are a particular highlight, while there's a load of space for passengers sitting in the rear), and what you end up with is a characterful big saloon that's quick, composed and something just a little bit different from the norm. So while the fact it doesn't have in excess of 500hp might put some people off, those who do take a chance on the Lexus GS F will be very pleased they sought out this intriguing alternative to the prevailing turbocharged motors on offer elsewhere. Even if 477hp is not a long way beyond where the M5 was the best part of two decades ago...

Alternatives:

Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio: If you want a performance four-door and you can't stand German metal, then the blinding 510hp Giulia makes an incredibly handsome alternative.

BMW M5: Even though it's on the way out, the F10 M5 is brilliant with 560hp as standard, with 575hp as the Competition Package, or with 600hp as the run-out Competition Edition.

Mercedes-AMG E 63 S 4Matic: Mercedes seriously ups the ante with the 612hp/850Nm E 63 S in this supersaloon class; figures a long way ahead of the GS F's 477hp/530Nm.


Matt Robinson - 23 Dec 2016









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2016 Lexus GS F. Image by Lexus.2016 Lexus GS F. Image by Lexus.2016 Lexus GS F. Image by Lexus.2016 Lexus GS F. Image by Lexus.2016 Lexus GS F. Image by Lexus.

2016 Lexus GS F. Image by Lexus.2016 Lexus GS F. Image by Lexus.2016 Lexus GS F. Image by Lexus.2016 Lexus GS F. Image by Lexus.2016 Lexus GS F. Image by Lexus.








 

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