Maybe the 2016 Lexus GS F sedan brings them a step closer to being truly recognised as a serious player in their own right. Lexus aren't traditionally recognised for going outside the rules, being that the whole focus of the mark are traditionally very safe and well engineered but kind of boring luxury vehicles. The "F" series of the Lexus brand tries to address this. It's more or less their equivalent of the M series BMW and AMG Mercedes Benz. So if there's an "F" badge on the body, you can expect the fun factor to be upped substantially.
What's really got people talking about the GS F is Lexus's decision to stick with a naturally aspirated V-8 when all the other major players have decided to adopt turbo charging. This may be a smart move on Lexus' part as there is still a lot of appeal for a well saught naturally aspirated V-8. Nothing beats cubes for sheer driver thrill but make no mistake, this is a high tech drivetrain and is the star of the vehicle. 351Kw from a 5.0 litre total capacity is a good effort by any standard and is approaching 100hp per litre which is considered the performance holy grail.
What sets the F series apart from the regular GS sedan? With a 20% stiffer body shell than the regular sedan and a drivetrain donated from the RC F coupe, you have a recipe for all the fun of the coupe but the practicality of a 5 seat four door sedan. The motor will pull all the way to a screaming redline of 7300RPM, 0 to 100Kmh posts in just 4.6 seconds and it will top out at 270Kmh, so the GS F means business.
What's also interesting about the GS F is its unique market stance having no direct competitor. It's somewhere halfway in size between an M3 and an M5. Was this a conscious decision by Lexus to offer something truly distinctive?
Pricing is pitched aggressively as well with an expected sticker value of around $150K AUD, only marginally more expensive than the smaller M3 but a lot cheaper than an M5.
On the driving side of the equation, once the GS F is set to one of the more advanced drive modes of Sport S or Sport S+, the chassis comes truly alive. The harder you push it, the better it seems to get. For most drivers, their bravado will fail before the chassis dynamics will. With Michelin Pilot Super Sport tyres (255/35 ZR19 front, 275/35 ZR19 rear), grip levels are astounding. As you'd expect with a Japanese manufacturer the car is not short on tech. As well as fully independent suspension, the drive train features a "true" torque vectoring differential which also allows for power delivery tailored to each rear wheel according to the driving conditions encountered. This is supposed to mean less steering effort for the driver and gives the ability to pull the car around corners more efficiently. From the driver's seat you can feel the benefits of the trick diff doing its work. Brakes (Brembo's with 380mm front rotors, 340mm rear rotors all slotted and ventilated) are also a highlight and inspire confidence they won't let you down when the going gets tough.
On the transmission front we are talking a fully automated 8 speed gearbox, no dual clutch in sight. What is becoming the norm for the current generation of auto-trans is their ability to change gears intuitively as you would using any manual transmission. What we're seeing here is a clear demonstration of how far the software has come which controls the whole show.
With that all summed up, are we saying it handles as well as the German counterparts? Well no, but that is not to say you'll ever feel let down, this is definitely not just a Japanese business suit. It's almost the Ninja Lexus needs if they are to be taken seriously as a direct competitor to the big 3.
The soundtrack is also sonorous but only when set in Sport S and Sport S+ mode, a true V-8 growl is on offer if the right foot is firmly planted.
Interior ergonomics are of a high standard. Fit and finish can't be faulted although some of the switchgear and appointments bear too much resemblance to their Toyota parentage.
Obvious complaints? It may be a little too quiet for some in regular driving modes but that's more about the high levels of the NVH (noise versus harshness) that Lexus are true masters of. You could hear a mouse cut cheese, such is the quietness. Exterior styling is still too fussy and while you won't confuse it as anything other than a Lexus, the styling as a whole doesn't quite gel.
Overall the GSF is a competent package and a step in the right direction for Lexus, it's not a Ninja yet but the gap between the marque and the big 3 is narrowing.
2016 Lexus GS F Sedan Specifications
Suspension: Independent multilink with forged aluminium components, coil springs, gas- pressurized electronically controlled shock absorbers and stabilizer bar
Tires: Michelin Pilot Super Sport tyres (255/35 ZR19 front, 275/35 ZR19 rear)
Brakes: Brembo four-wheel power-assisted slotted and ventilated discs all round
Engine: 5.0litre V8, DOHC, 32v
Max Power: 350Kw@7300 RPM
Max Torque: 527Nm@4800 RPM
Drivetrain: Rear wheel drive 8 speed automatic transmission
Top speed: Approx 270Kmh
Acceleration: 0-100km/h (0-62mph): 4.6 seconds (claimed)
Picture source: Lexus