Selling a full-size fast executive saloon car that, by design, isn’t quite as fast or as powerful as the going rate must be a devilishly difficult task – and yet it’s the one that Lexus has set itself with the new GS F.
Given the almost imperceptible progress that the Japanese firm’s performance arm has thus far made in the European performance market, it could really do with making life easier for itself.
That is not the case here. Instead, the firm’s big push with the GS F is all about quality over quantity: a crisp, free-revving, naturally aspirated V8 engine where you might otherwise be ‘stuck’ with forced induction.
The difference that makes on paper is between the Lexus’s 471bhp and the peak outputs of its rivals, which in some cases now exceed 600bhp. The deficit is greater still measured in terms of real-world, mid-range pulling power.
So what the GS F does well, you’d imagine it’d have to do very well in order to stand a chance against the might of the BMW M5, Mercedes-AMG E63 and Audi RS7.
What’s the 2016 Lexus GS F like to drive?
The chassis makeover for the GS F runs deep, with even the welding of its superstructure sured up, as well as bracing adding for extra body stiffness. Lightweight control arms, shorter and stiffer suspension springs, uprated dampers, 19in forged wheels and Michelin Pilot Super Sport tyres lend a tautness to the ride, and an agility and poise to the handling, that’s as engaging as any saloon in the class.
The car’s stable and grippy under hard cornering, and has distinguishing steering feedback – marking it out as something quite special when you’re really pushing on.
What great super saloons do, however, is go from a dawdling to a blistering stride with a laid-back, elastic kind of urgency – and the GS F’s engine, and moreover its gearbox, isn’t quite up to that. The car’s relatively short on torque, so you regular need full throttle to make it accelerate hard.
Meanwhile, gradually widening throttle openings tend to confuse the automatic gearbox, making it hunt through its ratios rather than picking one early and hunkering down. In manual mode, shifts come belatedly and sometimes abruptly.
The engine sounds great at high revs – provided you remember to turn off the annoying in-cabin noise booster – but its bellow is just a little bit redolent of a car that’s trying to cover for an underlying lack of truly vigorous speed.
What’s the 2016 Lexus GS F like inside?
Very plush and very solidly built. The GS F’s leather sports front seats are superbly comfy and keep your backside in place even during hard driving, and they place you in an ideal driving position with a widely adjustable electric steering column and well-located pedals.
The instrument binnacle is very busy, a little contrived and quite hard to read, with what might be the smallest analogue speedometer in production (it reads, of course, all the way to 200mph).
Adding to the complexity is the digital part of the display, featuring a central dial that changes function depending on selected drive mode, and trip computer screens on both sides of the panel.
Lexus’s use of materials is, as normal, very skilful, and its fit-and-finish beyond any reasonable reproach. So you sit in the GS F marvelling at the apparent quality on show and the tasteful go-faster additions such as the stud-fixed alcantara panel atop the dashboard.
You’re subtly seduced, all the while, by the reassuring ‘whump’ of the doors as they shut, and the way the electric windows decelerate as they close so as to make the least impact on your senses.
The car conforms well enough to the practicality standards of rivals, without outstripping them – so the back seats aren’t huge but a good size, and the boot’s useable but not particularly generous.
Should I buy one?
The GS F is not the kind of four-door bruiser likely to win friends and influence people. It’s also probably a little bit too firmly sprung for some tastes, and its handling isn’t quite good enough to make up for the shortcomings of its engine and transmission. So you’d have to be a fan of the Lexus brand, and its more sedate qualities, to really see the appeal.
Lexus has certainly got a way to go before it’ll tap the full alluring potential of that V8 engine for keener drivers, and further still before the GS F will present a credible threat to Germany’s ruling performance powers.
What Car? says…