The fact that Lexus chose a racetrack for the launch their 2016 Lexus GS F is a sure sign the Japanese marque is supremely confident its latest and greatest performance sedan is nothing short of a showcase in dynamic ability.
It’s the second full-strength F model Lexus has launched in 12 months, after the RC F coupe arrived in Lexus showrooms in February.
But while the marque has certainly shown interest in developing its F performance sub brand, it hasn’t been with the same intensity as rival operations by Audi, BMW, Mercedes-Benz or even Jaguar.
In 2007, Lexus launched its first ever performance car, the M3-rivalling IS F, armed with a naturally aspirated 5.0-litre V8 engine developing 311kW and 503Nm of torque.
There were several iterations over the proceeding years, though sadly, production ended in 2014.
The second such F car arrived in 2010, but was an entirely different proposition. Badged LFA, Lexus had created a bona-fide Japanese icon with an even-firing V10 engine and a carbonfibre body. Built in strictly limited numbers, with stellar performance (both on and off the track) and a price tag around $750,000, it was one of the most expensive Japanese cars ever built and quickly became a collector’s favourite.
With the IS F no longer part of the Lexus line-up, the new GS F becomes the only four-door F model offered by Lexus and as such, it represents a rather unique proposition as the only naturally aspirated V8-powered sedan in its segment.
All other rivals – and there aren’t many – employ turbochargers or superchargers to boost performance.
For the launch, we’re on our way up to Spain’s former Grand Prix circuit Jarama, not far from Madrid, for a thorough dynamic track test. One thing is immediately clear the moment we climb aboard; this might be Lexus’ new V8-powered halo car, but luxury, and plenty of it, is still first and foremost in the brand’s DNA.
Based on the updated fourth-generation GS that’s due to hit Australian shores in December, the GS F benefits from a revised interior full of high-grade materials like the soft-to-touch Alcantara, carbonfibre, and some of the finest finishes in the business.
It’s a refreshingly clutter-free design, with a more driver-centric cockpit and improved functionality. Cleverly, Alcantara covers the entire dash top (reducing windscreen glare), the centre console bin and some door trim. Australian buyers can also choose between carbonfibre and aluminium accents, as well as semi-aniline leather-accented or Alcantara seat trim.
Those seats also deserve special mention for providing both a high level of bolster and armchair comfort in equal measure.
However, up front, it’s still the ultra-wide 12.3-inch infotainment screen with high-resolution and high-colour definition graphics that takes centre stage. There’s an oversize rev-counter encompassing a digital speed display directly in front of the driver, with speedometer to the right and information display to the left.
If there were any glitches in what is a superbly crafted cabin with plenty of up-to-date tech, it would be the fact that Lexus continues to stick with its fiddly mouse-style interface that is simply inferior to the more intuitive rotary controllers adopted by each and every rival carmaker.
Also standard on Australian-spec cars is head-up display that projects speed, revs and gearshift indicator on the windscreen, allowing the driver to maintain eyes on the road, or track.
As the range-topping model, the GS F also receives a full suite of the latest active and passive safety kit including 10 airbags, active cruise control, lane departure warning with lane-keeping assist and adaptive high beam.
Additionally, there’s a tyre pressure warning system, blind spot monitor, rear cross-traffic alert, back guide monitor for parking and Drive Start Control, which, when sensing an abnormal shift while accelerating, will reduce power output, helping to avoid a collision.
In the metal, the GS F makes its presence known with a noticeably tougher stance and significantly more attitude than its lesser-powered siblings – even F-Sport versions.
The super-size spindle grille stretches from the bonnet to the extra-low carbonfibre front splitter and seems more pronounced than ever. Like it or not, it's certainly in your face and unmistakably Lexus. Flanking it is a pair of similarly large air intakes that feed the massive six-pot Brembo front brakes.
Aerodynamics also play a key role in the GS F’s overall shape. It’s longer, wider and sits 15mm lower to the ground than regular GS models. Flared guards highlight the more aggressive look as do the set of forged alloy wheels shod with low-profile Michelin Pilot Super Sport tyres (255/35 front, 275/35 rear). Around back, there’s a carbonfibre rear spoiler and the F brand’s trademark quad exhaust tips, which provide the finishing touch.
Underneath, the GS F gets a series of specially designed undertrays below the engine and midsection of the car that direct cooling air toward the rear differential.
At the heart of the GS F’s performance credentials is the same 351kW/530Nm 5.0-litre naturally aspirated V8 engine found under the bonnet of the RC F Coupe, only this version is dynamically balanced after assembly.
Understandably, Lexus is positioning the GS F below rivals such as the twin-turbo 423kW/680Nm BMW M5 and 430kW/800Nm Mercedes-AMG E63 S, and more in-line with models such as the 331kW/550Nm Audi S6.
But that doesn’t mean it’s any less exciting for those behind the wheel. On the contrary, right from the get-go, the GS F’s stonking V8 delivers on an auditory level. Hit the starter button and you’re immediately rewarded with the kind of smooth V8 burble reminiscent of a classic Euro-born muscle car.
Bury the throttle and this luxury four-door Lexus sedan with a standard eight-speed auto is capable of seeing off the supercharged Jaguar XFR. The official performance specs state a 0-100km/h sprint time in 4.6 seconds flat, and after several hours pushing hard on the road and track, there’s absolutely no cause for any doubt on our part.
Mind, it never feels explosive out of the gate, but that’s largely down to the engine’s impeccable refinement and effortless nature of its free-breathing V8, more than any other factor.
That said, that delicious exhaust note isn’t entirely natural, at least under load. It’s been enhanced for the GS F with the help of the car’s Active Sound Control (ASC), which electronically synthesises the engine sound and exhaust note in response to throttle pressure and gearshifts. The sounds are then piped into the cabin via dedicated speakers: front and rear speakers are active in the Sports S+ mode, while the rear operates during Sports S mode.
Keep it pinned and the pace builds quickly, with the GS F showing 240km/h down Jarama’s main straight, before leaning on the tireless Brembos to rein-in the Lexus before committing to the first turn.
And that’s not the only area where this Lexus shines – it’s the car’s poise and balance on track that left us even more surprised. We're utterly convinced that the GS F is an easier car to drive fast than the smaller RC F. It feels more evenly balanced through turns, so you can carry a lot more pace without the car ever feeling twitchy or nervous.
There’s little or no body roll either, regardless of how hard you push and that’s testament to the GS F’s significant chassis enhancement over regular GS variants. In fact, the GS F is more closely related to the RC F Coupe than the standard GS, particularly when it comes to suspension geometry.
Structure wise, torsional rigidity is up around 20 per cent, thanks to a host of changes including front and rear body bracing and newly developed mounts for the rear suspension.
Grip levels are also very impressive for a rear-wheel-drive sedan, remarkable even, especially up front. Time and time again on track I was waiting for the moment when the car would break traction on turn-in, or when accelerating out of corners, but the Michelin tyres simply bite and the torque vectoring differential controls rear-wheel torque and in a split second you’re hurtling towards the next turn.
Whilst there is no adaptive damper option – Lexus engineers say with the correct tuning there isn’t any requirement – the GS F was suitably comfortable on a range of different road surfaces around Madrid, though final judgment will need to be made after further testing on Australia’s patchy roads.
The GS F is a complete surprise package. With the same 5.0-litre V8 as the RC F and a 70kg weight penalty, we didn’t expect this level of dynamic performance from a large luxury sedan, but that’s exactly what you get with this car.
In typical Lexus fashion, expect the GS F to land in February next year fully stocked with every conceivable creature comfort and safety feature currently available, for between $150,000-$160,000 plus on-road costs.