Following the hundreds of test drives and numerous launches I’ve taken part in over the course of the year it’s almost impossible to pick a favourite.
Real highlights included Porsche’s entry-level 911 T, Hyundai’s first hot hatch, the i30 N, and the wonderful Alpine A110 I punted at Targa High Country, all of which deserve podiums for the sheer driving thrills. But while it’s tough to single out one unforgettable vehicle or experience, I chose the latest Lexus GS F.
For me the high-performance Lexus sedan is very much a left-of-field choice, but 18 months after I first sampled it at its international launch at the Jarama Circuit in Spain, I found myself reunited with the GS F somewhere completely different, the Hakone Skyline in Japan. And the V8 four-door absolutely destroyed the famous Japanese drivers’ pass.
I’ve been infatuated with the hi-po Lexus ever since my first introduction in Madrid. Right from the outset, this was one of those rare cars you tended to put a lot of trust in from the get-go, even on track and pushing at ten-tenths.
It won’t bite. Rather, it just grips up and goes. And it does go hard if you’ve dialed up Sport+ and elect to use the manual paddle shifters, all to the intoxicating full cry of its naturally aspirated 5.0-litre V8. No turbos, no superchargers and no hybrid systems required.
But the Hakone drive was truly epic. In our video, you can see us catching some very quick world-class superbikes. It’s so well balanced with superb response and feedback that it begs you to push harder but without the fear of some performance models. With the Lexus, you don’t have to be a racing driver to get the best out of it, or indeed enjoy it.
The grip and traction are off the clock for a family-size luxury sedan operating at warp speed through an endless succession of bends on the Hakone Skyline – which can be taken nearly flat in most cases. It shouldn’t be possible to carry this much pace through corners while maintaining such stability from the chassis.
Yes, compared with hugely more expensive rivals in the BMW M5 and Mercedes-AMG E63 S, the GS F is shamefully underpowered and downright slow in a straight line. But on a road like the Hakone, it’s probably going to be quicker given the confidence it feeds back to the driver.
And, besides, this may be one of the last naturally aspirated V8 engines ever produced as emissions targets tighten each year.