Test Drive: 2016 Lexus GS F

Even in Oh Hello Officer Orange, it's hard not to like this car.

Knock knock. Who's there? M5. M5 who?
Knock knock. Who's there? M5. M5 who?
Knock knock. Who's there? M5. M5 who?
Knock knock. Who's there? Orange.
Orange who?
Orange you glad I didn't say M5 again?

Here's Lexus' dad joke, a creamsicle-on-wheels that they hope you'll try instead of a top-flight German sports sedan and say, “Orange I glad I did? I yam.” And not to worry – if you'd rather have a colour other than the retina-searing Solar Flare, the GS F comes in six boring colours and three exciting ones. I'd go for the lovely, although stupidly named, Ultrasonic Blue Mica 2.0.

However, even in Oh Hello Officer Orange, it's hard not to like this car. Yes, the Lexus design language is a bit shouty, especially when grafted onto the incongruously soft RX crossover, but here at least the GS F has some cojones to back up its big-mouthed bragging. What's more, your modern Audi now looks like a basking shark crossed with the speaker tower at an AC/DC concert; BMWs all have their once-delicate kidney grilles flared out like the nostrils of a moose on bath salts; and the gawping lower air intakes of a Mercedes-AMG product look like a Wallace and Gromit character thinking about something terrifying. Everybody's crazy – why not Lexus too?

So, perhaps some allowance can be made for the Dukes of Aichi Prefecture's visual yee-haw, with its swooshy LED mascara, stabby 19” forged alloys and spindle grille the size of a Cylon baleen whale. The basic GS sedan is aggressive enough, and this one gets even more hunched out, its fenders flaring and the hood bulging with the powerplant barely wedged underneath. Out back, there's a carbon-fibre upper lip and offset quad tailpipes that pay homage to the original IS-F's lunacy.

Pop that bonnet, as an Elizabethan rapper might say, and the GS F displays further visual wonderment. You can see the engine! It's right there! Almost everybody else will let you have a carefully crafted plastic engine cover, perhaps with the signature of der Handwerker who built the beast underneath, but Lexus actually lets you have a gander at a blue-shaded intake manifold.

This is F-performance's current crown jewel, a 5.0L V8 making 467 hp at 7,100 rpm and 389 lb-ft at 4,800 rpm. Direct injection, dual variable-valve timing control, 12.3:1 compression, 7,300 rpm redline – it's all here, and it's all wonderful.

But what's the Japanese for uh-oh? Last time I checked, both the BMW M5 and the Mercedes-AMG E63 were cranking out nearly 600hp from large-displacement V8s. That's quite the power gap compared to the top-dog Lexus: has Lexus brought a Mustang to a rocket fight?

Interview: Engineering Emotion in the Lexus GS F

Both AMG and M are more expensive machines, and quite a bit heavier. The GS F is no lightweight, tipping the scales at a solid 1,830kg, but it's not actually that much heavier than the RC-F coupe. When compared the Germans' big guns, it's nearly 10% lighter. It's also less of a heavy hit to your wallet, creeping just in a shade under a hundred grand.

I know, I know. What a deal – trading in my 1997 V6 Camry tomorrow. But still, in the rarefied air of the max-performance luxury sedan, the GS F offers an interesting alternative to M-sport versions of the 550i and the S6, without the nagging feeling you get from BMW and Audi that there's a plateau above you that you couldn't quite reach. The GS F is the fastest Lexus four-door, but it's a little more attainable than the competition. And things get more interesting when you stop playing the cerebral numbers game and get to the heart of this thing.

 

Jump into the cockpit and you find Lexus at the top of its game. The GS F's 17-speaker Mark Levinson stereo can either melt your earwax or pour honey in your auditory canals. The seats are firm but comfortable, nicely contoured and fitted with pass-throughs for the six-point racing harness that will absolutely never be fitted to a car like this. The 12.3” dash display is clear and easy to read at a glance, and so too is the instrument panel, which comes with sport sedan goodies like a g-meter and torque-vectoring display. A digital tachometer dominates proceedings and rightly so, and the analog speedometer is hilariously small. There's absolutely some stockbroker out there wearing an expensive wrist-bling watch that's bigger than the GS F's speedo, but probably less accurate. Ditto the analog clock in the dash.

And then there are the slight sad trombone noises you get where Lexus hasn't quite caught up. The steering wheel, flappy paddles aside, might as well be from a Camry. The infotainment control mouse remains fiddly and irritating; move the cursor one micron too far to the left or right and it skips over the audio source you were trying to reach, accidentally putting on the satellite radio as you drive into a tree because you weren't paying enough attention to the road.

That's a problem with the car, and also with the road, really. If you're driving on tarmac boring enough to be fiddling around with a soundtrack other than that from the big-lunged Lexus V8, you're not getting the best out of the GS F. Hang the next left. Ignore the navigation's plaintive demands to stay on the well-beaten, traffic-clogged path. Twist the drive mode into Sport S+ (two twists required for emphasis), turn the torque-vectoring differential to Slalom (there's a track mode too, but trust me), and jab the traction control button off (don't worry, it's never fully off).

Suddenly, the GS F is like a shot of vitamin C clearing up your over-thrusty Teutonic cold. While the steering is a bit numb, everything else about the GS F is all tingly and ferocious. Instead of the instant-on torque of the turbo-Germans, the GS F's five-point-oh needs to be thrashed up towards its redline, working the quick-shifting eight-speed automatic hard. The car's so obviously happy about the whipping, you have to wonder if its engineers have been reading up on their sadomasochism.

Call it Fifty Shades of Orange as we flit through a sodden forest, far enough from civilization to give the GS F a boot-full of throttle and let that big grille gulp down air. A glance out the rearview shows atomized water contrailing out behind as the twisty bits arrive up ahead. Some of the accompanying soundtrack is electronic quackery, but it sounds so good you can forgive the sleight-of-ear.

Here's the thing: the GS F might not be a competitor for the current M5, but works as a sort of blend between the V8-powered '98-03 E39-chassis M5, and the V10 monster that followed it. Lexus' take on a super-sedan doesn't rely on low-end power, it needs revs; oddly, the German power marques are friendlier to a casual driver, where the Japanese sensible-shoes brand needs an enthusiastic driver to extract the best from its flagship.

And it's not just a question of engine. Probably the most likeable thing about the GS F is the torque-vectoring rear diff, which helps a big car drive small. Capable of adding or subtracting power to either of the rear wheels, it adds genuine carving performance to the GS F's portfolio. Big speed on sweeping interstates would be expected from a super sedan like this, but the GS F feels tuned for California canyons and Japanese touge.

Fuel economy, if you care, is not bad at 14.9L/100 km city and 9.7 L/100km highway. More irritating is the GS F's tiny 66 L fuel tank, which can get emptied pretty quickly if you're zipping along.

I can't imagine Lexus is going to shift too many of these cars. It's a crossover company, carried by the twin pillars of the NX and RX lines. Last year, for instance, Lexus sold twenty times as many RX crossovers in Canada as it did GS sedans.

Painting this thing orange, stuffing it full of rev-happy horsepower, and making it a rear-drive only proposition is hardly likely to increase sales results. The accounting department will be red-faced that the engineering nutcases were given this amount of leeway.

And yet, the result is a car that displays both finesse and fury, an interesting-to-drive machine that makes you look for a better road to hammer along. With the GS F, the engineers were allowed to build a Lexus with a bit of soul baked in. And orange you glad they did?

Warranty:
4 years/80,000 km; 6 years/110,000 km powertrain; 6 years/unlimited distance corrosion perforation; 4 years/unlimited distance roadside assistance

Competitors:
Audi S6
BMW 550i M-sport
Mercedes-AMG E43

2016 Lexus GS F
articles_PricingType 2016 Lexus GS F
Base Price $95,000
Optional Equipment None
A/C Tax $100
Destination Fee $2,045
Price as Tested $97,145
Optional Equipment
10 0
Scoring breakdowns 7.0
8 Exterior Styling
8 Performance
6 Interior
7 Comfort
6 Fuel Economy