2016 Lexus GS F Review: Reigning in Spain

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Blasting through the rolling countryside 30 miles from the amazing architecture and old-world congestion of Madrid in the 2016 Lexus GS F, it occurred to me how pleasantly ironic history can be.

After Lexus launched in 1989, the Japanese luxury upstart’s initial advertising promised unprecedentedly quiet engines. There was a commercial featuring classical guitarist Manual Barrueco recording a single in the back of a womb-quiet LS 400. There were amazed testimonials from the automotive press. And there were reports of unknowing consumers grinding starters—that’s how revelatory Lexus’ refinement was upon its debut.

Flash forward 26 years, and along with selling the number one luxury vehicle in the United States, Lexus has crafted a V-10 supercar that’s most famous for its glorious wail. And in an era where even mighty icons like BMW and Ferrari are turning to forced induction, Lexus offers a naturally aspirated, 5.0-liter V-8 unit which revs to 7300 rpm and whose sweet noise has garnered universal acclaim.

In fact, the engine note sounds so good, it’s now pumped—with the help of some electronic wizardry—into the cabin. Who could have seen that coming?

Lexus GS F Drive Lead 2
Now, before any purists reach for their pitchforks, it should be noted the Active Sound Control can be turned off via a simple switch on the instrument panel. But to focus on a small detail like that is to miss the point of what Lexus GS F Chief Engineer Yukihiko Yaguchi and his team have done with the latest entry into the Lexus lineup.

“So if you’re honestly wondering whether adding a Miata’s worth of power to an already sweet package makes for a better, more fun to drive car? You should probably check your pulse. Come on—of course it does! Haven’t you ever watched Top Gear?”

During the technical presentation in Madrid, Mr. Yaguchi expressed his desire to make a “balanced, fast, road vehicle,” usable for a wide breadth of drivers, not a hair-trigger machine which secretly plots to deliver snap oversteer on a rainy freeway entrance ramp. And another point he made? In addition to “F” standing for Fuji—as Lexus famously says—he also wants it to stand for “fun.”

So if you’re wondering whether adding a Miata’s worth of power to an already sweet package makes for a better, more fun to drive car? Of course it does! Haven’t you ever seen Top Gear?

Now, I’m biased, as the GS has long been a road trip favorite of mine. I’ve taken it on a couple of memorable sprints up to San Francisco, through the nightmarish labyrinths of Los Angeles rush hours, and wound it along picaresque Malibu stretches of the Pacific Coast Highway; and I’ve always appreciated its blend of luxury and performance.

So the proposition of a GS version with the RC F’s snarling, 467 horsepower eight-pot and a host of go-fast goodies was an attractive one. That said? It wouldn’t have exactly broken my heart if Lexus had decided to up the poke to a nice round 500 hp. But I digress.

Given the numbers, it’s tempting to see the latest Lexus as a four-door RC F, with back seats which make it not just possible, but comfortable, to transport adult humans. And at 4,034 pounds, it’s not much heavier than its elder sibling. Factory figures say the zero-to-60 mph sprint arrives in 4.5 seconds, just 1/10th behind the coupe, and that the GS F will travel the 1/4 mile in 12.8 seconds, just 3/10ths behind.

Lexus GS F Drive Group Shot
Obviously, those are the kind of differences that are difficult to feel on track, and don’t translate into anything meaningful on the street. But try we must.

So Lexus booked the historic Circuito del Jarama, a 2.4-mile, 11-turn course which has seen the running of nine Formula One Spanish Grand Prix—and hosted champions like James Hunt and Niki Lauda—for the assembled media to attempt to find them. There were even a couple of RC Fs on hand for direct comparison.

“Given the power on tap, I could have used some opportunities to dial in some fat oversteer with my right foot. But I can understand the reticence of the pros on hand to allow a Yankee yahoo the opportunity to play Ken Gushi—especially while riding on the wrong side of the car.”

Unlike its two-door sibling, the Torque Vectoring Differential is standard on the Lexus GS F, and its assistance was welcome on a track which in the words of one of the pro drivers on hand, required constant “dancing” across every bit of available tarmac, and where seemingly every corner is blind. The system—think of it as an active limited slip differential—utilizes a pair of electric motors, a speed-multiplying planetary gear and multi-plate clutch to send twist from opposing wheels in as little as 1/1000th of second. It’s the kind of tech which inspires confidence.

Personally, I found that the GS F’s longer wheelbase made it more composed during every section of the course. Like other new Lexus models, the chassis of the GS F benefits from new adhesive techniques and laser screw welding to provide additional stiffness and mitigate roll. It’s not a night-and-day difference—like switching from Eco to Sport+ might be—from the standard model, but definitely contributes to the Lexus GS F’s composed nature in the corners.

So while the coupe might have been some folk’s first choice to hit the track with, I actually had more fun with the sedan.

I’ve long appreciated the electrically assisted steering in the GS, and found nothing to complain about when hurling the F variant into the bends. It’s a Goldilocks-like balance of resistance, and one of my favorite elements of the model in base trim. Fortunately, beefy Brembos all the way around insured that there was no problem scrubbing off speed, even when I was coming off the Nuvolari straight—where I was hitting about 150 mph—into the sharp hairpin at the end. Fade was non-existent, and performance was certainly helped by the front brake duct cooling behind the wheels.

Obviously, there’s no performance difference, but I’d suggest springing for the orange caliper option, as they look pretty trick against the gunmetal gray wheels.

Grip from the standard Michelin Pilot Super Sport rubber, which are mounted to BBS-sourced wheels—19 x 9 inch front / 19 x 10 inch rear—was predictably excellent and communicative. Given the power on tap, I could of used some more opportunities to dial in some more oversteer with my right foot. But I can understand the reticence of the pros on hand to allow some Yankee yahoo the opportunity to play Ken Gushi—especially while they’re riding on the wrong side of the car.

Lexus GS F First Drive Orange
One of the elements I was really impressed with was how well the G force Artificial Intelligence Shift control system worked with the eight-speed gearbox. Like plenty of enthusiasts, I’m a fan of cars with a proper third pedal, even though I know their performance won’t match the lighting fast shifts of modern dual-clutch units, or even many traditional automatic transmissions.

And while using the paddles to shift was a blast—the torque converter is locked from 2nd gear up in the Sport+ setting—even when I didn’t touch them, the gear selection was spot-on, and I never felt like I was hunting for power trying to punt through a corner. It’s something I meant to explore during the RC F launch at New York’s Monticello Motor Club, but either out of stubbornness or forgetfulness, I didn’t get around to it.

Needless to say, drivers who haven’t experienced how far slushboxes have come will be impressed with the level of sophistication the unit manages—even under the rigors of a challenging track day.

Lexus is only planning to sell about 2000 of the 2016 Lexus GS F models, which will start at $84,440 before destination. That goal might seem low for a company used to cranking out high-volume hits like the RX, and depending on your perspective, is either a “why bother” number, or a boon to Lexus fans looking for a well-rounded performance sedan. I’m inclined to believe the later.

Check out the PDFs and shots of all the new exterior bits below.

2016 Lexus GS F Product Info >>>

2016 Lexus GS F Release >>>

John Coyle is a longtime auto journalist and editor who contributes to Corvette Forum, Ford Truck Enthusiasts and LS1Tech, among other auto sites.

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