2017 Lexus GS F
Haters gonna hate, but we’re not sure why; Lexus really nailed it with the GS F
Words by: Adam Allen
Some folks haven’t been kind to the GS F have they?
That’s true, and we’ll get into why those critics are wrong shortly. Somehow, many auto scribes have jumped on the bandwagon of complaining that the GS F and it’s two door brother are outclassed and outgunned compared to their competitors. Where are the adaptive dampers, the ceramic brakes and gazillion horsepower turbo engines, they cry out? While it’s true that the GS F does lack all of those things, the truth is it doesn’t need them. In fact, our position is that it’s better off without that stuff anyhow.
How do you plan on backing up that bold statement?
There’s a growing legion of sports sedan buyers who might be impressed with the current crop of choices yet look wistfully back ten-ish years into the past at what you used to get if you patronized this market segment- cars were more engaging, more organic. Take the E39 BMW M5, a car that was produced from 1998-2003 and still remains the gold standard for what constitutes a perfect sports sedan. That recipe is difficult to pull off- consider that not many have come close in the 14 years since then- but in order to build something memorable you need a generous amount of horsepower, talkative steering, faithful brakes and suspension that feels lucidly competent commuting or storming a favourite back road. Presently, the current M5 produces a massive 560 horsepower from its twice turbocharged V8. It has a lavishly appointed cabin and employs the latest electronic trickery not only to make the car go fast, but also to save the driver’s bacon once they inevitably run out of talent. It is massively quick and can hold its own on the track. The problem is that it has become a bit cold and calculating, so focused is it on its goal of face melting speed that it’s forgotten what made its ancestor so desirable. That’s where the naysayers gleefully point out that the GS F is 93 horsepower down on the M5, and that is the case when you look at many of its foes- The Mercedes Benz E63, Audi and its S6 and even the Porsche Panamera all make more power. These cars will show their taillights to the GS F in almost every accelerative metric. But after spending a week in the Lexus, we think this is another case of the numbers not telling the whole story (and given its horsepower deficit, it isn’t even that much slower. Are you really gonna complain about a 0-100km/h time of 4.4 seconds?) If you measure a car’s greatness solely by what’s on paper, the GS F will be a perpetual also-ran.
Wait a minute. Are you suggesting that Lexus is out-BMW’ing BMW?
In the case of the GS F, it feels like Lexus used the old E39 M5 as their benchmark. The idea that Lexus would have looked to a BMW M car for development and then go on to release one in that same mold should help should reinforce that it’s strange times we are living in. We have wondered where BMW’s perfectly sorted portfolio of driving dynamics has gone in so many of their cars that used to showcase that stuff expertly, but instead find themselves heading down the road more often taken by Lexus of focusing on adding more options and placing greater emphasis on isolating the driver. Similarly, we have chided Lexus for becoming too complacent in offering an engaging driving experience of any kind and engineering a prevailing numbness into their cars. In a twist that even M. Night Shyamalan would find irresistible, what we have here is a Lexus that is closer to a BMW of yore than anything we’ve driven from Munich recently.
The Supra, Celica, MR2 and most recently the LFA- this car is further proof that Toyota/Lexus can still build incredible cars when it wants to.
One of the constants in the automotive world is that Toyota/Lexus build cars that are as reliable as a grandfather clock but also quite boring. Yet if we look back throughout history, it becomes abundantly clear that they can indeed build some truly memorable machinery. Drive the GS F even for just a few meters and it reveals its specialness in a way that only truly great cars can do. It is chock full of intangibles, especially the one often referred to as “character”. The way the suspension remains supple under all conditions while simultaneously serving up world class levels of grip (again, without the help of fancy adjustable dampers and riding on low profile high performance rubber) is incredibly rare these days and shows true engineering prowess. Moreover, it shows that that Akio Toyoda’s vision for building cars that aren’t boring is wholly attainable and that the companies he oversees can still rise to the occasion.
Tell us how it drives.
We mentioned that the GS F’s suspension engineers earned their keep when they dialed in this car, but we need to mention the trick differential at work that gives the big sedan uncanny agility. Dubbed TVC for Torque Vectoring Differential, it’s three settings (Standard, Slalom and Track) serve up a distinct difference in how the car behaves and is one of the better systems out there. The TVC may be tasked with effectively allocating drive torque, but it’s the lovely 5.0 litre naturally aspirated V8 that is tasked with making it. Oh, what an engine! It’s a true masterpiece from idle to redline. Making 471 horsepower and 389 pounds feet of torque at lofty rpm, it’s a true reward to spin the tach to redline every chance you get, and you’ll need to- this engine doesn’t make much grunt at the bottom end. It sounds glorious, an evocative love letter to the exceedingly rare naturally aspirated V8. It can generate torrents of speed when called upon, and although it doesn’t deliver the gut-punch of power of its turbocharged competitors, who cares when it this much fun wind it out throughout its operating range? Scrubbing off the impressive velocity the engine is capable of is a set of massive Brembo brakes at all four corners, the rotors clamped by delightfully colored orange calipers. Every time we drove it, we began to appreciate the sum of the GS F’s go-fast hardware, nuances of the seriously fun-to-drive experience reveling themselves with each dispatch of corner apex, each gradual feeding of engine power to the rear axle. You need to spend some time getting to know this car intimately in order to truly understand it.
If the drive is that good, so too must be the case with the interior.
That’s mostly true. Being a Lexus, the GS F’s interior is assembled with the same meticulous attention to detail we’ve become accustomed to from the brand. You get the sense that the cockpit will hold up well long after the car leaves the dealership. A couple of highlights: the seats, which look like they will mangle your back on anything but the shortest of trips with their rigid shells are pretty much perfect and all day comfortable. The driving position is also bang on. The electronic instrument panel is perfectly laid out and beautifully rendered and does a neat metamorphosis when you select Sport mode, the Goldilocks setting which we spent the most time in when driving the GS. Lovers of automotive minutiae will love the cool exposed bolts on the dash with ‘Lexus’ stamped into them. There’s quite a bit to celebrate here, but there are a few miscues. As nice as the materials are, we could use a little color to brighten things up a bit. Where Lexus did decide to use color on the French stitching somehow looks like its trying to hard, and the patterns on the upholstery look very busy and un-Lexus like. The worst offender? The infotainment system. It is manipulated by a kind of mouse-like device and the on-screen menus are haphazardly laid out and frustrating to use. After you get over the surprise that a system like this got the green light from the normally fastidious Lexus whom always sweats the smallest details, you just feel irritated at the thing. It’s not a deal breaker, but it is in serious need of a rethink.
What might go wrong?
Now that we’ve got the annoying infotainment system out of the way, we can focus on the other issues with the GS F of which there are thankfully few. They range from the pedantic (“why would Lexus choose to vertically stack the quad exhausts out back”?) to bigger concerns like the transmission. The 8-speeder goes about its business unnoticed in town, but when you want to turn up the wick it can’t keep pace, even when using the shift paddles in Sport+ mode. It isn’t terrible but it simply isn’t a good match for the engine. We have an easy solution to this problem: all Lexus has to do is ring up ZF and ask for a few of their excellent eight-speed automatics that approach dual-clutch gearboxes in terms of responsiveness yet retain the buttery smoothness so crucial to the Lexus mandate. Or just offer a manual option, but we’re not going to push our luck on that one.
Should I buy a GS F?
If the glowing prose of this review hasn’t convinced you that you should, remember that this car represents what is quickly disappearing from the automotive landscape- naturally aspirated sports sedans that allow you to access their performance capabilities without putting your driver’s license at risk like you would with nearly all the GS F’s competitors. Not only that, but the way Lexus has set up the car to be equal parts coddler and funster is so elusive that there are but a handful of cars that enjoy that duality, and some of them cost much more than asking price of the GS F. The great Chris Harris recently posted a video of the GS F online and explained how it does take time for the car to grow on you, and how its like an onion with multiple layers that need to be peeled back before its greatness becomes obvious. Haters, take note- drive this car and you’ll love it.
2017 Lexus GS F – Specifications
- Price as tested: $99,271
- Body Type: 4-door, 5 passenger sedan
- Powertrain Layout: Front engine/rear-wheel drive
- Engine: 5.0 litre V8, DOHC, 32 valves
- Horsepower: 471 @ 7,100 rpm
- Torque (lbs.-ft.): 389 @ 4,800 rpm
- Transmission: 8-speed automatic
- Curb weight: 1,872 kg (4,128 lbs.)
- Observed Fuel consumption: 12.9L/100 km (18 mpg)