When Lexus first debuted the IS F, back in 2006, the majority of the motoring world scoffed at Lexus trying to take on the Germans at their own game. Lexus was, and still is, mostly a luxury car maker and doesn’t bother too much with performance. To be brutally honest, the naysayers were right, as the IS F wasn’t actually very good. It wasn’t bad, but the steering, handling and suspension weren’t up to par with the German rivals and it just wasn’t as good of a sports car. However, it did have some likable attributes. The engine, a 5.0 liter naturally-aspirated V8, was brutal and make an incredible shriek as redline approached. It was also decent look and had a nice interior. Unfortunately, the IS F suffered from sloppy handling and a suspension so stiff that it would jar tooth fillings loose.
Currently, there is no IS F, just an IS 350 F Sport. But Lexus has released an RC F, the brand’s new two-door performance car that we tested against the M4 awhile back, and more recently a GS F. The GS F is Lexus’ answer to the BMW M5, Audi RS6 and Mercedes-AMG E63 S. But the question is, does the GS F have what it takes to actually hang with those aforementioned cars, or is Lexus just clinging to pipe dreams?
To start, the Lexus GS F carries the same 5.0 liter V8 under its hood as the RC F. The big old-fashioned V8 is a very likable engine, if not a very effective one. While all other performance automakers are switching to smaller-displacement, but turbocharged, engines to maintain power specifications while complying with fuel economy and efficiency regulations, Lexus is sticking with big N/A V8s and should be applauded for that. The V8 engine in the GS F is a charismatic one, making all of the sounds that make us miss free-breathing engines. It also has incredibly sharp throttle response, far sharper than most turbocharged engines, as it doesn’t need to wait to spool. It’s a lovely engine to use. However, it is down on power and torque, especially low down in the rev range. Its 467 hp is nothing to sneeze at until you compare it to the BMW M5’s 567. That’s a lot more and the M5 has almost all of its torque low down in the rev range to make it far more powerful in everyday life, whereas in the Lexus you need to really rev it out to use the power.
The likable, but somewhat underpowered, Lexus V8 is mated to an eight-speed automatic with paddle shifters and sends power to a limited-slip torque-vectoring differential (TVD) that actually works brilliantly. The diff in the GS F is something that Lexus worked very hard on and it seems to have paid off as all early reviews claim the traction on power during corner exit is superb. Thank the car gods that it’s rear-wheel drive.
As far as looks go, the GS F isn’t a very pretty car. It looks fine in a modern, technological sort of way, but it doesn’t evoke any sort of passion. Though, it’s not fair to say that the German’s do anymore either, as both the M5 and RS6 look like bigger versions of the 3 Series and A4, respectively. At least the M5 and RS6 have clean, crisp lines and handsome faces. The GS F looks a bit too messy and the signature Lexus Spindle Grille is getting old fast. However, the interior is typical Lexus; good looking, sensibly laid out, comfortable and incredibly well made. The seats also look great and incredibly supportive.
Overall, the new Lexus GS F seems to be a bit of the same, in terms of how the car stacks up to its competitors, as the original IS F — A good and likable car that just doesn’t stack up to the Germans. It’s not nearly as fast, nor does it handle nearly as well, as the BMW M5 and it’s not very good looking. But it is considerably cheaper than the M5, has a very good engine and gives a sort of different, more relaxed and enjoyable take on the super sedan. If it were my money, I’d still go M5 without much of a second guess, but the GS F is a a car that shows hope for Lexus. The Japanese brand is making cars its way and the cars that it wants to make, which is refreshing. But in terms of performance, power and desirability, the GS F simply doesn’t hang with the M5, at least not yet.