OUR RATING: 7.5 / 10
By James Ward
- Big V8 plus rear-wheel drive (RWD) is a guaranteed plus;
- Rear quarter design is mature and muscular;
- Great looking wheels;
- Has a comfortable and plush Alcantara interior; and
- Front quarter design is very unique.
In this great big global jungle of ours we call the world; there are only few things that are pretty hard to get wrong. Good food and a healthy bank statement always come to mind, as do large-capacity, V8-powered, rear-wheel-drive cars.
So it should come as no surprise to hear the 2016 Lexus GS F is quite engaging and great big fun. Yes, you heard me right. The terms ‘Lexus GS’ and ‘entertaining’ can finally coexist to some extent.
It is a pretty fool-proof plan. Shove the 351kW/530Nm 5.0-litre quad-cam V8 from the Lexus RC F sports coupe into a big, comfortable sedan. Add loads of Alcantara and carbon-fibre, some fancy sounding acronyms – LSS, TVD, VDIM, and you’ve got all the trappings of a powerhouse sports saloon ready to take on the world’s best.
The thing is, while the numbers stack up – Lexus claims 0-100km/h in just 4.6 seconds – the GS F doesn’t feel as coherent in the role as some of its European competitors.
Is it a luxury grand tourer like the Audi S6 or a raucous hot rod like the Mercedes-AMG E63? Perhaps it’s a prestige success statement like the Jaguar XF S or even a sporting sub-brand showpiece like the BMW M5. Who knows?!
And that is the problem right there. It is all of those and still none of those. At US $105,000, it’s a muscle car enigma that puts the F in frustration as often as it does in fun.
From the rear quarter viewpoint, the quad-tipped exhaust in that cool stacked arrangement, the subtle carbon-fibre deck-lid spoiler and the awesome polished (optional) concave-face 19-inch alloy wheels give the GS F an athletic, mature and highly purposeful stance.
The Cobalt Blue mica paint on this specific model looks fantastic. There are eight colour choices in total, and all come with orange brake callipers.
Change ends though, and the Predator-face spindle grille, Nike-swoosh LED running lamps and boy-racer wheel arch vents start to leave you wondering who or what this car is intended for.
The theme continues in the cabin. Step in and your first impression is ‘wow’. The Alcantara trim touches every surface from the dash top to the console wrist-rest. The carpet is so lush you want to take your shoes off. It immediately feels warm and comforting.
There’s lovely blue and white stitching, a Mark Levinson sound system, and a clever treatment of the instruments that pairs a large TFT screen with analogue dials.
Here too, the centre dial changes from an iris-style motif (to signify Eco mode), through a bunch of ever-sportier white-face and redline options as you change driving modes. It’s not entirely useful but it definitely adds some cool factor to the cabin.
A large 12.3-inch high-resolution display sits in the centre of the dash, as does an analogue clock, some smart aluminium and carbon trim elements and the usual array of buttons and lights that are to be expected at this level.
However so, you notice the digital display on the centre stack doesn’t match the LCD readout on the climate and audio controls in the rear passenger arm rest. The buttons on the steering wheel don’t match the ones on the dash, or the console, or the door.
The graphics on the infotainment system are woeful when compared with segment competitors from Germany. Not to mention the low-resolution parking camera.
Furthermore, even access to the 520-litre boot has a soft-touch button on the right but the power close button on the left. Now you might find it a bit petty of me to complain about the placement of buttons to open and close a boot, but please understand that it’s not the differences in functions when viewed in isolation I draw attention to, but the logical coherence that is missing.
It feels as if the outside boot team didn’t speak to the inside boot team. The head-up display (HUD) font person didn’t share with the instrument font people and the back seat committee never even met the front seat guys until the day the car was launched.
The first Lexus F-car, the 2008 IS F, was conceived by a small team of engineers as an after-hours secret project. Workarounds here were to be expected, and the result – given the developmental constraints – was undeniably impressive.
The GS F represents the fourth ‘F’ model (following IS F, LFA and RC F), but despite being an ‘open’ project it seems it too was held back by being a normal GS saloon first and a performance car second.
You could point to this being a mix-up of agendas that from the inside-out don’t quite give the Lexus a clear market position.
All in all though, there is still plenty to like, and it starts when you fire up the big V8 under the bonnet.
A quick bark followed by an omnipresent rumble pay heed to the muscle car specs that underpin the GS F. It’s no pushover or classic either, the 2UR-GSE engine may be old-school on paper, but in typical Lexus fashion, employs some very modern technology in its operation.
Eco mode lowers throttle response and opts for higher gear selection when in automatic shift; Normal provides a more rounded mapping of both engine and gearing performance while the Sport and Sport+ modes are where the GS F needs to live for it to make the most sense.
Here, the snarling V8, assisted by some in-cabin audio boosting, sounds fantastic. The power delivery is very manageable and linear, with peak torque not available until 4800rpm and peak power right at the screaming 7100rpm redline.
The eight-speed automatic is not the quickest when it comes to shifting, and can feel slow on up-shift and almost too jerky on down changes, where smoother transitions are preferable.
Using the steering-wheel mounted paddles to shift is easy though and much of the drive experience can be tempered by getting used to the car and driving with it.
Power out of a corner hard in second gear and the 275mm rear tyres will twitch and wiggle a bit. Keep the throttle down until revs are over 6000rpm and shift up to third and the change is swift, with the big saloon picking up pace very quickly.
The ‘fear factor’ that you would normally experience in some of the big Germans is non-existent in the GS F; with the Lexus being easy to push and stays true to its more conservative roots, even in this, its most ‘exuberant’ guise.
Turn in is reasonably direct and the 1865kg GS feels very balanced through the curves. It doesn’t dance about, but direction changes are managed with confidence and while tighter radii bends induce a bit of ‘big sedan wallow’, the midrange response of the V8 gets you back in the game soon enough.
There is an adaptive setting for the rear differential (TVD – Torque Vectoring Differential) that offers Slalom for nimbler response, or Track for a more measured approach to high-performance driving. This simply allows the car to efficiently get the power to the ground under more enthusiastic driving conditions.
Ride comfort is good throughout, especially when the red mist lifts and you are back to rumbling about town. There is a stiffer tilt than a standard GS, but the compliant nature of the Lexus ensures a pleasant ride in all but the worst conditions.
Fuel consumption is claimed at 11.3L/100km on a combined cycle, but if you enjoy that V8 anthem while your foot is buried on the pedal; then perhaps add about 5L/100km to that claimed figure. We saw an average of 18.6L/100km for the week and weren’t shy with the right foot.
Amusingly, though, Lexus has published a ‘minimum’ achievable full-tank distance of 393km. Sounds like a challenge for anyone going on a road trip!
Settling everything down (including fuel consumption) and heading back to daily life, and it is back here, as a carbon-commuter in town, that the GS F starts to feel compromised again.
The mouse-like device for the infotainment system is the most frustrating interface I have ever used. You need to spend way too much time concentrating on your control movements to select the icons on the screen, making those second-nature on-the-fly interactions unachievable.
Moving to the steering wheel buttons doesn’t help as there are a huge array of configuration functions on the instrument binnacle, that when cycling through can have you inadvertently change radio station from the main screen, rather than the trip computer in front of you.
And the other buttons, hiding behind the wheel on the dash itself, aside from feeling like they were lifted from one of the car’s Toyota cousins, are impossible to use on the move.
Plus, despite having a long list of luxury and safety technology on board, including pre-collision detection, adaptive cruise control, DAB digital radio, LED headlights and a heated steering wheel, there is no front parking sensor array or camera, which when you consider the size of that protruding front-end, is a bit silly not including one.
So where does that leave the 2016 Lexus GS F in the market? Somewhere on its own is the answer. For US $105,000 (before options and on-road costs) it’s over US $70K less than a Mercedes-AMG E63 that uses a pair of turbos to make its V8/RWD combination a bit more ludicrous.
In reality, the closest car in terms of technical and status spec is the US $90,000 Jaguar XF 35t, a vehicle that also suffers from its own balance of compromises, while still being dynamically excellent. The Jag uses a supercharged six instead of a V8, though.
Bottom line, the Lexus GS F is a very specific car for a very specific buyer. It is a little bit grand tourer and a little bit muscle car, but if you can deal with that multifaceted approach, and the little Lexus eccentricities, then that big V8, rear-wheel-drive coming-together is still a lot of fun.
- Toyota Kenya is the official and sole distributor of all new and approved Toyota vehicles in Kenya including all new Lexus vehicles (which is a luxury vehicle manufacturer owned by Toyota). They are located along Uhuru Highway, adjacent to Nakumatt Mega.
- The company offers after sales service as well as comprehensive warranties for all their vehicles.
- Check out their official websites or visit their showrooms for more information.