‘Hot rod’ GS F sedan still does the family thing

Photos by Neil Moore / Feature image: Going head-to-head with BMW M5, the Lexus GS F offers five-passenger comfort with 467 hp driving the rear wheels.

Lexus has always scored top marks for build quality, comfort and reliability, and they’ve been pulling up their socks in terms of driving dynamics. But there have always been top-tier Euro sport sedans – like the BMW M5 – that remained a cut above.

Until now.

Lexus recently added a high-performance “F” model to their long-standing GS model lineup of mid-sized RWD and AWD sport sedans. Aptly named the GS F, it’s a big step up in dollars over its siblings: the 311-hp GS 350 AWD starting at $58,200 and the 338-hp GS 450h hybrid at $76,400.

But more importantly, at an all-in price of $97,600, the GS F is about six grand less than the autobahn burner it dares to challenge. But when you’re dropping that kind of coin on a vehicle, I’m not sure the discount will factor largely into the buying decision.

Firstly, both are handsome cars. Long bonnet, short rear deck, wide stance and wheels pushed to the corners. In the past, I might have favoured the M5’s square-jawed good looks, but the GS F is no less aggressive – and somehow makes that signature spindle grille really work.

Also cool are the orange Brembo brakes peeking through its massive 19-inch alloys, providing four pops of colour.

Aesthetics aside, what’s really at stake in the minds of critics, is performance. Both cars are rear-drivers, with the M5 employing a twin-turbo 4.4-litre V8 that delivers 560 hp and 500 lb/ft of torque. The GS F is powered by a naturally-aspirated 5.0-litre V8 that produces 467 hp and 389 lb/ft of torque.

That’s a big difference in ponies, but keep in mind the GS F is 160 kg (352 lb) lighter, and nearly matches the Bimmer in the zero to 100 km/h sprint: 4.6 seconds versus 4.3 for the M5.

Lexus engineers have also added a few handling tricks like Torque Vectoring Differential (TVD) that uses both mechanical and electronic means to distribute torque between rear wheels. It’s the kind of thing you may find useful if, for example, you’re counter steering through a drift and want to keep the vehicle from coming around too much.

Not that I recommend drifting the big GS F through city streets, but you can take it to the track. And there’s a setting for that on the TVD, along with ‘Standard’ for daily driving, and ‘Slalom’ for sharpened steering response.

I’d expect owners of such vehicles to appreciate this kind of tailoring. Yes, there are still more buttons to push, like the drive mode settings: Eco, Normal, Sport and Sport-plus.

Premium materials like carbon fibre, perforated leather and alcantara line the GS F passenger cabin. A classic analog timepiece is centred below the wide 12.3-inch infotainment screen.

These modify the usuals – throttle response, transmission mapping, suspension and air conditioning, and there’s a big difference at both extremes. Eco is useful when you’re stuck in stop-and-go city traffic and don’t need 467 hp pawing at the pavement. Sport or Sport-plus allows the GS F to react with each prod of the pedal, holding every gear change to extract more from its broad powerband.

Power not only builds quickly as you approach this big V8’s 7,300 rpm redline, the exhaust note is a treat. Under load, the quad tailpipes bellow like an angry rhino – even without active sound control that amplifies it through the car’s speakers. Go easy on the pedal, and a nice, deep burble accompanies your grocery run or daily commute.

The adaptive variable suspension (AVS) plays a key role in allowing GS F to move happily between boulevard and track. AVS uses a pile of sensors to monitor and control damping at all four corners, providing the right amount based on road surface and driver settings.

Corner hard and it responds with increased damping to reduce body roll. Hit some rough pavement, and AVS soaks up the imperfections.

Front sport buckets wrap around passenger and driver. Upholstered in perforated leather, these are both heated and cooled.

Which is critical for buyers in this segment. Track cred is nice, but I’m not convinced many would sacrifice ride comfort to shave a tenth off their lap time.

Inside, the GS F lives up to the automaker’s reputation for superb fit and finish. Starting with the jet-fighter cockpit that wraps around driver and front passenger, as do the heated/ventilated leather sport buckets. From here, it feels more sports car than large sports sedan.

Padded alcantara surfaces, carbon fibre trim, LED ambient lighting and aluminum pedals all contribute to the GS F’s premium look and feel.

Seats are also heated in rear, and there’s just enough leg room here for three full-sized adults.

Instrumentation varies with drive mode – blue illumination for Eco, red for Sport and Sport-Plus. There’s also a heads-up display, and on the centre stack, a wide 12.3-inch infotainment screen. My only gripe here is the wobbly mouse-style device that controls it. It’s frustratingly imprecise, and best operated when stopped or by your passenger – if you have one.

On a more positive note, the 17-speaker Mark Levinson surround sound system is stellar. As a classic rock fan, I found a few excuses just to sit and enjoy the carefully mapped audio that would best anything I’ve enjoyed indoors.

Is the Lexus GS F worthy of its $100K price tag? There are plenty of alternatives when you’re shopping with this kind of dough, and those who compare only power – for example BMW M5 and the even more potent Cadillac CTS-V – are missing the point. Which is that well-heeled purchasers don’t necessarily think like testosterone-fueled teenagers.

They’re also expecting build quality, craftsmanship, chic design and various intangibles that make you feel you’re driving something special. All areas where GS F has scored high marks, along with providing decent performance – by any standard.

All this may or may not justify the price, but makes the GS F a worthy contender among some very good competition.

From the rear, the GS F strikes an aggressive pose: wide shoulders and a short rear deck. Its stacked quad exhausts hint at the car’s big V8 power.

SNAPSHOT: 2017 Lexus GS F
BODY STYLE: mid-size, luxury sport sedan
DRIVETRAIN: front-engine, rear-wheel-drive; eight-speed automatic with manual shift mode
ENGINE: DOHC 32-valve 5.0-litre V8 (naturally aspirated) (467 hp and 389 lb/ft of torque)
FUEL ECONOMY: 14.9/9.7/12.5 L/100 km (city/hwy/comb)
CARGO: 399 litres
PRICING: $97,600 Does not include freight and taxes. See website for accessories and current dealer pricing.
WEBSITE: lexus.ca