Driven: 2018 Lexus GS F Is Proof That Power Isn’t Everything

Power wars are an undeniable element of the automotive industry. After all, there’s no such thing as too much power – or so they say.

When looking at performance cars, it’s hard to think of any segments not impacted by this. Hot hatches, for example, continue to swell in power and before long, most could have upwards of 400 hp, a figure simply unimaginable just a few years ago. It is a similar story in the world of performance SUVs and, of course, supercars, where anything with less than 700 hp is nowadays considered sub par.

Can less be more?

Unless you live next to the Autobahn of frequent racetracks, though, there is only so much power you can actually use. And this brings us to the current state of super sedans.

This class has long been dominated by the BMW M5, but the seriously impressive Mercedes-AMG E63 and Audi RS7 are now nipping at its heels. All three have in excess of 600 hp and are quicker than many supercars. However, there is a point where you can’t have fun anymore unless you hit insane speeds. That’s where the Lexus GS F comes into the equation.

You see, the GS F is not a vehicle dominated by figures. Instead, it is designed to offer driving enjoyment and performance that, although still much higher than what you can legally use, is really accessible. I recently spent a week with the special 10th Anniversary Edition to see if the Japanese recipe for a super sedan is a true alternative to the one proposed by the Germans.

Something a little different

Whereas its rivals have all gone down the forced induction path in the pursuit of more power and fuel efficiency gains, the GS F is refreshingly old school. Power comes from the automaker’s 2UR-GSE engine, a 5.0-liter naturally aspirated V8 which first premiered in the IS F roughly a decade ago. With high-tech features including high-flow cylinder heads designed by Yamaha and high-lift camshafts, this engine has been slowly tweaked over the years, and in the Australia-spec GS F 10th Anniversary Edition, offers up 470 hp at 7100 rpm and 530 Nm (390 lb-ft) of torque between 4800 rpm and 5600 rpm.

It’s not just the engine that distinguishes the GS F from the competition. Most notably, while everyone else has transitioned to all-wheel drive, the Lexus is still powering its rear wheels only. It also uses a traditional eight-speed automatic transmission rather than a fancy dual clutch. Does this all mean the GS F drives like a frumpy old sedan? Not at all.

The engine of the GS F is marvelous. At low revs it is pretty quiet, but once you get it up to 4,000 rpm, the engine roars into life, producing a smooth and refined symphony. It’s not so loud that it will wake the dead, but it’s loud enough to put a smile on your face.

Handling that’ll paint a smile on your face

Lexus may not have quite the racing prowess some of its German rivals do, but its engineers sure know how to create a finely-balanced performance machine. The result is a car which handles and performs superbly.

Tip the GS F 10th Anniversary Edition into a corner and the front end provides remarkable grip, thanks in part to the 255-section Michelin Pilot Super Sport tires on the front axle. The GS F weighs in at a hefty 1,825 kg (4032 lbs), but you just do not feel this mass when transitioning between turns. Instead of the front end washing out, the nicely sorted chassis works perfectly with the torque vectoring rear differential to provide great handling and immense grip.

Steering feel is good but not excellent. Sometimes there’s not quite as much information through the wheel as you would like in the middle of a corner, especially considering that this is a sports sedan. Braking, though, is superb. Pulling the GS F to a stop are six-piston Brembo calipers at the front with 380 mm discs and four-piston Brembo calipers up back clamping down on 345 mm discs. As soon as you start using the brakes, you’re rewarded with excellent feel and immense stopping power. We never noticed any fade, although after a week of driving the car, did discover quite a lot of brake dust covering the wheels.

That’s probably because we were having too much fun, but you have to be on attack mode all the time. Slot the AA80E eight-speed automatic gearbox into ‘Drive’ and you’ll enjoy smooth and crisp shifts, but those wanting a little more involvement can slot it into ‘Manual’ where the paddle shifters or gear selector can used to change gears when you want. During everyday driving, this gearbox is superb, though the simple fact that it has a torque converter simply means it can’t shift as fast as the best dual-clutch units out there and there is a noticeable delay from pulling the paddle to when it actually slots into the next cog.

A nice place with lots of blue

The GS F 10th Anniversary Edition, as the name implies, celebrates the 10th birthday of the Lexus F brand first introduced with the IS F. Much like the RC F 10th Anniversary Edition, the GS F is painted in a shade of matte grey dubbed Fuji Graphite, sits on gloss black wheels, and features a selection of blue trimmings, including the brake calipers. The paint is to die for and certainly the most head-turning aspect of the car. The design looks modern and is certainly more eye-catching than the M5 and E 63.

Inside, the Lexus also sports blue trimmings which adorn every 10th Anniversary Edition model. There is blue across the steering wheel, the seats and the door panels, and a blue suede-like material on the top of the dashboard as well as blue-tinted carbon fiber accents.

For the most part, the interior is excellent. Slot into the driver’s seat and you’ll be welcomed by a seat and steering wheel offering class-leading levels of adjustment which allow you to get low and have the steering wheel up close. If you had nothing else to go off but the driving position, you’d think you’re behind the wheel of a sports car.

Ergonomic mishaps and button overkill

However, it is not without its flaws. In fact, the cabin of the GS F is home to virtually all of the car’s shortcomings. For starters, there’s a simple sunroof instead of a panoramic one that would be more fitting for a vehicle of this caliber. That’s not a big deal though; in contrast, Lexus’ insistence on using the odd ‘mouse’ controller for the huge infotainment screen is. It is a pain to use when you’re stationary and virtually impossible while on the move. We would also like to see the addition of a start-stop system and launch control.

The rear of the car features three seat belts so you’d expect that it can accommodate three passengers. It doesn’t. The middle seat is slightly raised over the other two, adversely impacting headroom, while the transmission tunnel eliminates virtually all legroom. If humans consisted solely of a head, neck and torso, the middle seat may be usable for long journeys, but they don’t, so it’s not.

While ferrying people in the rear, I was also told that the car could benefit from USB ports back there, not just the pair you’ll find in the center console. Oh, and just a personal thing: the analog clock in the center of the dashboard is very nice, but I was unable to find any way to display a digital clock on either the infotainment screen or somewhere in the digital gauge cluster.

Of course, I am nitpicking, but when you spend $155,940 AUD on a vehicle, or $85,375 in the U.S., you expect the cabin to be near-perfect.

What is not nitpicking is the number of buttons and switches: I counted in excess of 100 of them spread throughout the cabin – and, after a while, simply gave up trying to determine what some of them did.

Did I miss anything important? I doubt it. Would reading the manual solve the issue? Maybe; but can you really remember what each and every one of those 100-plus buttons does? I guess if you live for the car long enough it’s possible, but still, it’s a drag.

So, what’s the verdict?

All things considered, it’s hard not to fall in love with the Lexus GS F. It may be a spacious four-door (for four), but it is a driver’s car in the truest sense and that’s something which can’t be said about many other vehicles in this class. The presence of a naturally aspirated V8 and rear-wheel drive make it even more appealing.

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  • TheLeadFoot

    That interior is embarrassing

  • SpongeBob99Swell

    “Proof That Power Isn’t Everything”

    …thought the Hachi-Roku proved that first… 😉

  • Stigasawuswrecks

    That’s like saying “size doesn’t matter.” I’ll stick with my CTS-V.

  • SteersUright

    Now outdated, at launch this was a great sport sedan doomed by a lazy shifting transmission and obscene price-tag. Were it some $15k less, it would have been more popular. If they wanted to keep the lofty price, then it needed a far better transmission and thoroughly updated interior.

    • javier

      oh that’s a deal killer, i could deal with the looks and the interior but if the driving dynamics suck what’s the point

      • SteersUright

        Handling and engine are excellent. Transmission is the deal killer for me. Its nowhere near as “smart” as the modern BMW ZF nor any PDK, etc. And if you try to shift yourself get ready to waiiiiiiiiiiit for it…

  • StuffyAnt

    A very nice car from outside. But inside…

    • paulgdeaton

      “Nice… from the outside”? With a front end that looks like a deformed electric shaver?

  • lagann

    Has a late 90’s early 2000’s interior design lol

  • TheBelltower

    Exterior design direct from the finest community college. Interior by Sparkomatic circa 1986.

  • KareKakk
    • paulgdeaton

      So “Power isn’t everything”… and obviously Lexus thinks looks aren’t anything, either…

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