ALT F: When F Is a Good Grade
Name the most famous trio in automotive journalism.
That didn’t take long—those bumbling Brits, right? But among the gardening staff who park near our figure-eight course in Lot 2 of California Speedway in Fontana, California, I’d like to think it’s actually the feisty Motor Trend test team of Chris Walton, Kim Reynolds, and me, though to be honest, I’ve never actually asked the gardeners.
Lot 2 is where we rip around our unique figure-eight cone course. And when a car’s finished and cooled by a few slow-down laps, Reynolds downloads its Vbox’s SD card to review what just happened. If he says nothing and silently taps out some notes, its performance was probably acceptable. If the typing continues, though, well, that’s either bad or good. The first clue is what’s muttered next.
After his laps in Lexus’ 467-horsepower GS F, Reynolds tapped his keyboard quite a lot and then said, “It’s fun.” Not much. But it was followed by more
“Watch out for the TVD (torque-vectoring differential)—set it to Slalom,” he said as I climbed in to try it myself. “It feels like the best mode for the figure eight. It’s just too twitchy in Track mode.” I set my seat position, wondering quite what he meant by that.
“Oh, and I inadvertently confused the differential, too,” he said. “It flashed a malfunction warning on the dash. Look out for that when you push really hard.” I fired the engine, pulled the seat belt in place, and selected Drive.
Actually, some of this sounds familiar from previous drives in the GS F’s stablemate, the RC F, a beast coupe stuffed with a torque-vectoring active rear differential, rear-wheel steering, and the identical 5.0-liter V-8 and eight-speed single-clutch automatic. Although it had all the fine-tuning and technology that F could craft, it also had the handling predictability of a thumb-pressed watermelon seed.
Fortunately, the cliché “It feels smaller than it is” monumentally applies to the bigger GS F. Frankly, it’s 4,104 pounds are masked about as gracefully as two tons ever have been. Dialing its leather-wrapped steering wheel into one the figure eight’s corner pivots its nose quickly and precisely—à la F Sport. But then nothing. None of the usual leadened overshoot of yaw and pitch and roll that predictably follows. Just well-snubbed transitions. And credit goes to a cache of suspension weaponry: non-adjustable ZF Sachs dampers, more robust anti-roll bars, upgraded bushings, forged aluminum components, and 19-inch forged aluminum BBS wheels.
But dial in just enough throttle as you drain away steering from a corner, and the GS F leaves beautiful oversteer drifts in its wake. Stop the handling hooliganism to set a serious lap time, and its Michelin Pilot Super Sports live up to their Gorilla Glue grippy rep: 0.95 g average on our skidpad, a figure that’s identical to that of the RC F, which is 64 pounds lighter.
Blasts between the corners are equally neck-bending. Frankly, the Aisin AA80E’s ridiculously quick paddle upshifts feel nearly as crisp as some of its dual-clutch competitors, each short gear step an abruptly opened window to the engine’s 369 lb-ft of torque. Things liven up considerably past 4,000 rpm when an artificially amplified exhaust blare sound-bombs the cockpit. While decelerating, its rev-matched downshifts are just as rapid as the upshifts as they accompany the solid bite from the 15-inch six-piston front Brembos. Despite lap after lap of trying, the aluminum monoblock calipers’ slotted rotors and high-friction pads never faded. (Over at the drag strip, where Walton and I run the acceleration and emergency stopping tests, the Lexus halted in 106 feet in from 60 mph.) The GS F beats the RC F around our figure eight by two-tenths of a second and 0.04 g (24.5 seconds at 0.81 g average for the GS F).
Of course, nowhere beats the drag strip (or a long tunnel) for experiencing active sound control. It was unmitigated angry-sounding ear candy as the car ticked off its best nil-to-60-mph run in 4.5 seconds and its quarter mile in 12.9 seconds at a blistering 110.9 mph. She’s quick, all right. And sure sounds damn good when you want her to.
Yet, besides all this impressiveness—and the GS F is undoubtedly more precise and communicative than any other F vehicle to date—is how seamlessly the GS F folds comfort into its equation, too. On first drive in civilian traffic, I was half-befuddled at how a performance car—the baddest, strongest, priciest performance model in the brand’s deep lineup—sounded so docile, so unassuming, so … mild. Its ride felt simultaneously taut yet cushy. If I had closed my eyes, I would have believed I was in a GS 350; their smoothness and quietness are just about identical.
In fact, at one point I even got a bit frustrated by its muted off-throttle rumble. “Give me that roar, Lexus!” I thought. “CAHH-MONN! Sound like your demonic Pokemon self!” I said aloud. That was before I stabbed skinny pedal and got flooded by the rumble I’d heard back at the track. It’s then I finally realized who this seriously split personality really belongs to. In the end, a Lexus will always be Lexus. And actually, that’s not a bad thing in this world of crazy mega-horsepower four-doors.
As I see it, the very point of this sedan is to be totally different, a stark alternative for those wanting something that seamlessly integrates performance, comfort, functionality, style (although that one’s in the eye of the beholder), and exclusivity (about 2,000 will be imported to the States). Its looks are understated. Performance-wise, sure, there are more powerful and expensive but less exclusive sedans that are flashier and louder and can lap the ’Ring in such-and-such time.
Great. But when’s the next time you’ll be lapping The Green Hell in your favorite four-door? Basically, absolutely never. No, the GS F isn’t without fault. Where’s the dual-clutch? And really, the same V-8 as the RC F, Lexus? Slap on some turbos! Heck, give it the LFA’s damned V-10!
But the GS F serves not only as an alternative for those willing to shell out nearly $90,000 for an uber-capable sporty sedan but also as an early indicator of the future direction of Lexus’ performance outfit—in some ways, maybe even the entire performance luxury sedan segment. The GS F presents us with an intriguingly different kind of athleticism: slightly milder yet with a much more complex personality. And for many buyers, that’s exactly the formula they’ve been waiting for.