2020 Lexus GS F - A Love Letter
The joys of being an automotive enthusiast come from the subjective qualities of a car. No one reads car reviews or watches Top Gear in order to learn about the specs of a vehicle. They want to know how a vehicle feels, far beyond the numbers on the paper. They want those numbers to come to life and have meaning. It is this very reason that often the most competent cars on paper tend to leave the driver feeling cold. When I drove an old 997 last year, I finally understood the appeal of a car that has been engineered to the utmost precision. It’s a vehicle that is all about performance figures. However, upon driving it, I still found the experience to be a bit clinical. It did not give me an emotional response. I respect Porsche’s engineering massively, but I prefer vehicles that speak to my heart, like the Aston Martin V8 Vantage that we drove, which fell short in every technical aspect compared to the 911 of its day. But, the way the Vantage made me feel completely won me over. It’s the reason why I love cars in the first place. As an enthusiast, we see vehicles as being so much more than machines. It should speak to us in an emotional, almost human way.
I’ve been eyeing the GS F since it debuted. I was saddened when Lexus did not bring the F treatment to the third generation IS. After the LFA showed the world what Lexus could do, I wanted to see more road cars besides the RC F. I tested the LC 500 two years ago and that gave a taste of what Lexus could do when they let their hair down a bit. My review of the GS F is quite late (Alex, our other writer here at Autonotas, has technically already reviewed the GS F), so I want to approach it from a different perspective than other journalists.
There are several things that drive me insane about the GS F. First and foremost, the infotainment system is… difficult to use, if I’m being charitable. It is cumbersome, especially while driving, and there are critical functions such as climate control that must be controlled in the system, rather than with physical buttons. There’s also no Apple CarPlay on a $90k 2020 model year vehicle. Some of the materials could be a little bit nicer, although everything is assembled extremely well. The heads up display is small and the tachometer displayed in the HUD can be hard to read. The GS F also doesn’t come with the fancy sliding digital gauge cluster that IS F-Sport models have, (i.e., the famous one inspired by the LFA’s gauge cluster). Speaking of gauges, the LC 500 has a fantastic selection of them as you rotate through the different modes, whereas the GS F does not. It is not as visually pleasing.
From a driving perspective, the transmission also feels out of place. The LC 500 had too many overdrive gears in its 10-speed auto, but at least it shifted quickly. The GS F’s 8-speed auto does not shift quickly, and it doesn’t seem to rev-match downshifts. This is why downshifts often take a while. There is quite a delay when pulling one of the paddles. Upshifts seem to be okay. Even in manual mode though, the car will upshift for you after hitting the redline for a few seconds. In automatic mode, the transmission isn’t great at predicting what gear you want. Speaking of gears, they are spaced pretty wide, such that you can hit over 70 mph in second gear. This means that in order to enjoy revving out the engine (and trust me, you’ll want to), you would have to break the speed limit.
However, the GS F absolutely wins me over emotionally because it manages to capture, despite all of its faults, the distilled essence of the joys of driving, something that virtually every other manufacturer is struggling with at the moment. It’s the reason why I’d choose a GS F over its German competition, which, in many respects, are objectively superior vehicles. The German offerings are more powerful, and more environmentally friendly; advantages made possible by the wonders of modern turbocharging. Strictly speaking, they should be even faster in the twisty bits, as evidenced by their increasingly impressive Nurburgring lap times. And yet, despite all of these genuinely impressive aspects, these latest cars have forgotten about the most important thing - you, in the driver’s seat. The GS F is all about the driving experience, it is so much more than the sum of its performance figures. Lexus has made the bold choice to not get caught up in the horsepower race, but offering something more, something that everyone else is lacking.
Let’s get back to the engine. It’s a 5.0 liter V8 that “only” makes 467 hp and 389 lb-ft of torque. Since the GS F’s V8 is not turbocharged, the torque is not that low down. However, the engine is full of character, it is very rev happy, it makes glorious noises even if Lexus has to pipe some in. But Lexus decided to focus on the intake noises rather than just exhaust noises. With that, you get a nice bellow during wide open throttle that’s paired beautifully with the high-pitched shout of the exhaust. It’s not quite as aggressive as the LC 500’s exhaust but the slightly more mellow nature matches the GS F’s four door sedan personality. The V8’s power delivery is linear, with a responsiveness that can ultimately only be found in a naturally aspirated engine. It is a masterpiece of an engine that is truly one of the greats.
Throughout all of my reviews, it should be clear at this point that I am very particular about steering feel. It’s why my daily driver is a BRZ. It’s also why a lot of new vehicles leave me feeling hollow; it’s a commonly overlooked component when tuning a sporty vehicle. The GS F’s steering is absolutely fantastic. The weighting of the steering is good, it doesn’t get obnoxiously heavy in Sport mode like other vehicles do. It has a ball-bearing-like smoothness to it as you turn. There is great feedback from the front tires and there is absolutely no dead spot on center. Steering feel is maintained throughout all steering angles. The feedback from the steering wheel makes it that much easier to adjust steering when the back slides out.
Speaking of the back sliding out, the GS F can be very tail happy when the road is wet, which, obviously, never happens in Seattle. When the back steps out, it’s done so in a predictable manner and the precise nature of the throttle calibration allows for easy adjustment of the car’s rotation. When the road is drier though, the rear tires hook confidently through the excellent, albeit outdated, Michelin Pilot Super Sport tires. The electronic differential also does a great job keeping the back in check.
The brakes are a bit soft, but they stop the car very quickly; I just wish they had a bit more feel to them. That minor complaint is more than made up for by the GS F’s great driving position, however, which is bolstered by its excellent seats that are supportive enough for hard cornering, without compromising comfort for those long journeys.
The GS F does a great job of being a sports luxury sedan. It can be feisty and aggressive with the savagery of that engine and its precision handling, but when you drop it back into Normal mode, the car settles down and becomes the excellent cruising vehicle that the standard GS is. The car is comfortable in all modes, unlike F cars in the past that overcompensated with stiff suspension. Lexus has created a car that can serve two masters.
The GS F is a vehicle that may disappoint buyers seeking to brag about their car’s brochure figures, but will leave the true driving enthusiast smiling, even through all of the little niggles.
Full video review can be found here: https://youtu.be/KnawUvf3lY0
Photography by @sopanda.t
Infotainment system is not the best
Transmission needs a computer re-tune
Specs: Engine: 5.0L DOHC 32-Valve V8 Drivetrain: RWD
Power: 467 hp @ 7,100 rpm Torque: 389 lb-ft @ 4,800 rpm Transmission: 8-Speed Automatic
Fuel Economy (City/Highway/Comb.): 16/24/19 MPG Wheelbase: 112.2 in Curb Weight: 4,034 lbs (53%/47%) Base Price: $85,010 Price as Tested: $89,510 (incl. dest.)