Lexus has dared to enter the super-saloon arena with the high performance GS F. The experts at caranddriving.com look at its prospects for survival.
Ten Second Review
A striking sports saloon with plenty raw power and bags of charisma, the Lexus GS F is an astonishingly capable four-door five-seater. Designed and engineered as a high-performance car, no detail has been left untouched, yet the transformed interior still retains the GS model's luxurious atmosphere and trademark comfort.
Lexus has established itself as a high-quality luxury car maker in a relatively short space of time, shamelessly setting out to challenge Mercedes and BMW in the premium saloon sector. But, like the German companies, Lexus recognises there is a market for high-performance versions of its range, and has developed a three-tier strategy to offer customers a level of sportiness. At the top is the LFA, a totally uncompromising supercar; at the bottom is the F-Sport trim level, giving the standard range a sporty flavour. Central to the strategy though, is the Lexus F-Division. 'F' references Japan's renowned Fuji racetrack and hints at the intentions of the department to breed performance-oriented cars, based on existing models but engineered, from the ground up, to compete with Mercedes' AMG and BMW's M divisions. The Lexus GS F aims to take on BMW's M5, widely regarded as one of the finest super-saloons in the world.
As a company renowned for quality and luxury, Lexus has to maintain a premium feel, in a fairly heavy package, while delivering a level of performance that will wean drivers away from the German super-saloon establishment. Although there has been a little weight shedding, the GS F is still a 2.3 tonne luxury car. The F Division has instead engineered performance in to cope with the demands of hurtling such a hefty chunk of machinery around a race-track, or winding country road. The engine is a 5.0-litre V8. Speed is the goal and the 471bhp is enough to take the GS F to 62mph in just 4.6 seconds, and on to an electronically limited 168mph. With no turbochargers to cause any lag and a silky smooth 8-speed automatic gearbox, the way in which the GS F delivers its raw performance is breathtaking. If there's one thing a V8 adds to a car, other than power, it's a glorious soundtrack and Lexus don't want drivers to miss out on the eight-cylinder chorus when the GS F is getting down to business, so the engine note is piped through speakers into the cabin when one of the various sport modes is engaged.
Design and Build
As a division of Toyota, Lexus is built to be dependable before any other consideration. Add in the luxurious materials used in the redesigned cabin, the aggressive exterior design, bold colours and beautiful race-inspired instrumentation and the GS F makes for a very compelling sports saloon. The distinctive mesh grille suits a car of this nature and incorporates functional air ducts to help cool the fluids and brakes which have to work so much harder on a heavier car. The sport-oriented design language covers every surface of the body, which is longer and lower than the standard GS saloon, and culminates in the F-division's signature quad exhaust pipe tips. It's clear that no detail has been overlooked. The spectacular seats have been designed to cosset the occupants but won't leave you feeling fatigued at the end of a long journey. Lexus recognise this is a car that will be used regularly, so all the practicalities of the standard saloon remain including the cavernous boot, capable of holding up to four sets of golf clubs. The door panels have even been designed to allow for a concert-hall audio experience, accommodating key components of the 12 or 17-speaker sound systems available.
Market and Model
The GS F is competitively priced when pitched against its main rival, the BMW M5. At around £70,000, Lexus has managed to undercut its German opponent by about £3,000, while matching it on style, comfort and performance. There will be those who prefer the understated looks of the BMW to the avant-garde Lexus, and at this level brand loyalty can play a part in the decision making, but Lexus is relentlessly removing reasons for buyers to choose one of the established super-saloons over the GS F. In its effort to win over customers, Lexus has packed the GS F with plenty to make journeys all the more safe and enjoyable. Convenient touches like power boot operation, or stylish details like a frame-less rear view mirror, are executed with style. The clever climate control system shuts down in the rear when only the front seats are being used and a head-up display puts key information in the driver's line of sight so you can keep your eyes on the road ahead. The GS F is also keeping its eyes on the road, with cameras watching out for road sign information, pedestrians and other cars ready to warn you or even stop if necessary.
Cost of Ownership
If it seems a little too good to be true, then this is where things start to get uncomfortable for the GS F. Despite their best efforts - even employing an unconventional engine operation known as the Atkinson Cycle to make the big V8 more efficient - the GS F's strongest suit isn't efficiency. This level of performance comes at a cost and with a combined fuel economy figure of 25.2mpg, everyday motoring in the GS F will require confident accounting. The GS F emits 260g/km CO2, which isn't too impressive when compared to the 109g/km of the Hybrid GS300h model. Even the BMW M5 is in a lower tax band with 231g/km. The GS F will cost £505 a year to tax, with a 37% BIK rate for company car drivers. Still, the priority here is performance and Lexus are targeting a discerning clientele, willing to invest in high-performance, luxury motoring. The GS F will be covered by Lexus' standard three-year/ 60,000 mile warranty, but depreciation is likely to be considerable over those three years. While early examples of BMW's M5 have attained classic status, the F-division will need to prove itself with the GS F before harbouring such ambitions.
Lexus set itself a tough challenge by taking the fight to BMW, but has produced a tremendously capable, comfortable super-saloon that should grab the right people's attention. The F-Division has taken the accomplished GS saloon and re-engineered every detail to make it compete with the best in the world. Managing to undercut established rivals but be pretty much as good is an impressive coup for this first ever GS F. The Japanese company has used pioneering safety technology, leading-edge design and innovative engineering principles, without losing focus on the sensory experience of the driver and occupants. By instilling all the knowledge and experience garnered from the IS F, the LFA and the RC F, Lexus has been able to deliver a quality, high-performance luxury car at first asking. Time will tell if they've upset the world order.